Idris Elba is a man on a mission every bit as much as the dogged TV detective he plays – John Luther. The star is ambitious to put the popular cop on the big screen. And that would be a step in the right direction for making television and film more racially inclusive. Hopes have been high for a film version of Luther since the show’s fifth series ended with a week-long TV bonanza in January last year. And its creator Neil Cross has already hinted that DCI Luther may have to tackle enemies from another world.
Idris’s portrayal of the brilliant but flawed detective won him a Golden Globe in 2012. This is just one highlight in Hackney-born star’s unstoppable career which has taken him from an East London council estate to superstar status. His looks and powerful screen presence got him tipped to make history – as the first black James Bond. In 2018 he was named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive but broke hearts around world last year when he married his stunning love Sabrina Dhowre. But Idris, 48, had a long wait for fame, fortune and success. He first appeared in Crimewatch then in episodes of ITV’s The Bill and Law and Order.
In 1995 he even played a gigolo opposite Joanna Lumley as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. He was 30 before he landed his break. Idris moved to New York because he said there were so few jobs for black actors in the UK. The land of opportunity proved to be just that and Idris was cast in HBO’s groundbreaking and hugely acclaimed crime drama series The Wire. His chance came and he nailed it. He was outstanding as calculating and ruthless drug lord Stringer Bell, ruling the streets of Baltimore in what is now seen as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. From there the big projects began rolling in, with Idris in lead roles.
He played the inspirational freedom fighter and South African president in 2013’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The versatile star has also played Heimdall in five of the lucrative Marvel fantasy films. He is now using his power and status to encourage more black, Asian and minority ethnic actors to be hired in starring roles. Oscar-winning black British director Steve McQueen named Luther as one of the few examples of positive diversity on TV. In 2016 Idris spoke in Parliament about diversity and stereotyping in telly jobs. He said: “You have to ask the question, ‘Are black people always playing petty criminals? Are women always the love interest or always talking about men? Are gay people always stereotyped? Are disabled people ever seen at all?’”
Elba pleaded with politicians to help make the British TV industry more inclusive. That year he flexed his physical as well as his intellectual muscles by training as a kickboxer in Cuba for Discovery Network’s Idris Elba: Fighter. Idris created his own Netflix show, Turn Up Charlie, in which he played a struggling DJ who has to become a male nanny to make ends meet. It combined Idris’s love of music and acting – he performs as a DJ under the name DJ Big Driis. But it failed to hit the right note with viewers and was canned after one series. His telly creation for Sky, In The Long Run, has been more successful. It is loosely based on his childhood and transports viewers back to 80s London.
Idris was the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone and Ghana and In The Long Run is something of a rarity because its cast is mostly made up of black actors. Idris said: “When we started in 2018, the show was a departure from the Afro Caribbean families we had seen depicted over the years. “Now having an African family at the centre, I hope, means that more people can see themselves being represented.” The timing of Idris’s next project is “poignant” because of the Black Lives Matter protests prompted by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police.
In Netflix movie Concrete Cowboy he plays the dad of black teenager Cole – Caleb McLaughlin from Stranger Things – who returns to a poor Philadelphia ghetto. Cole has to choose between a life of crime and the close-knit horse-rearing community of his estranged father. Idris said: “I hope people look back at their communities and respect the role that communities play in young men’s lives, young people’s lives. It also looks highly likely Idris will be back as cynical London cop Luther. I’ve maintained that I’d like to see Luther come to a film. That’s what I think we’re headed towards. I’m looking forward to making that happen. It is happening.”
Meanwhile scriptwriter Neil Cross has been busy lining up a new enemy for John Luther. He hinted the hit BBC show may be back for a sixth series and take an unlikely supernatural turn, with Luther tackling ghosts. Neil, 51, said: “I have often considered the possibility of a revelation of the supernatural in Luther. It wouldn’t just be Luther versus a ghost, though I wouldn’t mind seeing Luther versus a haunted house. I quite fancy that idea.” He told SFX magazine he is keen to explore the bizarre idea – despite being scared of the supernatural. There looked to be more good news on the horizon this week when it was reported Idris had become a father again. While promoting Concrete Cowboy, the star let slip: “I’m a father of two boys and definitely I can’t wait for my youngest to see this film.”