Conversations: Idris Elba of 'The Wire,' 'The Office,' Hip-Hop and 'Obsessed'
To devout admirers of "The Wire," Idris Elba is synonymous with Stringer Bell, the ambitious drug dealer who bravely took a bullet in the HBO drama. To followers of hip-hop and soul, he's Driis, the alter ego he adopts as a DJ and musical artist. To fans of "The Office," he's the not-very-jokey new boss. And to many, many people, the actor is something best summarized in two words: smoking hot. Elba, who is (surprise!) a London native stars opposite Beyonce in the movie "Obsessed," opening Friday.
-- Jen Chaney
In "Obsessed," two women (Beyonce and Ali Larter) essentially fight over you, which plays into the fact that many ladies see you as a heartthrob. Have you gotten used to that?
It's weird because, you know, I've been just the ordinary chap for 30 odd years and suddenly, I'm going into this [situation]: "Oh my God, all the ladies love you!" And I'm like, "Huh? Me? It doesn't make any sense!" I didn't grow up like some sort of sex symbol. It does make a gentleman walk with a stride in his step, believe me.
What are some of the more interesting things female fans have done to express their, um, appreciation?
I've been proposed to a few times. I remember famously saying in Essence magazine that I love woman with nice feet. And now everywhere I go, ladies are like, "Oh, I had my feet done for you today." That's very common.
I've had women bring me food to the sets where I've been [working]. I was in a location for a long time and this woman came up with a three-course meal. I didn't eat it, but I was so thankful. Of course, I didn't tell her I didn't eat it. So if she reads this she'll be like, "He didn't eat it?"
How do you feel about Stringer Bell, a character that people still talk about even though you left him behind five years ago?
It was actually the best thing that could have happened to me in my career, for it to end where it ended. Anyone that has played in a television series for a long time knows the hardest thing to do is to shake that character. I think I shook my character just as people were piquing interest into who I am, and that's what propelled me into the next stages.
But the long and short of it is, you know, I am building a career. My name isn't Stringer. It's Idris. Some people don't know how to pronounce that. That's okay. Don't call me Stringer, but you can call me everything else. Ay-dris. Or Ee-dris . . .
You recently said during an NPR interview that you haven't seen many episodes of "The Wire." Is that true?
I saw some of Season 1. I didn't see any of Season 2. I saw the last scene, where I die, in that episode of Season 3. So I haven't seen [most of] "The Wire." Understand that because of the authenticity of the show, it's like I lived it. I don't really need to see it. It's kind of like a memory or something that really happened. I don't really watch anything I've done. I've been doing six episodes of "The Office." I've seen the first one, but I haven't seen any of the others. I'm hypercritical about my work, so I try not to torture myself.
Speaking of "The Office," I'm curious: which member of that show's cast raised your game the most when you were shooting?
It was actually a combination of Steve Carell and John Krasinski.
[Krasinski] hazed me, okay? While we were doing scenes, especially scenes where I would be in front of the whole team and telling them orders and such, he would always throw jabs at me and see if I'd crack. A few times, I got him. Because when the camera was on him, I'd be exactly the same way and be a complete goofball and he just wasn't expecting that from me. Because he's like: "Oh my God. Stringer Bell's funny."
And Steve Carell is unbelievably funny and crazy. I mean, he's so good at the improvisation. And never cracks up. Ever.
In addition to acting, you've also spent many years working as a DJ. I understand you plan to release an album this fall using your DJ name, Driis. Do you use that name intentionally, to keep your film and TV work separate from your music?
Very much so. I've been fortunate to have the film work and acting work take over, but it could have been, easily, the other way around. In the last four or five years, I like to consider myself as an artist, which is why I don't really celebrate the sex symbol gig and things like that. I think it's such a compliment but I'd rather be considered an artist. There are people that don't know Idris Elba and will hear Driis. People put two and two together pretty quickly because they go to the Web site and they go . . . "Oh, he's an actor." But the first thing that draws them to my music is the music, not Idris Elba, hopefully.