Idris Elba opens up about the Oscars, Black Presidents, and Tyler Perry:
As a fitting close to Black History Month, actor Idris Elba was the featured speaker for the Lens Project’s “Artist Spotlight” series. Held at the Paul Robeson Center of Rutgers University’s Newark campus this past Thursday evening, the lecture was moderated by Ms. Baraka Sele, the current Assistant Vice President of Programming of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC).
Black Presidents In The Movies
Idris stepped onto the stage to standing applause and an unmistakable spike in estrogen levels among the women in attendance, as they whipped out their cameras to document Hollywood’s sexiest chocolate boy wonder. Adopting an ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ format, Ms. Sele and Mr. Elba discussed everything from his solid middle class beginnings in East London, his upcoming projects, to the current state of black cinema in Hollywood.
On his most prolific role as Stringer Bell on HBO’s ‘The Wire’
“I was a huge fan of Stringer Bell being killed off right at the height of his popularity. I commend the writers for a realistic view of living a life of crime…as a drug dealer you either end up dead or in prison.”
On the Golden Globes and this year’s Oscar ‘white-out’
“Halle Berry and I were the only two black actors nominated for this year’s Golden Globes (Idris for Luther and Halle for Frankie & Alice). The Oscars aren’t designed for us…let’s focus on making more films.”
On the controversy surrounding his role as Heimdall, in the upcoming “Thor”
“It’s so ridiculous. We have a man (Thor) who has a flying hammer, and wears horns on his head and yet me being an actor of African descent playing a Norse god is unbelievable? I mean, Cleopatra was played by Elizabeth Taylor and Ghandi was played by Ben Kingsley”
Does he watch any of his films?
“I don’t watch myself. It’s excruciating”
On his decision to become an actor
“My parents were hard-working and believed in security, getting that paycheck. Paul Barber (another black British actor) came to speak at my school, and I realized ‘I could do that too.’ When I told my parents I wanted to be an actor, my father said to me (at this point Idris mimics a dead-on African accent) ‘Kuna, you know actors don’t make money.’ So I got a job working at the Ford factory and after 2 years, I was like, I gotta go back to acting.” (Idris would eventually win a place in the National Youth Music Theater, thanks to a Prince’s Trust grant).
On speaking to today’s youth
“I’m just a beacon… actors and people in the film industry should speak at schools to inspire students.” Idris is the anti-crime ambassador for the Prince’s Trust grant, a U.K. based youth charity that provides workplace skills and financial support.
On being an only child
“As an only child I had a vivid imagination. My imagination gets me in trouble, it gets me awards and it gets me paychecks”
On what role he finds most challenging
“While the U.K. is known for their drama schools, they are very expensive. I wasn’t classically trained in theater, so I have a natural fear of Shakespeare. But I’d like to tackle King Lear or Othello.”
On the Spike Lee vs. Tyler Perry debate
“Can I be candid?” he asks before turning to face the audience directly. “I don’t like all of Tyler Perry’s films. Yes, I did work with Tyler for “Daddy’s Little Girls” because it portrayed a positive image of a black father. I am happy for Tyler’s success…we need Tyler Perry…by going to support his movies, we need to show economic strength. But we are also responsible for elevating film. I’m not with buffoonish characters like Madea or Big Momma.”
By the end of the lecture, it was clear that Idris Elba hasn’t been coasting on just his good looks. Thoughtful, resourceful, and humble, Idris Elba continues the legacy of strong and positive depictions of black masculinity in Hollywood.
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