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Idris Elba is ready to rock in Hobbs & Shaw

Words by Rob Chilton

After graduating top of his class from the school of hard knocks, a fired-up Elba takes on The Rock and Jason Statham in the movie event of the summer

Going up against Jason Statham in a mega bucks blockbuster that aims to have audiences jumping out of their seats, throwing popcorn up in the air and high-fiving their neighbour requires an actor who has plenty of personality. But acting opposite Statham and Dwayne Johnson? Well, that requires the kind of charisma rarely found in Hollywood stars these days.

Luckily, for audiences, Johnson, Statham and the accountants at Universal, there is an actor who’s up to the job: Idris Elba. In what is his most visible cinema role to date, the gravel-voiced star snarls and quips his way through the movie event of the summer, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, as the superhuman bad guy, Brixton. Or, as the character calls himself in the movie – a line that went viral when it appeared in the trailer – ‘Black Superman.’

Elba on the hunt as Brixton Lorr

Johnson plays FBI agent Luke Hobbs and calls the movie “a gargantuan triple threat match.” Statham returns for his fourth outing as ex MI6 agent Deckard Shaw, while Elba’s character wants to wipe out civilisation with a deadly virus. Support comes from Helen Mirren and The Crown actress Vanessa Kirby.

Of course, Johnson and Statham are front and centre in the movie but Elba is on fine form. “The goal of finding a villain who had the believability that they could go up against, not only me but also Jason – Idris fit that bill,” explains Johnson. “He came in and created a character who audiences will ultimately actually fall in love with, the bad guy that is so bad.”

Statham and Johnson have clearly been in the gym

Helping Elba, 46, land the role was his friendship with Johnson, who praised the Brit – a keen kickboxer – for the “incredible strength, intensity, menace, and diabolical nature” he brought to the screen. “You need an actor who can deliver on all those counts and we all felt that Idris was that man.”

Elba favours the 4-2-1 formation

After admirable work in TV shows The Wire and Luther, Elba stepped up to juicy cinematic roles in Beasts of No Nation, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Pacific Rim, Molly’s Game, Star Trek Beyond and The Dark Tower, plus a strong supporting turn as gatekeeper Heimdall in the Thor franchise. But now Fast & Furious feels like Elba’s moment of arrival in Hollywood.

During interviews for Thor, Elba hinted that he was ready to stretch his legs. “It’s been great,” he said, “but I kinda think I need a bit more. I want to be a superhero. I like the idea of that. I definitely wanted to be in the big chair growing up and be a part of the whole process of making the film.”

Elba has Johnson and Statham right where he wants them

As well as acting, Elba is known for his DJ career. After starting out in pirate radio, Elba progressed to clubs and lucrative gigs for celebrity parties, including the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. “People think I’m the lifeblood of the party. I’m not,” he smiles. “I just want to sit in the corner and enjoy everyone else having a good time. This is why DJing is so appealing to me.”

Elba and Sabrina Dhowre attend Prince Harry's wedding

Away from the decks, Elba is familiar with awards season, having been nominated for Golden Globes for Luther, Mandela and Beasts of No Nation. His only win came in 2012 for Luther. “It’s great to go to awards and be recognised. It doesn’t happen all the time. There are actors that you see getting awards all the time and they’re great actors and they deserve it but, for me, it doesn’t happen all the time so it is quite a lovely feeling. It’s not surreal but it is a bit weird when you see all these really good talented actors, all in proximity of you.”

Humble words, but don’t think Elba is going to politely sit in the corner, happy to wait his turn for recognition. “I’m an ambitious person,” he says. “I never consider myself in competition with anyone, and I’m not saying that from an arrogant standpoint, it’s just that my journey started so, so long ago, and I’m still on it and I won’t stand still.”

Elba won a brace of SAG Awards in 2016

That journey began in Hackney and later Canning Town, economically deprived areas of east London where racism was commonplace. “In Canning Town there was quite a big National Front faction so in that area you would often walk down the street, coming out of school, going home, and be called a ‘black b******’ or ‘Go back to your own country.’ I heard all of that.” He worked at the Ford motor factory with his dad.

Inevitably, those experiences shaped Elba’s character and eventually led to a life highlight of speaking in British Parliament about diversity. “Yeah, one of the biggest moments of my life,” he admits. “I had something to say and to have the platform of Parliament and all those ears was definitely a massive moment for me. I think it was quite impactful from the reaction. But also what it did do is give license for people to speak about it openly and perhaps do something about it.”

Wearing Givenchy to the Met Ball in 2018

Elba decided he wanted to be an actor at 12 and started making films at 21. “I remember the first thing I ever saw myself in was this info commercial about making sure you padlock your bike,” he laughs. “I played a cyclist who runs up a hill and he’s exhausted, he’s looking for his bike and his bike’s gone! That was my acting debut. I remember that.”

It’s safe to say his acting repertoire has improved since that debut. His favourite type of characters to play, he says, are the ones “that take me away from myself as much as possible. I don’t want to recognise myself in it at all. I think the more challenging, the more crazy the characters are, the better it is for me to play.” It’s easy to see why Brixton in Fast & Furious appealed to him.

Elba and Dhowre at the 2019 Golden Globe Awards

Any conversation about Idris Elba inevitably steers towards James Bond and persistent rumours that he will take over from Daniel Craig. “James Bond is a massive rumour that has taken legs,” says Elba. “I’m definitely glad to be associated with an actor that people would like to see in that role but it isn’t gonna happen at this point.”

In real life, Elba has the glow of a man who just got married. Wearing a smart black suit from Ozwald Boateng, Elba tied the knot with model Sabrina Dhowre, 29, in Morocco in April 2019. When it comes to relationships, Elba believes he may not represent himself as he should. “I think I’m the most misunderstood partner ever. I’ve had many failed relationships because there are so many complexities to relationships. Perhaps I’m very guarded. And being guarded, people presume things and I often haven’t corrected them.”

Elba as Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom

Elba has two children from two previous marriages and believes the lynchpin of good fatherhood is being present. “More than anything you have to make time to be with your children,” he says. “It’s something I battle a lot because of my career. As much as it’s nice to be busy and working, ultimately children don’t raise themselves. You’ve got to be there to help them and guide them through it. That’s one thing I try my very best to do. I love being a dad, it’s my favourite thing and an important part of my life.”

Now married for a third time to Dhowre, Elba looks set for an exciting period in his life with more movie roles, writing, directing and DJing. “I feel like fear is a really boring waste of time. You can’t live a life thinking it could go bad. I could’ve stayed working with my dad at Ford and be my age now and dreaming about having a life like this. So here I am doing it. I don’t really complain that much.”

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw hits UAE cinemas August 1

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