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February 2006
TYLER PERRY’S DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS: An Interview with Idris Elba

An Interview with Idris Elba
By Niambi Sims

February 12, 2007

When he blazed up the small screen with his iconic portrayal of Stringer Bell, the calculating de facto, leader in HBO’s critically acclaimed series, The Wire, British import, Idris Elba continued to bring fire to the big screen in such roles as HBO Original Film, “Sometimes in April” and Columbia/Tri Star pictures’ the Gospel. In his latest film, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls, Elba co-stars with the lovely Gabrielle Union in a reverse-Cinderella tale that centers on a successful attorney (Union) who falls in love with a financially challenged mechanic (Elba) who is a single father of three children. The relationship hits a snag when the janitor's ex-wife comes back into his life and threatens to take away their kids. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Elba talks about his character being a single dad, being a British import working in Hollywood, his music career as a DJ, and his upcoming role in the horror film, “28 Weeks Later”.

Hello Idris, so where are you living now here or Britain?

Idris: I live here now. Here (LA) and New York

Was it hard to make that transition from the UK to here?

Idris: Yeah, I’ve lived here for about seven years and been coming to New York for about 20 years, to age myself. I’ve just been coming here for a long time so the transition is always a challenge in terms of characters I play because each one is different. Not everyone speaks the same. No one has the same cultural background so there is always a challenge. But because I’ve absorbed the American culture so much its easier for me than someone who may have just come here from England to play an American.

Did you do anything to get the feel of the Auburn Avenue area?

Idris: I go to Atlanta a lot believe it or not. I do a lot of business down there with music so I’m always in that neighborhood. So it was good to film there because I was familiar with it.

What are the similarities between you and Monty?

Idris: I am a father. I am a hard worker and I appreciate the things that I have and I have aspirations to keep growing as does Monty. When I saw the script I could relate. I spend a lot of time with my daughter as a single parent in a sense. I don’t raise her by myself but I spend a lot of time with her by herself. So I can relate to his relationship to his girls.

How old is she?

Idris: My daughter’s five so I can relate to Monty for sure.

What was it like working with Tyler Perry? Is he an actor’s director?

Idris: For Sure. His background as an actor gives him the ability to relate to us in a way that we feel comfortable. He’s also the writer, director so he was very adaptable in how we play with the text and how we open up his story and dialogue and apply our own experiences to it. Some director/writers don’t do that very well. They’re very precious with the words so it becomes a little bit of a battle between you and them. But this one, he was really open. He’s a good guy to work with. He’s very open. His story is interesting so he kind of brings that element to his work with lots of anecdotes to tell you where he’s come from

Is it hard to watch your performance as an actor?

Idris: Yeah. It’s torture for me it, really.  I don’t watch much of the things that I’m in because when I’ve done it I’ve done it so I’ve seen it and then to see it. I’m very different. I never play Idris ever. So when I do play Idris, you know like in terms of an interview, I’m always like “Oh” critical about me, my body language and the way I speak. So to watch me playing different characters is always torture.

What’s it like working with Gabrielle?

Idris: Great! What? Come on! She’s great! She’s very funny, very open, a true professional and she just allowed her and I to really flesh our characters’ out.

CCH Pounder, who is Guyanese, said it was very hard to get black American roles when she first came out here because her accent was so thick. Did you experience the same thing?

Idris: Oh yeah. I had the same issue and that lasted about three years of my early career here in the states. I had done very well in England for a while and then when I got hear, three years ago, I was BROKE. That’s it! It wasn’t because I wasn’t any good. It was just because I hadn’t mastered the dialect, culture, just the way to portray an African American man. It was just very tough for me so yeah, I can relate to that.

What was your breakthrough?

Idris: Law and Order as everyone else. I heard recently that if you live in New York and you haven’t done Law and Order there’s something wrong with you. So I was like “I did Law and Order” I was in that. It was my first role. It got me my SAG card.

Was it a legitimate role or were you just a body?

Idris: It was actually sort of a take on what happened to Puffy and J-Lo in the club when there was a shooting. They remade that story. But I didn’t see it.

What are you doing with music?

Idris: I DJ which is something I’ve been doing for a while and now I’m starting to move into production. I have a production company. I have a label in England which is called Hevlar Recordings and basically I’m just going to start putting out independent music.

What kind of music?

Idris: Right now I’m doing Hip Hop. Right now I’m doing UK hip hop not to say that there is a difference but it’s just from UK rappers. I’m using rappers from the UK that are not familiar out here but I’m doing an album with UK rappers and US rappers together on one record. Its called the Allies so that’s the whole idea behind it these two countries and backgrounds merging together on the music tip.

