A native Londoner, Idris Elba speaks with an almost undetectable British accent, one he’s masked successfully as Stringer Bell, a Baltimore drug lord in HBO’s celebrated The Wire, and, most recently, as Roque, an ornery black-ops specialist in the action-comedy The Losers.
Elba, 37, says he’s lived in the U.S. long enough to perfect his American dialect, but that he’s not entirely satisfied with it. That comes as news to Losers director Sylvain White, who sought out Elba after admiring his work in The Wire.
“Stringer Bell was the first character I saw Idris play, and I was a huge fan of that series,” says White. “I didn’t realize he was British, at first. But he’d worked with some of the same producers I’d worked with, and I knew he could bring real depth to Roque, who has more layers than any other character in The Losers.
“When I first met with him, he told me about his ideas for how he could bring facets to the character because his story takes an unpredictable turn. He is an amazing actor. I knew he had the capacity to make his arc believable and yet surprising.”
For Elba, who befriended co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen) on the Losers set, playing Roque was an easy decision, in large part because of the way his character was conceived in the screenplay. “It comes down to words, words, words,” he says. “The writing offered the actors choices.
“Jeffrey and I had a huge challenge in making our relationship believable, so that when we fight in the end, not only are you seeing two professionals going at it, you’re seeing two friends – comrades who would die for each other. We didn’t get into any Brokeback stuff, but we became close,” he adds, laughing. “I’m lucky I had Sylvain and Jeffrey to guide me through that journey.”
Although Elba doesn’t want to reprise the inimitable Stringer Bell by playing another drug dealer, he hopes The Losers will do well enough to justify a sequel, in which he can team again with Morgan and White, and redeem Roque, who – spoiler alert! – goes rogue in the movie’s explosive finale. (Elba didn’t mind taking his lumps for the character, either, or so he jokingly claims: He’s currently sporting a cast on his left leg thanks to a stunt he says he performed during the shoot, though further investigation reveals that it's protecting a recent soccer injury.)
“I liked the character, and that I had enough room to make it my own,” says Elba. “The script was great – funny with a lot of larger-than-life action. I’ve worked before with Joel Silver, the producer, and I’m a fan of his movies, so that was another draw.”
“Idris is one of those go-to actors,” adds Silver, the producer who previously worked with Elba on The Reaping (2007) and director Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla (2008). “I always know he’s going to give a great performance, no matter what. He can do drama, he can do comedy, he can do action, and there’s all of that in this movie. This is my third film with him, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.”