Interview: Idris Elba

Under normal circumstances, Idris Elba wouldn’t be considered a loser. The British heartthrob has achieved international success based on the multifaceted roles in television and film, ranging from Stringer Bell in “The Wire” and Derek Charles in “Obsessed.”  He was also recently named Ambassador for the 2010 American Black Film Festival and plans to expose young people to various movie industry careers by using his unique position as a platform for motivational seminars.

Even in a movie entitled “The Losers,” Idris Elba’s ambition is the reason he could easily become the break-out star; but don’t let the title fool you. Based on the graphic novel series by DC Comics, “The Losers” follows a group of special forces ops who have adopted their name because each member has suffered the death of personnel under their command for which they feel responsible. After being betrayed and left for dead, members of the team root out those who tried to assassinate them.

Here, Idris Elba tells how he prepared for his role as a knife-wielding pragmatist and why supporting Black cinema is important.

How did you get involved with “The Losers”? 

Idris Elba: The script has been out a long time before it actually got made. Tim Story was attached to direct and then it changed directors' hands and then it went away and then I got the script again.  I was asked if I would like to have a meeting about it, and I said, 'Yeah.'  I definitely wanted to do it so it was pretty straightforward.  

Talk about your character. 

I play Roque, the second command behind Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) for this ragtag team of soldiers. They’ve been around for a long time. They’re special ops, which means their missions are very covert and deep. They’re the best at what they do. My character is the pragmatic one out of the five. He’s a knife specialist. He has guns but he can cut you to shreds with his hands. He’s dangerous as sh-t but he’s also very much a civil servant. He loves his job but it’s a job, and if he’s not getting treated right then f**k it, excuse my language -- but that’s his whole mentality and you can see in the story that he loves his unit. There’s a big twist at the end that my character is involved in, and you’ll see as the film progresses what’s going on with Roque, he unveils himself a little bit more.  

What exciting things did you get to do to prepare for your role?  

There was a lot of training because I had knives I was working with. I had a 12-inch blade and it was hard to manipulate and run around with but it was a great two weeks of just learning how to use my knives. Then there was tactical training, which involved how you carry a gun, how you take down a door and how you clear a room. The crazy thing is we were in Puerto Rico doing it and we were working in this room where you could see the beach outside so when we took breaks we would literally go sit on the beach and grab a beer.  

You must have some interesting stories to tell then.   

Idris Elba: There’s a couple of things that happened. I remember Chris Evans had a rat in his trailer. This is a man that is playing a soldier and he’s got muscles. This dude fell out because of this rat [Laughs].  It was crawling around the bed and s**t and this dude was freaking out.  One of the guys that owned that trailer was like, “This is the rat?” and picked it up with his bare hand [and] Chris screamed.  

You probably freaked out too! 

I freaked out because of the story. I was laughing so hard.  

You play a lot of different types of characters but what’s your favorite type of role to play? 

I think everybody likes to play a bad ass because bad asses get to do the coolest stuff. But I just did this film that I co-produced called “Legacy.” It’s in the Tribeca Film Festival this year so I’m coming to  New York to promote that, but “Legacy” is about this Black op soldier who has paranoid schizophrenia and I got to unravel the characteristics behind someone with a mental disease. It was so layered and detailed that that was one of my favorite roles. It’s easy to pick up a gun and say, 'Gimme my money m*therf**er!' That’s easy to me. But to play someone who is tortured and has layers -- that’s a challenge.  

How did you become ambassador for the American Black Film Festival?  

The head of the film festival called me and asked if I’d be interested. It was as simple as that. I used to go to the festival whenever I could. I’m really proud to be the ambassador. What I want to do is to have young people come out and see some of the opportunities in film -- fellowship with other filmmakers, writers and producers. I’m doing a forum this year called “Ask the Ambassador” where you get to sit with me and chat about whatever you want to talk about, and if I can’t answer the questions then I might bring in a professional who also has knowledge of the film game to come in and answer with me.  

Why do you think events like the American Black Film Festival are important? 

I think we need a place to celebrate our films. We need a place to show that we’re progressing in film because we don’t get that many. You’ve got Tribeca, Sundance, Toronto, Seattle -- you’ve got loads of festivals that are geared toward film but not Black film.  There aren’t too many festivals that are geared toward Black film so the ABFF is important that it survives. It’s important that people like myself, who are doing well in commercial films as well as independent films, to also keep the fire alive with filmmaking.  

So, will there be an “Obsessed 2”?  

[Laughs] No. What would the story be? 

It did well at the box office but the critics were really hard on it.  Do you think it was unfair criticism? 

Is there such a thing as fair criticism? The bottom line is either you liked it or you hated it. People didn’t like it for so many different reasons but then so many people liked it for different reasons. I tell you this -- you need films like “Obsessed” to be able to make movie stars out of young new actors. A lot of media was thrown at Beyonce for that film and to me she did a great job, I’m proud of her. If there are story plots that people didn’t like then fair enough, but it’s hard to just keep throwing eggs at one person or one aspect of a film. At the end of the day the film did pretty well and it helped. It proved that cinema with Black leads can work.  


"The Losers" is in theaters this Friday.


Starrene Rhett is a blogger for television blog, Stay Tuned.  You can read more of her work at

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