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EXCLUSIVE: Idris Elba Talks 'Pacific Rim,' His No-Nonsense Characters and Playing Nelson Mandela

Idris Elba
Photo Credit: Steve Granitz/ Getty

If you're a fan of Idris Elba's no-nonsense alpha male characters like Stringer Bell (The Wire) and DCI Luther (Luther), it's safe to assume you'll only love him more as badass Marshal Stacker Pentecost in the sci-fi blockbuster Pacific Rim (out tomorrow) about giant robots (led by Pentecost) fighting giant monsters—the plot is simple; the action, far from it.

We spoke to Elba (and his British accent—swoon) to find out more about his disciplined characters, why he hated sporting a bowl haircut for the movie, and why playing Nelson Mandela is a massive achievement for him. Let’s talk about how your character Stacker Pentecost is no-nonsense like so many of your characters. Is that who you are as a person?
IDRIS ELBA: Me? No, I’m not as disciplined a person. I wish I could be. I think in this particular film [director] Guillermo Del Toro wanted to have a character that was very much in the center that’s more like, ‘Look, I’m the last man standing. All questions come to me.’ I was surprised that he called me because I’m really not like that in real life. It was a great challenge to pull that off or at least attempt to. I felt like I was with DCI Luther or Stringer Bell. I know you don’t like to talk about race, but I just love your characters are always strong Black men on screen.
ELBA: It’s not that I don’t like to talk about race, but I don’t understand why we have to talk about race when we’re talking about actors. Actors are actors. We don’t talk about race when its white actors but we do when it’s a Black actor. I don’t mind talking about race; I just don’t want us as people to get categorized. You’re not a Black journalist, just a journalist. I read you didn’t love the haircut you wore as Stacker. And I have to say that moustache was particularly exciting.
ELBA: You did not love that haircut. Here’s the thing: I didn’t mind the haircut for the film. It looks good but I had to walk around Toronto for five months like that. With no fade. I had people grabbing me on the streets. You’ve made a few sci-fi films recently. Is it a conscious effort to move into the sci-fi space?
ELBA: I don’t think I am moving into the space. Prometheus and Pacific Rim are in that space, but that was only because I wanted to work with Ridley Scott and Guillermo. I think that it’s cool to have a diverse palate of work. So to go from something like Luther to Prometheus for me is exciting in a career. It’s less exciting to play the same roles over and over again. You’ve said you felt like this film was a big moment in your career.
ELBA: A lot of sci-fi and fantasy films are coming from a reboot or sequel. Nothing’s really original so for me to be on a film like this, which is completely original, is an honor. It feels like a massive achievement for me. I did this film about a year ago and then I went off to do Mandela. You couldn’t have asked for two different roles or scenarios. That was the achievement. I imagine that film is also a tremendous moment for you.
ELBA: I’m very proud of it and having become a part of his life forever. He’s very much a part of my life, and our lives.  The film is based on his words and his story. We as filmmakers choose which parts make a more dramatic arc for a film, but ultimately, we made the man’s story. And so, it’s a very big and proud moment for me. Have you met Nelson Mandela?
ELBA: No, I didn’t meet with Mandela personally. I met with Winnie [Mandela] and Zindzi and the family. They had chosen who was to play their father. So before anyone has even seen the film, my sense of achievement is high. You took up boxing while making the film. Have you kept it up?
ELBA: I used to kickbox for a long time. I had to stop when I started acting for obvious reasons, but I had to get back into it when I did Mandela. So now I’m back to kickboxing a little bit more.

Pacific Rim opens in theaters tomorrow, July 12.

Filed Under: Celebrity Spotlight
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