British actor Idris Elba has come a long way from his east London roots. The son of a car factory worker, he is now one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stars.
The Golden Globe-winning star of “The Wire” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is fresh from promoting his latest film “No Good Deed,” which topped this weekend’s North America box office.
Elba plays an escaped convict who terrorizes a woman along with her two children in the thriller, which made some $25 million despite being panned by critics
But the 42-year-old says he is keen to avoid getting himself typecast — he has played his fair share of gangsters, a world away from the South African statesman.
He says he’d like to try his hand at directing some day.
“I try to mix up,” he said, discussing the new film — and his career strategy — at a Beverly Hill hotel. “I definitely want to challenge and ask my audience not to fall in love with one character or type of character.”
“You just have to be vigilant about your own vision. My vision is to be an actor that went from Mandela to playing a psychotic man… that’s something that I think is interesting.”
Brought up in London’s Canning Town — he is proud to call himself a genuine Cockney, born within the sound of Bow Bells — he began acting professionally in his early 20s.
Elba’s big break came when he landed a starring role on the US television show The Wire in 2002, playing drug lord Russell “Stringer” Bell in the Home Box Office series which became a hit worldwide.
Having moved to the United States — he has lived here for 15 years — he became a jobbing Hollywood actor in the noughties before earning his Golden Globe for 2010’s made-for-TV movie “Luther.”
In the last few years he has hit the real bigtime, landing roles in blockbusters like “Thor” (2011 and the 2013 sequel) and last year’s “Pacific Rim.”
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” also came out last year, coincidentally premiering in London the very day that the anti-apartheid icon passed away in South Africa.
Ironically, he was studying Mandela’s autobiography as he was playing escaped convict Colin Evans in “No Good Deed.”
“The irony is that I was going from that movie to go to South Africa for eight months to go do Mandela. So I was reading ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ as I was playing,” he told a small group of reporters.
The new movie may have had poor reviews — it received a paltry 14 percent on ratings website Rotten Tomatoes, which called it “dull, derivative and generally uninspired” — but it made nearly twice its $13 million on its opening weekend.
And Elba is clearly going from strength to strength.
Working with A-list directors like Guillermo del Toro (“Pacific Rim”) has taught him a great deal.
“Guillermo is a legend,” he said. “I learnt a lot .. I’d like to direct at some point. Just watching him direct was just incredible,” he gushed.
Elba is currently working on a smaller project in London — giving him a chance to see his family. And while he seems equally at ease with the trappings of Hollywood success, he admits it sometimes baffles his mum.
“She’s always worried about how much I work … when you get to a certain level of success it’s just an ongoing thing, it’s great, but it really is taxing. And she worries about that,” he said.
He also downplays his reputation as a sex symbol. “It’s a compliment no doubt,” he said, but added: “You should see me in the mornings.”