Nelson Mandela achieved against immeasurable odds. He was first an activist leader in the African National Congress, spearheading the eventually successful effort to dismantle apartheid. Then he spent almost 30 years in jail, came home and became the first elected Black president of South Africa. Mandela’s incredible journey is told in the new biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom which stars British actor Idris Elba.
While the movie has gotten mixed reviews, Elba’s performance has not. The actor, who came to the notice of U.S. viewers with his portrayal of drug lord Stringer Bell on the acclaimed HBO series The Wire, has two Golden Globe nominations in his pocket this year – one for his portrayal of Mandela, another for his role as the titular character on the UK detective series Luther. Elba also confirmed to Oprah Winfrey that he and British makeup artist Naiyana Garth are expecting a baby, his second child. But this year Elba, 41, has also experienced a few setbacks – he rolled a car in Finland, and almost missed Freedom’s South African premiere with a severe asthma attack. His beloved father died weeks before Mandela premiered.
Here’s what he had to say to a particularly inspired Jacque Reid and the Tom Joyner Morning Show about his year so far.
IDRIS ELBA: I heard you were concerned about me, Jacque. But I’m OK, honey. Thank you very much.
JACQUE REID: When I heard about your car accident I was really upset. But you’re fine, right? No injuries.
IDRIS: I’m good, no injuries babe, I survived.
JACQUE: Oh, God, he just called me babe. I’m done. Respectfully, before they take this down the wrong road it is out of respect no only for your amazing looks but for your incredible talent. Someone gave me the box set of Luther the television series and I’m so dedicated to it. I hope you all make a movie out of it. If you didn’t watch this on BBC America it’s amazing work. OK, I’ll stop.
IDRIS: Thanks, babe, you’ve got good taste.
SKIP MURPHY: Where were you at when you heard the news that Mandela had died? The irony was that I was actually in the UK world premiere and somewhere between the third quarter of the film the news broke in the auditorium and I wqs sitting between the duchess and the prince. They were checking their phones and I was wondering what was going on and I looked to the right and the duchess was in tears. It was the most strange timing you could imagine it was very surreal. Very sad moment.
SKIP MURPHY: You did such a great job portraying him. When he died, did you feel like a part of you had also died?
IDRIS: Yeah. I’m very strangely connected to Mandela even though I never got a chance to meet him. Stepping into the man’s shoes and portraying his life was a very personal moment for me. I got to know his family very well to try to understand the man’s motivation. I kind of mirrored my late dad who also died this year. I mirrored him on my dad because my dad kind of reminded me of him to lose them both of them at this time in my life was hard for me. But it was also a blessing and an incredible opportunity to play Mandela. I’m very proud of it.
JACQUE REID: I heard that his housekeeper of 12 years said you really reminded her of him.
IDRIS: After the South African premiere this woman came up to me. She was in tears and she told me who she was and we hugged her and she said ‘You got him down. I know him very well for a long time and even down to the way I folded my clothes in the film. She said that’s exactly what he does.