His popularity and proliferation as an actor are steadily on the rise, having just completed work in Avengers franchise film Thor: Ragnarok (having already appeared in Avengers: Age of Ultron and both Thor movies as Heimdall), and having had prominent roles in top-grossing films such as The Jungle Book, Finding Dory, Zootopia and Star Trek Beyond. Elba’s acting range spans action, drama and science-fiction. He has been lauded for his performances with multiple Golden Globes and Emmy nominations.
In 2016, he was named in the Time 100 list of the Most Influential People in the World.
AGE, EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Elba was born Idrissa Akuna “Idris” Elba on September 6, 1972 (Idris Elba age: 44) to Eve and Winston Elba in Hackney, London, England. His father Winston worked for the Ford Motor factory at Dagenham, while his mother Eve held a clerical job. His father is Sierra Leonean and his mother is Ghanaian; they were married in Sierra Leone before moving to London. Elba was raised in the East Ham suburb of London while attending school in Canning Town. Wanting to be an actor since he was in his teens, Elba saw an advertisement for a local play in The Stage newspaper. “It was playing at the Red Line Pub Theater,” Elba recounted for Guru. “I went there, did the audition, got it, got the job, and from there I began to understand what the industry was really about.” Luckily for Elba, an agent happened to be in the audience on the night of his performance, opening the door to other roles and opportunities. While beginning his acting career, Elba also began work as a DJ for uncle’s wedding business, later turning this passion into his own DJ company, under the moniker “Big Driis.” This was in addition to shifts with his father at the car factory.
In 1988, Elba was awarded a place in the National Youth Music Theatre (Jude Law is another well-known alumnus of the program) made possible through a £1,500 Prince’s Trust scholarship. His participation in the program led to an early role on popular UK murder-reconstruction series Crimewatch. Elba also made an appearance on Channel Five soap Family Affairs, the supernatural BBC series Ultraviolet and The Inspector Lynley Mysteries.
MOVE TO NEW YORK CITY AND THE WIRE
Elba’s first significant role came in 1995 on Bramwell, a medical drama set in 1850’s England. He played Charlier Carter, an African thief figuring out to support his daughter in the wake of his wife’s death. Despite moderate success, Elba was unhappy with the lack of roles for black actors and moved to New York City in 2001. The transition was tough, and the actor soon found himself working as a doorman at the comedy club Carolines and DJing while trying to build his career. Luckily, shortly after his move, his agent, Roger Charteris, managed to secure a part for him in the production of Peter Hall’s Troilus and Cressida. Once more, an industry heavy-hitter was in attendance. Casting director Alexa L Fogel saw Elba’s performance and offered him an audition for the role that would be his best known in the United States: Russell “Stringer” Bell on HBO’s The Wire.
Playing a Baltimore drug kingpin propelled Elba to popularity in The U.S., but it was a role from which he ultimately began to distance himself. “I like this episode because Stringer dies in it,” Elba told The Guardian. ”I celebrate the fact that he dies. I have a problem with the glorification of a drug dealer and America is fascinated with that world. We’re celebrating the very fucking problem that America has in its hood. But Stringer Bell was no role model. He ruled the people who worked for him through fear. So it was good that Stringer died.” Consequently, with “Stringer” no longer a character on The Wire, the actor sought to expand the type of roles he was being offered. “It would have been easy to have played Stringer roles forever. Like I told those kids, you’ve got to move out of your comfort zone, try something new all the time. I never want to play anything like Stringer Bell ever again,” he told The Guardian.
THE OFFICE, LUTHER, MOVE TO FILM
Elba followed up the harsh role of “Stringer” with a turn as a comedic villain on the popular mockumentary comedy The Office. Elba played Charles Miner, a rival to Dunder Mifflin manager Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) for six episodes.
Elba then returned to dramatic roles, taking the lead for six-part BBC mini-series Luther. His role as the eponymous Detective John Luther earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.
His transition to film came in 2007, when he signed on to star in Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls, playing blue-collar worker Monty. He continued to take roles in financially successful films across a variety of genres, including zombie movie 28 Weeks Later, musical comedy This Christmas, horror film Prom Night and RocknRolla. In a contemporary adaptation of Fatal Attraction, Obsessed, Elba starred alongside Beyoncé, and the film took in $29 million in its opening weekend. He also had roles in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.
He continued taking roles that highlighted his acting ability. In 2012, he signed on to portray Nelson Mandela in the biopic, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Elba prepared for the role by locking himself away in a cell alone on Robben Island, where Mandela had been imprisoned. In an interview with uInterview, he said that he spent a great deal of time perfecting the voice, as well as digging into other aspects of the figure’s life and persona. “I think the most surprising was the journey in prison,” Elba said. “Not many people know what happened in prison. I think for Mandela, believe it or not, the most liberating part of his life was being in prison and sort of reinventing himself, re-educating himself, and sort of building his patience and forgiveness.” His performance earned him another Golden Globe nomination, this time for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. He would later win a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture for his role in the Netflix drama Beasts Of No Nation.
Elba is currently set to play Roland Deschain in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s dark fantasy western horror novel, The Dark Tower.
Elba has continued his DJing career alongside acting, appearing in music videos for Fat Joe, Angie Stone and rapper Giggs. His move to the U.S. and subsequent success has also led to support from superstars like Jay-Z, releasing a record on the Hip Hop icons album American Gangster.
In November 2015, Elba opened for Madonna during her Rebel Heart Tour. He has also been featured on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made (2016). Versatile in music as well as acting, he recently co-directed and performed in Mumford & Sons music video “Lovers of The Light.”
Elba has been married twice. He was married to Henne (Kim) Norgaard from 1998 to 2003 and they have one daughter together. He later married real estate agent Sonia Nicole Hamlin, whom he met in 2006 while living in Maryland and filming The Wire; they split after six weeks. Elba then dated Naiyana Garth from 2013 to 2016, and together they have one son, Winston.
Elba was appointed Anti-Crime Ambassador in 2009 for The Prince’s Trust, the same foundation that supported his time at the National Youth Music Theatre. He was also recently appointed to an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to drama.
Beyond his numerous acting accolades, he was selected as one of People’s annual 100 Most Beautiful People in the World in May 2007, Essence’s annual 2013 Sexiest Man of the Year, and was number two in People’s annual Sexiest Man Alive list in 2013. He was also presented the MOBO (i.e. Music of Black Origin) Inspiration Award in 2014.
Elba has stated that he is spiritual, but not religious.