There’s a lot more to the A-list actor than meets the eye
Best known as TV’s Luther and for his star-making turn as entrepreneurial drug-dealer Stringer Bell on The Wire, Idris Elba will next step into the shoes of a 1970s London radical in Guerrilla, the new six-episode drama from Oscar®-winning writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and Sam Miller (No Good Deed), which premieres on TMN on Sunday, April 16, at 9 p.m. ET.
Before you take in this latest role in Elba’s diverse résumé, check out these fun facts about his equally colourful life.
1. Newsflash: he’s not American.
Despite his more than two decades in the entertainment industry, there are still fans who don’t realize Elba is English. He was born and raised in North East London.
2. He once lived in a van.
As a struggling young actor in New York, Elba was short on funds and resorted to couch-hopping and sleeping in his van while working odd jobs – including selling marijuana and working the door at comedy club Carolines on Broadway – to make ends meet.
3. He tried to be a different player in “the game.”
Stringer Bell was Elba’s claim to fame, but he originally auditioned for the part of The Wire’s Avon Barksdale (which instead went to actor Wood Harris), the kingpin of West Baltimore’s drug trade and Stringer’s hot-headed boss.
4. He’s dropped a few albums...
Elba has a recording career, having released two full-length albums – 2014’s mi Mandela and 2015’s Murdah Loves John – along with three EPs. The multi-talented Brit also helped co-produce Jay-Z’s 2007 album American Gangster.
5. ... and still likes to drop sick beats.
Elba can also be found DJing at clubs from the UK to Ibiza to Australia under his own name or such pseudonyms as “DJ Big Driis” and “Big Driis the Londoner.” He played at the Glastonbury and Creamfields musical festivals last year, and is set to spin at a number of locations across the pond this spring and summer. (To keep up with his latest gigs, check out his official Twitter feed: @idriselba.)
Though a music fan, Elba is no fan of Oasis lead singer Liam Gallagher. The two nearly got into a physical altercation at a 2013 awards show. The source of the conflict? Elba’s jaunty toque, which he says the notoriously cantankerous rocker tried to grab. (Gallagher, meanwhile, refutes that and says Elba tried to muss his hair.) The incident made the UK news at the time, and Elba subsequently referred to Gallagher as an “idiot.”
7. He’s been heard but not seen.
Elba voiced three animated characters in 2016: Zootopia’s Chief Bogo; a CGI Shere Khan in The Jungle Book; and Fluke the sea lion (Finding Dory), reuniting him with former The Wire co-star Dominic West (who voiced Fluke’s pal, Rudder).
8. “Racing enthusiast” is an understatement.
Elba loves fast cars: driving them, racing them, and watching other people drive and race them. He’s hosted two TV series on the subject – Idris Elba: No Limits and Idris Elba: King of Speed – and even broke a land-speed record (known as the “flying mile”) in 2015, driving a Bentley across a Welsh beach at a top speed of 186.4 mph.
9. The Royal Family are fans of his work.
In 2016, Elba was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and received the honour from Prince William. He took his beaming mum, Eve, to the Buckingham Palace ceremony, saying at the time, “This is beyond special as it comes from Queen and country, and I couldn’t be more proud for receiving this right now.”
10. More coming in 2017.
Next up for Elba are three vastly different big-screen projects: The Dark Tower, based on the Stephen King novel; The Mountain Between Us, a romantic adventure opposite Kate Winslet; and Thor: Ragnarok, in which he’ll reprise his role as the Asgardian god Heimdall.