In midst of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, actor Idris Elba’s performance in Beasts of No Nation took centerstage. It was one of several roles (including Michael B. Jordan’s in Creed) that many felt were passed over by the Academy Awards. Well, regardless of the snubs, the British actor’s career is soaring and it feels like a good time to look back at where he came from, and where he’s headed…
After dropping out of school at age 16, Elba began working odd jobs and auditioning for film and TV roles, landing his first gig doing murder reconstructions on Crimewatch, a British television show that investigates unsolved crimes. But his real break came in 2002. The then-thirty-year-old found himself in a leading role on HBO’s The Wire, portraying Stringer Bell, a complex, charismatic drug lord in Baltimore, Md. Elba embodied a street hustler who was cleverly outsmarting the law but ultimately struggled to leave a life of crime behind.
Now that American audiences knew the actor, the floodgates opened. Elba appeared in The Big C, Thor and Pacific Rim. For a brief period, he played Michael Scott’s (Steve Carell) replacement on The Office, the no-nonsense manager Charles Miner. His stern reactions to Scott’s hilarious behavior (as well as his popularity among his female subordinates) is a highlight of the series.
Next came the titular role in BBC’s Luthor, a gritty crime thriller about an obsessive cop and the unlikely bond he forms with a serial killer he’s chasing. The role demanded a sometimes explosive, sometimes subdued performance from Elba, who delivered a complexity that is entirely his own.
If his previous dramatic turns didn’t prove just how dark (and engrossing) Elba could venture, his next role would rid the critics of any doubt. He portrayed the Commandant in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film, Beasts of No Nation, an examination of child soldiers in an African country. Elba is as charismatic as he is hypnotizing, inspiring young boys to fight in a war they don’t understand. Although he didn’t get the Oscar nomination he deserved, the press for his performance and the subsequent awards snub only heightened his profile.
In April, Disney’s Jungle Book will hit theaters featuring the English actor as the villain of Rudyard Kipling’s story, Shere Khan. Depicted as a fearsome tiger, Khan is arrogant and imposing, believing himself to be the true king of the jungle. Elba joins voice-actors Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson,Christopher Walken and Ben Kingsley in the film live-action version of the classic story.
So, what’s next for Idris Elba? Universal exposure. He’ll be lending his baritone and his powerful presence to the third installment of the Star Trekfranchise as the gruesome Krall, an alien looking to upend the Federation’s status quo. And if that isn’t cool enough, prepare for Elba to headline the biggest franchise of Stephen King’s career, The Dark Tower series. Think Lord of the Rings meets an epic western. This could be as big as Harry Potter with Idris as the star, playing the The Gunslinger.
Hopefully this inspired you to dig a little deeper with that one actor from The Wire you loved, or that terrifying guy from Beasts of No Nation. His name is Idris Elba. Get used to hearing it.