How To Be As Cool As Idris Elba

From Stringer Bell to Mandela: the actor's unique charm decoded

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Here's the thing.

With a CV that reads Hollywood actor, DJ, director and regular magazine cover star (including Esquire), being 'cool' should be a given. And yet it isn't.

Many of the famous actors we read about have the lifestyle, the money – some, even the talent – we all wish we shared. But it's a precious few who have that hard-to-define quality, that spark that make us think (however privately) we would also like to be a bit more like them.

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It takes a rare combination of on-screen talent and off-screen charm. And today, epitomising that is the coolest man in Hollywood, Idris Elba.

How can you be sure we're right with this one? Here's a quick checklist, stop us when we're wrong. He's been in at least one epic TV show (The Wire, Luther) that you love, and probably a film or two. On his recent cover shoot with Esquire, he didn't only give one of the best interviews of the year but was great company too. Your girlfriend loves him, but you don't really mind. If you had the chance, you'd buy him a pint.

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And most importantly, he makes it all look easy.

Which of course, it isn't.

That's the whole point.

Ahead of the release of Mandela – his biggest film to date – we examine the Hackney-born star to present you with 'How To Be As Cool As Idris Elba In 16 Difficult Steps'. Good luck.


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(Hover over for ingredients)

That's a DJ proper – not a 'celebrity DJ' playing a 'special guest slot', which really means turning up to a media do at 2am and dancing awkwardly next to someone else as they press the buttons. Idris set up his own DJ company and played in clubs around London and New York before he got his break as an actor. 



Or better still – have them name a part of it after you (Hackney Gazzette, 2011).


On a normal man, black suit + black shirt + black tie = dodgy bouncer.

On Idris = suave as hell.


"Rodin sculptures seem incredibly weighted by their own humanity. Idris is sort of like that. He’s over-human. And he has the most amazing eyes. Some actors have the gift of empathy with the audience. And it is a gift – it’s not technique or training. There are just actors you care for."

- Guillermo del Toro, director

When most men punch a door in anger, we chip off a bit of paint then hop around for a bit holding our hand.

When Idris does it, this happens.

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Embrace the selfie.

But only want it on merit.

"If it fucking happens, it’s the will of the nation. Everywhere I go, people are saying, ‘You’d be a great Bond.’ And I want to ask them, ‘Are you saying that because it’s trendy or because you mean it?’ But you can tell by looking in their eyes. They mean it!"

 – Esquire interview, 2013

Even when talking about 7 minute ejaculations.
 


Giant red woolly hat.

And get away with lines like: "Spread you right mama like no other / Show you parts in your p***y that you ain’t discover".



Always be sweet to your Mum.

Wearing a silly wig, naturally.


Small fluffy dog.


And somehow make Mumford & Sons listenable in the process.



“I remember [The Wire creator] David Simon asked me on the last audition, ‘Where in the US are you from?’ – this whole time I’ve been talking in an American accent. And I was like, ‘If I fucking lie right now, I’m going to lose this shit.’ So I said, ‘Listen guys, I’m English.’ David was like, ‘Get the fuck out of here!’ I thought I’d pissed him off!"

 – Esquire interview, 2013



Heindall (all-seeing and all-hearing Norse God, trusted servant of Odin and the guardian sentry of Asgard).


“As soon as we told Winnie [Mandela] and the daughters Zindzi and Zenani that Idris had been cast, they all said, ‘That’s perfect,’”

- Anant Singh, Mandel producer


Paddy Power's current Best Actor odds:

7/2 Idris Elba: Long Walk to Freedom
4/1 Leonardo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall Street
6/1 Christian Bale: American Hustle
8/1 Bruce Dern: Nebraska
10/1 Matthew McConaughey: The Dallas Buyers Club
10/1 Steve Carell: Foxcatcher
12/1 Tom Hanks: Captain Phillips
12/1 Tom Hanks: Saving Mr Banks
40/1 Leonardo DiCaprio: The Great Gatsby


Elba recalls one scene in particular, in which he had to march into a movie theatre in Soweto and call the crowd to arms. It was a real crowd, a real theatre, full of 600 real Sowetans, most of whom had seen Mandela speak in person many times. 

"I’m telling you, man – people were crying. First take, I’m not even joking. First they were like, ‘It’s Idris Elba’. Then, ‘It’s Idris Elba playing Madiba’ [Mandela’s clan name]. Then it’s like, ‘Shit — it’s Madiba!’

“People are going to judge me for this role. I don’t look like Mandela, some say I don’t deserve it. Whatever. For me, it’s important I am who I am, as I present this piece to the world.

“Look, if I never work again, I don’t care. I did my bit, you know?”

Esquire interview, 2013