What if I told you that it was possible to have a gangster, an intellectual and a drop-dead gorgeous brother fast-tracking in his career, all in one? No, really. Hello, Idris Elba, the 35-year-old Brit who’s making a splash in two films this month: American Gangster, opposite Denzel Washington, and the feel-good holiday drama This Christmas with Regina King and singer Chris Brown.

Although the former British soap star has been acting since “secondary school” (high school to you), only now is he seeing the plethora of scripts he had always imagined he would—thanks in part to a role he’s pretty much promised himself he’s never talking about again. Right, as if Black folks—even several films later—could ever forget Russell “Stringer” Bell from HBO’s The Wire.

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“Honestly, one of the reasons I was very accepting of the fact that that character was going to die was because I didn’t want to have to live with it forever,” he says, emphasizing “that character” like Bill Clinton emphasized “that woman” when referring to Monica Lewinsky.

While thuggish (and thug-wannabe) types seriously identified with Stringer Bell, one has to wonder if they would find themselves at all in the true Elba—the only child of proud Ghanaian and Sierra Leonian parents, the passionate father of a 4-year-old girl, the son of a union man, and the once self-proclaimed acting nerd some silly girls actually dismissed for being too dark(!).

When he talks about himself and his dream for his career, there is no pretense. “It’s wonderful to have the exposure and to be singled out as being talented or whatever makes a ‘movie star,’ ” Elba declares. “But truly, the art of acting is what I’m in love with. You know, that’s all it is for me.”