British import Idris Elba had been a mainstay on British television with credits for such series as “Absolutely Fabulous,” “Family Affairs,” “Ultraviolet” and “Dangerfield,” before appearing before American audiences on the HBO critically acclaimed series “The Wire” (2002-2004), from which he earned an Image nomination. He enjoyed further recognition as the star of the HBO Original Film “Sometimes in April” (2005), in which he picked up nominations at the Black Reel Awards, the Image Awards and the NAMIC Vision Awards. More recently, he portrayed Charles Miner on the NBC series “The Office” (2009), which was adapted from the BBC hit series of the same name.
A supporting player in the Catherine Deneuve vehicle “Belle Maman” (1999), Elba's film career took off after his portrayal of Reverend Charles in Rob Hardy's “The Gospel” (2005), his first Hollywood picture. He has since starred in a number of films, including “Daddy's Little Girls” (2007, received a BET nomination), “The Reaping” (2007), “28 Weeks Later” (2007), “American Gangster” (2007, earned a SAG nomination), “Prom Night” (2008), “RocknRolla” (2008), “The Unborn” (2009) and “Obsessed” (2009). He is also set to have roles in such upcoming movies as “The Finest” (2009), “Takers” (2010) and “The Losers” (2011).
Elba has one daughter with his ex-wife. A music lover, he has released a Hip-Hop EP. In his spare time, he enjoys hanging out with rappers like Ludacris and Diddy. He mentions Robert De Niro's “The King of Comedy” as his favorite film.
Childhood and Family:
Idris Akuna Elba was born on September 6, 1972, in Hackney, London, England, to a Ghanaian mother and a Sierra Leonean father. He started helping an uncle with his wedding DJ business when he was 14 years old and went on to set up his own DJ company a year later. He quit school at age 16 with the hope of becoming an actor and was accepted at the National Youth Music Theatre. The recipient of Prince’s Trust grant, Idris later took such odd jobs as fitting tires and selling advertising to support himself. When he was 19, he worked in nightclubs as a DJ by using the moniker Big Driis. Also that year, Idris began his professional acting career.
In 1997, at age 25, Idris married his British girlfriend and has one daughter with her named Isan. The couple, however, divorced after four years. Currently, his daughter lives in Atlanta with her mother. To be close to his daughter, Idris spends much of his time in Atlanta and purchased a home there. He said, “I don't raise my daughter by myself, but I spend a lot of time with her by myself. It was important. It was very important to get that right.”
Idris has a tattoo on his right forearm that says “The Long-Awaited Gift Bearer,” which is what his daughter's name means.
A teen DJ, Idris Elba began acting in school following the suggestion of his drama teacher. By age 19, he had received critical praise of his performance in “Coming Home,” an original play written by Oscar Watson, at the Red Lion Pub Theater in London. The former student of the National Youth Music Theatre broke into the small screen three years later with guest roles in such British TV series as the comedy “2point4 Children” and “Space Precinct,” but it was his supporting performance of Hilton, a gigolo, in a 1995 episode of the BBC sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous” called “Sex” that first brought him notice.
Subsequently, Elba was seen in many TV series, including “The Governor” (1995), “Bramwell” (1995), “Ruth Rendell Mysteries” (1996), “Silent Witness” (1997) and “Family Affairs” (1997), a soap opera that cast Elba in a three episodes as Tim Webster. In 1998, he landed a supporting role in the series “Ultraviolet,” opposite Fiona Dolman and Jack Davenport, and then played Matt Gregory in twelve episodes of the BBC crime series “Dangerfield” (1999), starring Roderick Smith and Bill Wallis. Elba also collected a handful of film credits. He starred in the BBC short film “Spiders and Flies” (1996), directed by Danny Thompson, and portrayed Ovronramwen in “Behind the Mask” (1997), a short directed and penned by Ngozi Onwurah. In 1999, he worked with the legendary Catherine Deneuve in the French movie “Belle Maman/Beautiful Mother,” which was adapted by Gabriel Aghion from Jean-Marie Duprez's novel of the same name.
In 2000, “Ultraviolet” was bought by the Fox Television to be developed into an American show, with Elba reprising his role of Vaughan Rice, opposite Eric Thal, Lisa Going and Mädchen Amick. The American version, however, did not move beyond an unaired pilot episode. He continued to appear in the movies “Sorted” (2000), which was helmed by Alexander Jovy and starred Matthew Rhys, Tim Curry and Sienna Guillory, and “Buffalo Soldiers” (2001), a British comedy starring Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn and Anna Paquin. He was also seen in the TV series “In Defense” (as PC Paul Fraser; 1 episode, 2000) and “London's Burning” (2 episodes, 2001)
After moving to New York, Elba landed the significant role of Achilles in Sir Peter Hall's Off-Broadway production of “Troilus and Cressida,” which was regarded as one of the more complex plays of Shakespeare. He earned kudos for his performance in the play and quickly hit U.S. primetime television with his role of Lonnie Liston in an episode of the NBC acclaimed show “Law & Order” called “3 Dawg Night,” which was broadcasted on November 28, 2001.
