There is no stopping Idris Elba. The Golden Globe-winning Brit actor (and soon to be director) seems to be busier than ever before. This year he is on screens with The Dark Tower, The Mountain Between Us, Thor: Ragnarok and Aaron Sorkin’s debut film Molly’s Game.
“I love it - it’s just a great age,” says Idris Elba, who just turned 45. “You know who you are a little bit better. You know what you want to do more. I love being my age. It’s a good age for me. And I am learning all the time, still learning and I feel pretty good. “
In The Mountain Between Us, based on the 2011 novel by Charles Martin, Idris Elba plays Ben Bass, an in-demand surgeon whose flight is canceled, just as he has a medical emergency to attend to. Photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) is eager to get home to her wedding and, despite bad weather conditions, the two strangers decide to charter a small plane. As their plane crashes, they are left alone in the mountains.
“Acting is slightly secondary to reacting and that’s sometimes important”, Elba says. “Especially in a film like that, where it is a study of the human nature: What do you do when you rely on someone that you don’t know and how do you fall in love or fall in like or have an attachment to them? And (director) Hany (Abu-Hassad) and Kate and I talked about this a lot in the process for that film because we wanted it to be real and we wanted audiences to say ‘oh my God, what would I do in that situation?’”
The Mountain Between Us was not an easy shoot. It is a story of survival in the wilderness and both actors really went for it. The film was shot in Canada on the border of British Columbia and Alberta and it was very tricky to shoot in the freezing cold weather conditions for both Dutch-Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad and the actors.
“It was really interesting to have no green screen and be up there in the mountains and sort of do it all for real”, Elba says. “So many films rely on green screen and special effects and in that film we did it for real and I really enjoyed it. It was really hard work and some of the conditions were tough, but when you are making a people story about people falling in love, and you do it for real in the sense that you know that you really are in those mountains, it makes all the difference in the performance and you are really cold and you are really going through it.”
It was also quite a mental journey for the actors. The 6 ft 2, healthy and fit Idris Elba learned something new himself while in Canada: “I don’t think I have ever been in anything as extreme as that, but I think I would survive in the wild and I think I would have a good shot at it. I am not a quitter and one who curls up and dies. I would certainly stay alive as long as I can.”
Idris Elba is eager to challenge himself. He recently finished editing his first feature film as a director – Yardie, based on a bestseller novel from 1992 by the Jamaican-born British writer Victor Headley. It was adapted to the screen by Bronson writer Brock Norman Brock and Martin Stellman. The term ‘yardie’ is a slang name originally given to occupants of “government yards” in Kingston, Jamaica, which were social housing projects with very basic amenities.
“The novel was quite a famous book to my culture in England,” says Idris Elba, who was raised by African immigrants in Hackney, London. “When I was growing up there were a lot of Jamaicans and I grew up around Jamaican culture so it felt very familiar to me.”
Yardie stars the English actor Aml Ameen as young Jamaican gangsta named “D”, a drug dealer in the ‘yard’, aka Kingston. He arrives in London as a courier carrying cocaine in the early 1980s and soon becomes part of the Jamaican underworld in Hackney. Unexpectedly, he finds the man who assassinated his revered brother in Jamaica a decade earlier and when his quest for justice explodes into a violent gang war, he puts both himself and the lives of his loved ones in peril. Idris Elba shot the drug-trafficking drama both in his hometown London and in Jamaica and loved the experience even though he had to keep his focus straight all the time.
“There is a really nice story there – a people’s story in this film that I wanted to bring that alive. Obviously, I love music and reggae music and there are elements of that in this film. So it felt like a natural thing for me, something that I could get my teeth into. And I really enjoyed the process and I had a great time making that film.”