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Idris Elba Talks 'Takers,' Rapper-Actors and Mastering the Mixtape

Idris Elba (top, center) with 'Takers' co-stars (clockwise from top left) Chris Brown, Michael Ealy, Tip "T.I." Harris, Hayden Christensen and Paul Walker.

Idris Elba, who, with Matt Dillon, heads a potent ensemble cast in the new heist drama Takers, doesn’t plan to play a drug dealer anytime soon, as he did most famously in three seasons of HBO’s The Wire. And please don’t ask him about The Wire, either – he cherished the experience, but has been fielding questions about it for eight years. Enough is enough.
 
Today, the 37-year-old London native has traveled to the Ritz Carlton on Stockton Street to talk about Takers, in which he plays a slick thief with a taste for high society – not exactly a choirboy, but at least he’s no pusher – and about his passion for making music. (He has released two EPs as Driis, describing his sound as "East London Underground," and on Aug. 19 played a guest DJ set at Vessel.)

On becoming a Taker:
"I've always been attracted to heist films – my favorite is the original Italian Job – and I'd never had the opportunity to do one. My character is a career criminal, and he has a certain gravitas – he doesn't have a whole lot to say, and he doesn't have to. I wanted to make a stylish film about old-school criminals. These days, we rob banks with computers, but Gordon, my character, would prefer to blow a hole in the ground as an armored truck is driving by, have it fall in there and raid the truck for $32 million. That's ambition."

On the popular appeal of crime capers:
"Again, it's that brazen ambition – a group of crazy guys trying to steal something that's unstealable, pulling off an impossible task as a team. And there's that suspense – we know someone's going to die, but who is it?"

On creating a sympathetic rogue:
"Gordon has a storyline that deviates from the rest of the film. He's got a sister and a backstory, and the movie delves into who he is a bit more than some of the other characters. You're watching an American film, and suddenly you find yourself in an episode of [the BBC's] EastEnders, with an Afro-Caribbean man and woman, and you see that Gordon isn't as tough around her as he is with the fellas. He has a compassionate side. That intrigued me."

On working with co-stars Chris Brown, Michael Ealy, Tip "T.I." Harris, Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen:
"We all got on with each other off-set. You'd suspect there might be lots of egos, but there weren't – we all snapped on each other the whole time, taking the piss out of each other. And that fuels the chemistry on the screen."

On creating the perfect Takers mixtape:
"I've been DJing for a while, and I've put mixtapes together before. So I thought to myself, 'Shit, I'm going to put some music out.' I asked people on my Twitter account to submit music that I could use for the mixtape. I had shitloads of music sent to me. Chris and Tip gave me some music, so I have some superstar acts involved, but I also want to get some unknowns from the land of Twitterverse. There is no official Takers soundtrack, as far as I know, but this isn't that. This is more of a DJ Driis production."

On talking shop with musician co-stars Brown and Harris:
"I never talked about music with them. As a musician, I don't like to address that topic with rapper-actors. It's just corny. I worked with Beyoncé [Knowles, his Obsessed co-star], and we never spoke about music. I sent an intro to Jay-Z and we didn't end up working on it, and that's probably the closest I've come to working with rappers where my music is concerned. I get asked to DJ at rap parties all the time, and I just say no. It's a cornfest.

"The thing is, I straddle the fence with making music. It's just something I enjoy – acting is my profession. It's not always fun, but that's the job. When it comes to making music, it's such hard work to get a single out there that a lot of rappers and musicians see an actor making music, and they think, 'Oh, great.' It's different when the rappers want to do film. Some actors hate to work with rappers. I don't. I just suspect you have to be really good at what you do, and I'll support you while you're on set. I'll make sure you're up to speed."