After a brief return to U.K. series with “The Inspector Lynley Mysteries,” in which he played Robert Gabriel in the April 15, 2002, episode “Payment in Blood,” Elba experienced a big break when he landed the role of Russell 'Stringer' Bell on the HBO crime series “The Wire,” which debuted on June 2, 2002, and went on to run for five seasons until March 9. 2008. Portraying a drug dealer, the gifted actor immediately became a favorite among audiences and was nominated for a 2005 Image nomination in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his acting job. He stayed with the show until its third season in December 2004. Elba also guest starred in such series as “Hack” (2002), “Soul Food” (2003) and “CSI: Miami” (2003), while still working on “The Wire.” In addition, he costarred as Aaron in the international film “One Love” (2003), opposite Cherine Anderson, Vas Blackwood and Carl Bradshaw. After leaving the show, Elba appeared in episodes of the CBS comedy “Girlfriends” and the Fox Network short-lived “Jonny Zero.” He was also seen in the TV series pilot “World of Trouble” (all 2005).
However, Elba did not score another big success until he rejoined the HBO studio for their original film “Sometimes in April” (also 2005), written and directed by the critically acclaim filmmaker Raoul Peck. A film that focuses on the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the television movie won various honors, including the Best Film Award at the 2005 Durban International Film Festival and nominations at the Emmy Awards, Satellite Awards and the Berlin International Film Festival. For his stellar portrayal of Augustin Muganza, a Hutu captain struggle with the notorious event, he picked up a Black Reel nomination for Best Television Actor, an Image nomination for Outstanding Actor in a TV Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special, and a NAMIC Vision nomination for Best Dramatic Performance. Recalling how he got the role, he stated, “There are actors that are very established and have name value and Raoul had a problem with the fact that most of the actors the producers wanted weren't of African descent. Of course, my relationship with HBO at least put me in the picture as a likely candidate with African descent and can possibly play the part. I had no inroads or anything like that. I was probably within the last group of actors that Raoul had probably had seen. He had seen a lot of people and I was working on a play in New York and rehearsing at the time. I was into my rehearsal for 3 weeks when the script came to me. Raoul was very excited to meet me. I had worked with the casting director in Paris and she had mentioned to Raoul about using me. ‘Idris is in New York,’ she said and that's how the whole thing came
about. When you play Stringer Bell, they are not looking at me to play Augustin. Raoul was like, ‘He's not right. He's an American.' Someone had told him, ‘No, he's not American. He's English and his parents are of African descent so you should look at him.’ The rest is history.”
2005 also marked the beginning of Elba's career in the Hollywood cinema. He was cast in the starring role of Reverend Charles Frank in the drama film “The Gospel,” for writer/director Rob Hardy. The role brought the versatile actor a Black Reel nomination for Best Actor. Among his costars in the picture were Boris Kodjoe, Clifton Powell, Nona Gaye, Omar Gooding and Tamyra Gray.
Following a supporting part in the British television film “All in the Game” (2006), Elba scored his next lead role in the American comedy “Daddy's Little Girls” (2007), which was directed and written by Tyler Perry. As a well respected and hard-working mechanic with three children, he was nominated for a BET award for Best Actor. The film also starred Gabrielle Union, Louis Gossett Jr., Tasha Smith and Cassi Davis. Elba then offered a notable turn as a scientist named Ben in the Stephen Hopkins-directed thriller “The Reaping” (2007), alongside Hilary Swank and David Morrissey, and was cast in the important supporting role of Stone in the horror film “28 Weeks Later” (2007), the installment to Danny Boyle's zombie film “28 Days Later” (2002). He was also seen as Tango in Ridley Scott's “American Gangster,” from which he was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, an honor he shared with famous costars like Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Josh Brolin, and as Quentin Whitfield in Preston A. Whitmore II's “This Christmas.”
2008 saw Elba portray Detective Winn on Nelson McCormick's mystery film “Prom Night,” which starred Brittany Snow, Mumbles in Guy Ritchie's “RocknRolla,” with Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton and Mark Strong, and Larry in “The Human Contract,” a drama directed and written by and starring Jada Pinkett Smith. Recently supporting Gary Oldman and Odette Yustman in the supernatural film “The Unborn” (2009), written and directed by David S. Goyer, he will soon star as the husband of Beyoncé Knowles in the thriller film “Obsessed” (2009), which will be released in the U.K. on May 29, 2009. On the small screen, Elba had a popular recurring role as Charles Miner on five episodes of the American version of “The Office,” a role he played from March to April 2009.
Elba is scheduled to play Mark Anderson in “The Finest,” a crime picture scripted by Solomon Wariso, and costar with Paul Walker, Zoe Saldana, Hayden Christensen and Matt Dillon in the John Luessenhop action film “Takers,” which is due for a January 2010 release. He will also play Roque in the adventure film “The Losers,” slated for a 2011 release, and is rumored to be portraying Derek in the new drama “The Middle of Nowhere,” opposite Sanaa Lathan.