Mandela, Stringer, alien hunter, Beyonce’s husband — sexy, serious, thespian, goofball, versatile: these are some of the roles he’s played and terms used to describe actor Idris Elba. Though his star has risen to great heights since his early days as a DJ, Elba still does guest DJ gigs to maintain his connection with his past. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Idris Elba.
biography.com, starpulse.com, en.wikipedia.org, hellomagazine.com, uk.eonline.com
Idrissa Akuna Elba was born in Hackney, East London, Sept. 6, 1972. His father Winston was born in Sierra Leone, his mother Eve, in Ghana. They married in Sierra Leone and moved to England before Idris was born. An only child, his days were filled with community theater. He also DJd at weddings with his uncle. Considering himself a Cockney because of his East End origins, he eventually moved with his family to the Canning Town neighborhood, where he was the victim of racial discrimination and violence.
When he was 16, Idris earned a £1,500 artist’s grant, and took time from school to participate in the National Youth Music Theatre, which included a singing role in “Guys and Dolls.” It was British TV, though, that opened the golden door. His first major TV role was in 1995 in the series “Bramwell,” a period medical drama. That year, he made a big-time score — a supporting role in the hit series, “Absolutely Fabulous.” Other small-screen performances followed, including the prime-time soap opera “Family Affair” and the miniseries “Ultraviolet.”
Elba decided to migrate to the U.S. in 1997. Struggling to find roles for a black actor, he worked on sharpening his American accent but found the job market discouraging. However, gotta start small. In 2001 he landed a role as Achilles in the stage production of Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida,” a supporting part in the film “Buffalo Soldiers” with Joaquin Phoenix and a “Law and Order” appearance, which made for a pretty good year.
Landing an audition on “The Wire” with the producer David Simon, Elba first tried out for the role of druglord Avon Barksdale, but eventually landed the role of Russell “Stringer” Bell, Barksdale’s right-hand man. From 2002 to 2004, the writers enriched and augmented the Elba’s role in the series, and audiences worldwide were in awe of the new fiery presence that Elba presented. “The Wire” is considered one of the most critically acclaimed series in modern TV history — a Baltimore drugs-and-police drama with amazing writing and stunning performances.
Staring out supporting the main players in films like “The Gospel” (2005) and the Rwandan genocide HBO drama “Sometimes in April” (2005), Elba also rubbed elbows with Oscar winner Hilary Swank in “The Reaping,” (2007) and “28 Weeks Later.” Sharing space with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in “American Gangster” (2008) was no small change either. Then there was “Obsessed,” the steamy stalker drama with Ali Larter and Beyonce Knowles. Though not loved by the critics, it was a box office hit and concreted his position as a formidable leading man and a sex symbol.
Playing the starchy foil to Steve Carrell’s whacky Michael Scott in the hit series “The Office” Elba showed how versatile he is. Returning to England for a few years, he solidified himself in the British TV canon again in the BBC crime series “Luther.” Playing a haunted Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, Elba brooded his way to an Emmy nomination and Golden Globe award for Best Actor. Although the show only had 14 episodes total, there are rumors of a film adaption in the works.
When Elba portrayed the greatest South African and anti-apartheid icon Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, his performance received raves although the movie as a whole got tepid reviews. The film also starred Naomie Harris as First Lady Winnie Mandela and was based on the autobiography chronicling Mandela’s first years as an attorney in racially segregated South Africa, his 27 years in the Robben Island prison, his release and building of a new and just nation. Elba’s performance landed him another Golden Globe nomination.
Even though DJing was the primary income for Elba back in the day, after fame he continued to be a guest DJ at certain events under the pseudonym Big Driis. Gigs included a 2007 NBA All Star Party in Las Vegas, and the BET series “Rising Icon” in 2009. He appeared as a guest in music videos by Mumford and Sons, and in intros to major albums such as Jay-Z’s “American Gangster” (2009). Elba has also released a bunch of EPs, said to be well-received in the U.K.
Elba claims his 1977 first marriage to Dormowa Sherman, a Liberian actress, fell apart when he couldn’t find work. He was married to his second wife, Hanne “Kim” Norgaard, from 1999 to 2003, fathering his first child, Isan. In April 2014, his girlfriend Nayiana Garth (above) gave birth to Elba’s second child, Winston. However, in the interim between his two children being born, a woman he’d been seeing in Florida produced a son and claimed it was Elba’s. After paternity tests proved otherwise, he said, “To be given that and then have it taken away so harshly was like taking a full-on punch in the face.” (E!Online).
In May 2007, People Magazine named Elba as one of the 100 Most Beautiful People in the World. Essence’s annual crown for Sexiest Man Alive was placed on his head in 2013. People Magazine again took him close to the finish line, listing him as No. 2 on the Sexiest Man Alive List in 2013. Sounds like the universe wants him around! Besides the rumors of a “Luther” movie, there is “The Gunman” with Sean Penn about to be released this year. We know we’ll continue seeing this handsome guy around.