MY LONG WALK OF HUSTLING...British star Idris Elba.
He’s been touted for an Oscar at next year’s Academy Awards, a potential accolade that, should he win, will crown a life-changing ten years for British star Idris Elba.
But while his forthcoming role as South African talisman Nelson Mandela in new biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has prompted excited chatter, the man in question remained casually dismissive of the growing esteem his talent have nurtured in his home country during a candid interview with the October issue of Esquire.
Elba, 40, admits that his fortunes may well have changed over recent years, but he’s still the same person who lived out of a van, and worked doors at a local comedy club shortly after his move to New York more than a decade ago.
Plenty to smile about: Idris Elba has enjoyed a hugely successful career over the last decade
‘Me! The way I live my life, I’m two drinks from being in the tabloids every day,’ he said. ‘I’m no national treasure. I’m a f***ing dutty rude boy!’
Elba gained recognition in the US long before British fans started paying attention thanks to his career-changing role as Baltimore based crack dealer Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell in HBO show The Wire.
But while the hugely popular show provided a substantial platform, it came after years of hardship in the Big Apple, where he did anything he could to make ends meet.
‘You got to remember, I was hustling back then,’ he recalled. ‘And I mean huss-ell-ing. I was working the door at Carolines comedy club. Selling weed, 10 spots, everything, just to make money because the acting weren’t coming in fast enough.’
The Wire, with its grimy inner -city backdrop, gave Elba the opportunity to showcase talents that have helped win him parts in a string of Holywood blockbusters – amongst them Ridley Scott’s epic Prometheus and recent sci-fi adventure Pacific Rim.
Main man: Idris Elba has established himself as one of Hollywood's main players, but his success followed years of hardship in New York City
But while those roles have helped establish him as one of Hollywood’s central players, it is another, very British role that continues to shadow him – James Bond.
He said: ‘If it f***ing happens, it’s the will of the nation. It’s not because of me. Everywhere I go people are saying, ‘You’d be a great Bond.’ And I want to ask them, ‘Are you saying that because it’s trendy or because you mean it?’ But you can tell by looking in their eyes they mean it!’
Elba has made a home for himself in the US over the last decade, often dividing his time between Atlanta – where daughter Isan lives – and London, where people still recognise him from his days as a DJ, something he continues to do.
‘I have no base,’ he admitted. ‘I go from one job to another. As an actor, you have to sell out where you’re from because you’re playing other people. That’s why I DJ, because for one night, I’m me.’
Tipped for greatness: Elba plays a young Nelson Mandela in forthcoming biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
The full interview appears in Esquire's November issue, on sale Thursday 3 October. Also available as a digital edition
The actor could soon receive the ultimate accolade as an actor for his role as a young Mandela, but his casting didn’t come without a degree of criticism – not least because of the lack of similarity between the two men.
‘People are going to judge me for this role,’ he said. ‘I don’t look like Mandela, some say I don’t deserve it. Whatever. For me, it’s important I am who I am, as I present this piece to the world.
‘I’m 40 and I’ve had a great career. I’m alright to be myself at this point. Look, if I never work again, I don’t care. I did my bit, you know?’
His confidence isn’t exactly unfounded – shortly after making his first appearance on set as the South African leader, cast and crew were reduced to tears.
He recalled: ‘We did our final checks, and then me and my troops walked in. ANC—boom! I had the haircut. Pa-pow! Young Mandela at his prime!
‘I was f***ing nervous, because this was Soweto – that’s like someone playing Jay Z going into Brooklyn. But I’m telling you, man — people were crying.
‘First take, I’m not even joking. First they were like, ‘It’s Idris Elba’. Then, ‘It’s Idris Elba playing Madiba’ (Mandela’s clan name).Then it’s like, ‘S**t—it’s Madiba!’ It was so layered.’
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is released on November 29.
For an exclusive behind-the-scenes video from the Esquire photo shoot go to www.esquire.co.uk/style/esquire-men/4914/idris-elba-video/