Idris Elba is featured on one of three different covers for GQ’s October “Style Manual” issue. GQ catches up with Elba while DJing in Ibiza, opening for Fatboy Slim, and discusses his rise to fame, as well as the hardships he’s endured along the way, including selling drugs to make ends meet before scoring his big acting break on The Wire, ironically enough, as a drug dealer.
Suit, $2,785, by Dolce & Gabbana. Shirt, $295, by Todd Snyder. Tie, $195, by Dolce & Gabbana. Tie bar by The Tie Bar. Pocket square by Brunello Cucinelli. Shoes by Church’s.
Idris Elba on formerly selling drugs & working as a doorman to make ends meet:
“Yeah, it was, because I was running with cats. I mean, I was DJ’ing, but I was also pushing bags of weed; I was doing my work. I had to. I know that sounds corny, but this is the truth.” He says he’d sell drugs at Carolines, and meanwhile all these successful guys would come through: D. L. Hughley, Dave Chappelle. “All those black comedians, they knew me as a doorman.”
…on his legacy of playing Stringer Bell on HBO’s The Wire:
“That really is more about the writing of The Wire than it is the performance. You know, Stringer Bell is a great character that was written. I happened to play him, but it could’ve been anybody playing that role.”
You really feel like anybody could’ve played Stringer?
“Listen, I think I brought Stringer to life my way, but The Wire isn’t a classic because of Stringer Bell. The Sopranos was a classic because of Tony Soprano.”
…on his feud with Liam Gallagher following the NME Awards:
And then he throws on “Wonderwall,” by Oasis, which iscurious, because even though the mostly British crowd is howling the song back at him, Elba has been in the tabloids recently for an altercation with LiamGallagher after this year’s NME Awards; the younger Gallagher brother removed Elba’s wool cap in an apparently disrespectful manner. Elba took issue; the two men got into it. So it seems suspicious, Elba playing Gallagher’s song, and the next day, when we meet up again, I ask him about it.
“Wonderwall” last night—were you taking a shot?
“No! Fuck that idiot. No.”
Basically, Elba says, he just gave Liam a hug and an affectionate rub on the head.
“Didn’t like that. Don’t touch his hair, apparently. Fuck off. Next time walk with a fucking hairdresser, then.”
“Well, ‘I’m a popular rock singer, so I’m going to be mean and fucking horrible to people just because they messed up my look.’ Fuck off. I played his song because his song’s a classic. I couldn’t—I don’t even know what his songs are about now or what band he’s in now. No one gives a fuck, yeah? He was popular when he was in Oasis.”
…on finding out he was not the father of a boy he was calling his own:
“You know, the truth is—like, even admitting it, I’ll probably get laughed at for the rest of my life. But it is just tragic, and it happened.” He looks directly at me when he says this. “But I wasn’t knocked out. I stood right the fuck back up, and I ain’t aiming to take another punch in the face ever again. Do you understand what I’m saying? It happened to me. I moved on.”
In a paradoxical way, he says, it was freeing. “I’ve not been an angel in my life, either—do you know what I’m saying? So to a certain extent, what goes around comes around. But for me in the future, I’m about being comfortable. That’s it.”
…on unleashing his emotions in Luther:
He was filming the Luther pilot. This was 2010. And there was this scene in the script: Luther’s married but separated from his wife, played by the actress Indira Varma. He hopes to reconcile, only to find out that she’s moved on and is dating another man. The script called for a furious Luther to, among other things, slam a door.
“And you have to understand, I had just gone through the worst thing in my life with, you know…”
The Florida thing.
“Yeah. So Luther came at a time where, you know, it was gaga therapy for me, man. Stupid. I was like, ‘I’m going in…’ And that is what I fucking did. I’ll tell you: I did that take, and I remember the room…Indira Varma, the beautiful Indian actress—beautiful girl… The crew were at this end of the room, all packed in. Indira was over there. And I fucking let go. Like, all kinds of shit happened in my head. I mean—blitz. Fucked up this door, I mean fucked this fucking door up. The emotion was going so long after the fucking actual scene was ended that everyone sat in silence. Indira was in fucking tears; I was in tears.”
The camera was still rolling. No one knew what to do. The silence just kept going. And then, finally, someone called, “Cut.”
Guillermo del Toro on Idris Elba’s attitude towards acting:
“Idris, when he’s acting,” del Toro says, “I don’t think he is content.”
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