He’s sacrificed his personal life to pursue his career, but the fleet-footed star who broke through with cult TV classic The Wire and triumphed as Mandela still considers himself ‘an odd, tall black man that doesn’t quite fit in’
What has been your biggest achievement? ‘My career – because every job I ever got I had to fight for. I’m an odd, tall, black man that doesn’t quite fit in,’ said Idris Elba
What is your earliest memory?
I lived in a two-bedroom flat in Cedar Court in Hackney, London. It was a high-rise – they’ve knocked most of them down now – and my mum would come in every morning and say, ‘Oh, it’s a bit stuffy in here’ – always, always. And I remember being woken up with the sound of the blinds getting pulled back and the window being opened and the sunlight flooding in.
What sort of child were you?
Shy, eager to please, skinny. I remember walking into school on the very first day and one of the kids sang out, ‘Feed the world… let them know it’s Christmas-time!’ And everyone cracked up. My first day! Me and this kid ended up having a fight, although he is now my best friend – but that’s how skinny I was. Also, for one term I was sent to this school for kids with disabilities – my disability was asthma. I learned a lot there – how to deal with different people and develop different skills. It was there that my personality opened and grew.
When did you last feel really happy?
When my son Winston was born. And watching the magic that is childbirth. Of course I was there. Did I feel like a spare part? Nah, but I don’t want to talk about it.
What is the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
Who would your dream dinner date be?
‘Mandela,’ said Idris who played him in 2013
I was told once that I could never be loved because I don’t love myself. That hurt my feelings.
What has been your biggest achievement?
My career – because every job I ever got I had to fight for. I’m an odd, tall, black man that doesn’t quite fit in. And here I am 25 years later in what I consider to be a very well-rounded career.
… and your biggest disappointment?
My personal life. I sacrificed it to be where I am as an actor. So my relationships have suffered.
What is your worst character trait?
I’m lazy. I procrastinate awfully. There’s always so many things I’m supposed to be doing – for example when I was shooting No Good Deed in Atlanta and preparing to play Nelson Mandela by reading his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom. Straight after that I had an album to put out. So I am always saying; ‘I’ll do it, I’ll get to it…’
Who would your dream dinner date be?
Mandela, that would be great – it would be nice to understand what made him laugh, what made him relax. I’d love to have dinner with him and just observe him be himself. I would also have the late rapper Biggie Smalls: he was really good at putting words together, so it would be great to understand how he sounds when he’s speaking. I would love to hear what he thinks about hip-hop at the moment.
What are you scared of?
You know The Truman Show [The Jim Carrey film where he is unknowingly on camera 24/7 for a reality TV show]? I’m really scared I’m going to wake up one day and that’s what’s been going on with my life.
Which living person do you despise and why?
Nobody – not even Liam Gallagher. We had a moment of clowning, after the NME Awards, about my hat. But it was never anything more than that.
What is your most treasured possession?
My vinyl. I’ve got this seven-inch I’ve had since when I was about 12 of D.I.S.C.O. by Ottawan. I remember that moment of having my own record and having my own DJ set in my room. That was monumental. So that piece of vinyl means a lot.
Tell us a secret about yourself
Your biggest disappointment?
‘My personal life. I sacrificed it to be where I am as an actor. So my relationships have suffered,’ said Idris (pictured with Luther co-star Ruth Wilson)
I’m actually a decent breakdancer. I started when I was a kid and I still love breaking. I still, if I get a chance, run around and do a bit of ‘crazylegs’. I never injured myself, but I remember trying to do the windmill in my mum and dad’s house and breaking a lamp.
What one law would you change if you could?
I would definitely change the law on random gun-holding in America. Nobody should be allowed to have those big guns willy-nilly.
What do you believe in?
I believe that what you put out is what you get back.
What is the most extravagant thing you’ve ever bought?
I bought a 1500 Dodge Ram, on my first pay cheque off The Wire. It was humungous – a beautiful thing to look at, a head-turner. When The Wire was in limbo, after we’d done the pilot – we didn’t know whether it was going to go to a series – I just went out and spent the money. It was a good three, four months before they said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do 12 more.’ And that was like winning the lottery.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
If you could edit your past what would you change?
Source: Daily Mail