By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - British actor Idris Elba may be best known as an enterprising Baltimore drug lord on the HBO series "The Wire," but he has a growing presence in sci-fi films and will play South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela in his first biopic.
Elba, who starred in 2011's action-adventure "Thor" and 2012 sci-fi film "Prometheus," will next be seen as a general in Guillermo del Toro's epic sci-fi disaster film "Pacific Rim," out in U.S. theaters on Friday.
The London-born actor will star alongside Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day and Ron Perlman in the film about a battle between giant alien monsters who ravage Earth and giant man-made robots known as Jaegers.
Elba, 40, talked to Reuters about working with Del Toro, portraying Mandela and how music features into his career.
Q: What drew you to the character of Stacker Pentecost in "Pacific Rim?"
A: (Del Toro) has got a real big imagination. He is a kid in a man's body that has been given all these visual toys to bring his imagination to life. When you look at "Pan's Labyrinth," which is so delicate and so provoking ... for me, it was being able to work with a master filmmaker like him.
Q: Del Toro said he put the cast through their paces in the giant Jaeger simulators. How grueling were those scenes?
A: It was just very tough to have to be put in the big massive simulator all day long ... it was really, really tough. In actuality, if there was a real Jaeger program ... we would all be the most qualified to do it.
Q: For this film, Del Toro said he specifically chose to cast actors more known more for their cult TV shows than film. What do you think of his choice of actors?
A: The days of movie stars, so to speak, is just behind us. What is a movie star? We've got people on the Internet that are bigger than television stars. I think the landscape is changing a little bit ... Before there were movie stars. There were people who were just actors and they said their lines and they became movie stars because people liked them. For me, I think that's the healthy way to make film.
Q: You play Nelson Mandela in the upcoming film "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." What did the role mean to you and did you meet Mandela when preparing?
A: It meant so much to me, it's such a massive opportunity to be part of a true legend's life, and more importantly, the film re-educates people on this legend.
I never met Mr. Mandela because he was very ill, so our interpretation of him was without his personal influence. But the script is such a good script, and obviously it comes from his book, and the book speaks for itself.
Q: Did you feel any pressure in playing Mandela?
A: This is the first real biopic I've done, and there's no real difference in the process, but it's Mr. Mandela. So that's huge, everyone knows who he is and what he sounds like, and I look nothing like him.
If I get judged, which I will, about my performance or how I sound or how I look, I think people miss the point. The point is that this is called "Long Walk to Freedom," this is the book about his life and it's his own words.
Q: How do you want people to remember Mandela from the film?
A: That he's a man. He's a human being. I think we forget that, that he is human.
Q: You have a music career on the side as DJ Big Driis. You put out your own EP (extended play recording) and featured in Jay Z's 2007 album "American Gangster." What does music mean to you?
A: My music stuff is always a part. What it's become for me recently is that it's a reset between all the stuff I do. I go back to it to kind of remember who ... I am. It's really the one point of my life that I get to be creative without any pressure.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Simao)