"He was just relentless when he wanted something," Elba said of Mandela. "I actually can relate to that."
Idris Elba delivers an outstanding performance as Nelson Mandela in the upcoming biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (out November 29). The British actor portrays Mandela as a young lawyer in apartheid South Africa, up until his release from prison in 1990.
From covering such a large span of Mandela's life, Elba says he recognized they shared on trait in common: their ambition.
"When he was a young man there was talk of his presence and ambition and he was just relentless when he wanted something," Elba said at the film's New York premiere. "I actually can relate to that. As an actor I've traveled the earth and I've sacrificed a sh*t load. I can sort of relate to what Mandela was trying to do in that sense—as an ambitious person."
Elba was especially moved by Mandela's ability to forgive his oppressors after 27 years spent behind bars. "I would like to think I would have done the same as he did," he said. Besides, he already has a default for forgivness, he added. "It's easy for me to forgive. If someone does me wrong and I'm still alive I know I can live another day—that's gets me by. I don't really like to hold grudges. It's not good for the heart."
So what was his greatest takeaway from the role of a lifetime? That he too needs to give back. "[Mandela] is a great humanitarian," he said. "I wish I was like that.
"Playing him in this film has highlighted that maybe I should do a bit more, and I can be a bit more."
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom opens in theaters November 29.