There are times in which cinema truly does appear in tune with history, with the people and events that galvanize public consciousness worldwide. Such is the case this year with films about Nelson Mandela. 2013, the year of the great South African leader’s death, saw the release of two films based on the life and struggle of the man known as Madiba. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, directed by Justin Chadwick, stars Idris Elba as the militant who would become one of the world’s most universally acclaimed statesmen. Winnie Mandela, by South African director Darrell Roodt, stars Jennifer Hudson as the wife of Mandela, and Terrence Howard as the eventual South African president.
Portraying real events, especially historical ones, always places a special burden on filmmakers, and that is even truer of the actors charged with playing historical figures, especially ones of Mandela’s caliber. The release of both films has sadly been made more timely by Mandela’s passing last week, and has put a special spotlight on both, just as awards season gets underway. The HFPA had a chance to ask Idris Elba about it in its most recent meeting with the British actor and past Golden Globe winner. Here is what he had to say.
“It’s really interesting about how I feel about winning on this film, about even the competition, there’s so much talk about performance and the buzz and Oscars and Globes and all of this and it feels a little bit self-gratifying when it comes to playing Mandela. I just don’t feel like I deserve that from that perspective. I feel like the film deserves to win. The film’s message deserves to win. Yeah, I am a tool, I am one of the guys that pull this thing together, but it feels a little bit weird to campaign for winning playing Mandela. Because it feels, his story alone is enough, we win by taking the film to South Africa (….) I won when they (told) me, you did a great job. You brought Madiba to life. That is winning more than anything.”