Tuesday 20 February 2018

Elba hesitant about playing Mandela

Idris Elba was told of Nelson Mandela's death after the Royal premier of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Idris Elba was told of Nelson Mandela's death after the Royal premier of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Idris Elba has revealed he put down the phone when he got the call asking him to play Nelson Mandela on the big screen.

The star of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom spoke about the role in an interview in which he said he was grieving after the death of his own father just six weeks previously.

The world learnt of the death of Mr Mandela as royalty, celebrities and fans - including Elba and the former leader's daughter Zindzi Mandela - were watching the royal premiere of the film in central London chronicling his incredible life.

Speaking to Reader's Digest before Mr Mandela died, Elba said: "You know, I was really, really sensitive [about the role].

"My agent called up to ask if I wanted to play Mandela and I put the phone down on him. I was like, no way. Mandela? Couldn't do it.

"Then I thought to myself, called him back and said, 'Can I be honest? If it's a grey-haired version of the fistpumping Mandela, I'm not the actor to bring in. I'm not Morgan [Freeman, who played Mandela in Clint Eastwood's Invictus]; go with Morgan.

"And he said, 'Well, that's not the version they're doing'."

Elba changed his mind after some persuasion from the film's director Justin Chadwick.

The actor, from Hackney, east London, said he took inspiration from his father Winston in his portrayal of Mr Mandela.

He told the publication: "I have to tell you, I'm grieving. My dad died six weeks ago. This interview is the first I've done since, and I cried my eyes out this morning coming here. I'm not gonna lie to you.

"I bawled because I just...my dad was the one man I knew that was that age when I was playing Mandela.

"He had a big silver-grey afro. We all loved him. I can't talk about this film without referencing him."

In a twist of fate, it was during the film premiere in Leicester Square that Mr Mandela's daughter was informed her 95-year-old father had died peacefully at home.

Elba led a minute's silence after the shocked audience was informed at the film's conclusion.

The interview with Elba appears in full in the January issue of Reader's Digest which goes on sale on December 13.

Press Association

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