MOTW: The Life and Times of Idris Elba

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
July 12th, 2013

MOTW: The Life and Times of Idris Elba

After performing in dozens of films, some fans still feel surprised when Idris Elba opens his mouth and speaks with a British accent. Born and raised in the UK, Elba made a name for himself in the United States with roles on several popular television shows and in a handful of films. His latest film, "Pacific Rim," will likely introduce new viewers to this actor.

Elba's life as an actor started at a young age. Given the name Idrissa Akuna Elba at birth, he grew up as an only child. His father worked for Ford on one of its assembly lines, and his mother was a clerical worker. He credits his parents with his unique look, as his mother moved from Ghana and his father came from Sierra Leon. The two met in West Africa and moved to Britain before the birth of their son.

Elba stumbled into the entertainment world by accident. His uncle worked as a disc jockey, spinning records at wedding venues across London. Elba started working with him in 1986, and less than one year later, he and his friends launched their own company. After finishing school, Elba won a Prince's Trust grant that helped him pay for his studies at the National Youth Music Theatre. Elba admits he worked a number of different jobs to stay in the program. He also got his brush with acting during the late 1980s when he worked on the British television series "Crimewatch," which recreated different murder investigations.

Despite working as an actor and studying music, Elba didn't give up on his DJ company. He spun records in clubs across the city and was known as DJ Big Driis. He also worked for Ford. By the beginning of the 1990s, he decided to try his hand at acting. Using the skills he learned on the set of "Crimewatch," he found some success.

Elba auditioned for every role he could and took every part he was offered. He accepted a role on an episode of "Absolutely Fabulous," which led to a role on "Bramwell," a show that focused on doctors and medical experts living in the 19th century. Elba gained more fans after working on "Family Affairs" and "Ultraviolet," but his biggest break came when he earned a role on the hit show "Dangerfield."

Like many British actors, Elba took the advice of those in the industry and moved to the United States. In 2001, he appeared on "Law & Order," and one year later, he earned a starring role on "The Wire." Elba quickly discovered that some fans thought he was similar to his character on "The Wire" Russell Stringer Bell. He even admits that he often shocked fans by talking to them with his real accent and introducing himself when they used his character's name.

Despite finding success in the United States, Elba often went overseas for work. Prior to working on "The Wire," he appeared on "Inspector Lynley Mysteries" in the UK, and he also starred in "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency." Though the producers filmed the series in Botswana, it aired in the UK. Following his success on "The Wire," Elba took on a lead role on "The Office." Elba played Charles Miner, the character who replaced Steve Carell's character Michael Scott when the former character quit his job. Elba appeared in six episodes reappeared in a later episode to wrap up his storyline.

Elba then headed back to the UK to work on the show "Luther." The first season ran for only six episodes, but he won a Golden Globe for his performance. He later returned for a four-episode second season, and a four-episode third season will air in 2013. The success he found on television helped the actor launch his film career. He starred in "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" and "28 Weeks Later" in 2007. Elba also gained roles in "This Christmas," "Prom Night" and "The Unborn." The actor appeared in a handful of films in the coming years and signed on for "Alex Cross" before dropping out of the film. His most recent film roles include "Prometheus" and "Pacific Rim."

Despite a successful film and television career, Elba still loves music. He released the album "Big Man" in 2006, and he worked as a DJ for several parties hosted by the NBA. In 2009, he toured various cities in Europe with his album "King Among Kings." When not working on his music or acting, he spends time in Atlanta with his daughter. He married in 1999, but his ex-wife remained in Georgia after their divorce. He currently has a home in Atlanta and London.

Elba made a name for himself in the United States and abroad by appearing in films and on television. With the excitement surrounding his latest film "Pacific Rim," it seems like fans will want to know even more about this British actor.