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View From the West: Happy 40th Birthday, Idris Elba

Join us in wishing this British hunk a very happy birthday.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it… and be thankful that 40 years ago today, He blessed the world with a brown baby boy who grew up to be the man we know as Idris Elba. Hallelujah!

Okay, before I get started, I’d like to extend my sincerest apologies to anyone I may have offended by tampering with Scripture. To be clear, I respect the Word, but I just felt like that last part needed to be said. After all, we are talking about Idris, right? Right. 

Yes, he’s chocolate and fine and all of that (and the British accent is just — whoa!), but there’s so much more to him. He’s a Golden Globe-winning actor, producer and sometimes DJ, yet no matter the medium, Idris always exudes a cool, easy confidence. When he steps before the camera, however, it’s obvious that he’s also mastered the fine art of capturing your attention — and holding it right there — with just the slightest glance. He is gifted, no doubt, and with the Primetime Emmys coming up on September 23, I have claimed that Outstanding Lead Actor statue for him for his role in the BBC series Luther. As far as I’m concerned, that’s already in the bag, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
For some, he’ll go down in television history as the ever-diabolical and oh-so-grimy “Stringer” Bell from The Wire, but really, that was just the beginning. When Bell took that bullet back in 2004, it was as if Idris was set free. He’s been on a steady climb ever since. When you think back to his roles in American Gangster, This Christmas and Thor, as well as Daddy’s Little Girls, Takers, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and his run on The Office, you realize that he stays working and makes solid choices. Even that over-the-top guilty-pleasure of a drama, Obsessed, which caught hell from critics, topped off at nearly $70 million at the box office. Oh, oh, and in case you missed his five-episode arc on season two of The Big C, you might want to make it your business to do a little research via Showtime On Demand. It’s quite an intense situation.
Then, of course, there’s his turn on the British crime drama Luther, which is as chilling as it is thrilling. I’ve found that the only way I can sit through an entire episode without losing my mind is to watch with the lights on and the remote nearby. As Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, Idris looks edgier and a bit more gruff than how we’re used to seeing him, but it’s also quite amazing to watch him slip into that character. Bottom line: Luther’s got some demons, but then again, he’s got that accent, too! Rumor has it that after the third and final season kicks off in 2013, Luther will make a leap to the big screen. In the meantime, Idris is set to star in and executive-produce No Good Deed, a thriller, and also portray Nelson Mandela in the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. That’s good stuff!

Outside of work, he seems intent on keeping his profile low. Perhaps that adds to his mystique. Or maybe, he just prefers to pour all of his energy into creating rich characters. Either way, his method is working. In his November 2011 ESSENCE cover story, he made clear his passion for his craft: “I think what audiences expect of me is to act my ass off,” he said, “and that’s great, because that’s what I do, that’s what I love doing.”

We love it, too, Idris, really we do. Now, go have a smashingly fabulous birthday and get to work on your acceptance speech!

Regina R. Robertson is West Coast Editor of ESSENCE. Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.