So can there be 40 year old rappers?

Idris: Yes! Well there’s going to be a 34 year old rapper so why not! They say thirty is the new twenty so then 40 is the new 30?

This film deals with the criteria that Black women set for dating standards. Do you have a criteria or standard and have you had a hard time finding that?

Idris: I’ve always been in a long term relationship so I haven’t done the dating scene as much. It’s different for men I think. Men oftentimes are less picky, less choosy, not wanting to date as much. I think the difference is that a woman might want just one partner while most men are like “Its cool. I got shorty over there and shorty over there. It’s a different dynamic. It’s hard for me to answer that question but I could completely relate when Gabrielle and I were fleshing out these characters. She was telling me the experiences of her and her friends. It’s a very real situation. I think the film is genius that it opens that question up. It’s something we’ve seen before but what’s interesting about it now is that this young lady dates outside of her societal bracket, someone without as much money or education or social status. She dates outside of that which is an interesting concept to me. One that I think raises eyebrows in America. So I think its interesting that the film sort of tackled that.

Is it similar in England?

Idris: Yeah I think it’s a universal thing. I think that men just aren’t dating as much. In England there are similar situations. There are a lot of black men in jail and a lot of women out there who are single.

Is there anything that you learned from Tyler that was different as far as growing up black in the UK as opposed to growing up here?

Idris: Everyday for me is a learning experience in terms of a comparison between my upbringing in England and here everyday. Monty’s character in Atlanta, where we shot it, definitely was unique but it wasn’t something that I haven’t come across before.


Idris: Yeah, racism is huge everywhere. In England for me growing up it was bigger and more in your face. Now racism has sort died down to a behind the scenes kind of thing. I think its so in America too. But when I was growing up racism was something that we encountered daily. I grew up in a neighborhood called Cannon Town which was predominately white with a high Asian and Indian community. It was just very tough. It would be nothing to get into a fight based on someone calling you a Black Bastard. I grew up with that.

How did you get this role?

Idris: Tyler and Rueben and I had had discussions before about “Diary of A Black Woman” and we couldn’t make that happen so they were like if something else comes up, we should definitely keep in touch so we did. So when this came in, the script was good and I was just like “let’s go.”

What’s next for you?

Idris: I’m busy, man. I’m promoting a film called The Reaping next with Hillary Swank. It’s a Joe Silver film. We play professors that debunk so called religious phenomenon. So we go to this one small town where they start to see the plagues one by one. I play a Christian who is going to debunk these miracles to find God and Hillary plays an Atheist who is debunking these miracles to prove that God doesn’t exist. It’s kind of an interesting dynamic between her and I. That’s coming out next. “28 Weeks Later”, which is the sequel to “28 Days”. I just did that because I liked the first one!

Horror Films must be very different for you.

Idris: It is. Honestly, I started in television and I’ve played everything from drug dealers to lawyers to policeman. Now that I’m emerging into film, it’s great to go from Stringer Bell who is a huge iconic drug dealer character to Monty who is quite vulnerable and the father of three kids. So I think I’m very lucky to have the range. The Thriller genre is something that I’ve never done before. I’m not even a fan of it but its great to do it.

Does your character get killed in the first scene?

Idris: No. In this film, parts of London are quarantined off and it’s basically a new world.  I play General Stone who is an American General who looks after this quarantined area but it all goes wrong!

So you’re in London but you don’t get to use your British accent?

Idris: No. I’m an American. I was on the set one day with these guys and in between takes and although everyone was dressed in US Marine gear, all the extras were English. So, were talking and I just naturally slip into my London accent and were chatting away and this guy says to me “Yo mate, your London accent is good! How do you talk like  that” and I say “Actually I’m from London” but since we’ve been doing these scenes all day long so he thinks I’m American. I’m just like “Dude, I’m from London! I eat fish and chips!” He didn’t believe me.

Do you have a dream role?

Idris: No, because I feel like that would limit what I would try, however, there are some characters that I would love to attempt. I know this sounds weird but there hasn’t been a film about Michael Jordan. I’d like to play Michael Jordan one day.

Do you still keep in touch with the guys from the Wire?

Idris: Sometimes yes. The Wire guys I see every here and there.

Thank you,

Idris: Thanks a lot. I’ll see you later.

TYLER PERRY’S DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS opens on February 14th, 2007




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