One of my favorite actors, the gorgeous Briton Idris Elba, will be starring in director Raoul Peck's (Lumumba) new film, on the Rwanda genocide, "Sometimes in April," which premieres tonight on HBO at 8 pm. Recently, the AP's Raquel Cepeda conducted an interview with Elba that I'm reprinting here, according to the Fair Use doctrine.
Originally posted by the AP on Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2005
AP Q&A with actor Idris Elba
by Raquel Cepeda, Associated Press
NEW YORK - Fans of "The Wire" lost a family member when Idris Elba's drug dealing, real-estate-loving character Russell "Stringer" Bell got whacked last December. Now the Afro-European actor is back on HBO, playing Hutu soldier Augustin Muganza in director Raoul Peck's new film "Sometimes in April," which premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. EST.
The epic unfolds concurrently in April 2004 and April 1994. The latter marks the onslaught of the Rwandan ethnic genocide that would claim an estimated 800,000 lives in just 100 days. Based on true stories and filmed where the actual events occurred, "Sometimes in April" shows Muganza as a survivor trying to reconcile the atrocities that tore his family and country apart.
The 32-year-old Brit spoke with The Associated Press in his native Cockney accent about Don Cheadle, his mid-life music crisis and the state of black cinema:
AP: How emotional was it for you to get into character to play Augustin Muganza?
Elba: I knew this was going to be a difficult film, but I didn't realize that by the end of the film I'd be so attached to it that it became a solid part of my memory, and changed my viewpoint on a lot of things. The people (that survived the genocide) lived through it and here am I as an actor - it nearly turned my world over and strengthened me at the same time.
AP: Carole Karemera, your wife in the movie, is she one of the survivors?
Elba: Yes, there were times when she was definitely moved more so than we were because this was her home. But she is a survivor and there is a lot of pride that comes with that. There were other actors that had to take five minutes to collect their thoughts. We shot this movie in exactly a lot of locations where it actually happened, and for a lot of the survivors it was like re-living the whole thing again.
AP: With the acclaim for Don Cheadle and "Hotel Rwanda," did you feel an added pressure to carry your film?
Elba: No, it was encouraging, in fact. ... I was so pleased that Don Cheadle was going to take on a role like this and his film is such a big Hollywood blockbuster, I was glad that they were going for it and I am proud that it has done so well.
AP: Is there still tension between the Tutsis and the Hutus in present day Rwanda
Elba: In Rwanda now there is race of Rwandese people - whether Hutu, Tutsi or Twa - who are trying to make a better and successful place. They have issues with poverty and they're dealing with that. They have a business structure they are trying to build up. Rwanda is a success story. If you compare the Rwanda from ten years ago until now, it's an amazing success story.
AP: Films like "Sometimes in April" are so few and far in between in black cinema today. Americans, on the other hand, are cranking out one "Barbershop" after another.
Elba: All these films have their place in the market and are necessary for the commerce of black film. I don't think that commercial films hurt us. I do believe that the educated audience that is out there are starving and need films that are going to broaden their minds. Not everyone wants to laugh and giggle at a film on a Friday night, and those that do are sufficiently taken care of. Films that are more educational are more difficult to fund. Like Raoul made two films that challenged politics and challenged the way we think about it, and gave us a broader view of what happened in certain parts of Africa. I'm not mad at these films that get made (like) the "Fridays" and it keeps our black dollar relevant, you know what I mean?
AP: Would you ever consider starring in one of those films?
Elba: I don't limit myself at all. Musicians, painters, directors or writers that kind of snub that commercial world are often fearful because they can't do it.
AP: Talk about the film you're currently shooting, "The Gospel."
Elba: It's about a black church in Georgia. I play a young pastor who was brought up by a man who brought up his son and me. His son is a very successful R&B singer and my character stays in the church. When the pastor dies, my character wants to turn it into a more electronic, T.D. Jakes type of church. But the son from the R&B world wants to keep the church more traditional, so there's sort of a dilemma with what kind of faith you should follow.
AP: Like your fictional brother in "The Gospel," music is your passion in real life. I've been to some really amazing parties where you've DJed on the wheels of steel.
Elba: I'm going through a mid-music-life crisis right now (laughs). I was born and raised in London, by African parents. I was brought up with the sound system of England, and I did pirate radio for a long time. When I first came to America, I needed to use my records to make money to survive while I was auditioning. I got into the hip-hop world really heavily. After my work on "The Wire," I got exposed to that world even more so. In Europe, drum-n-bass and house, and U.K. hip-hop and all of that stuff, and garage is all big. So my future sets are going to be much more mixed, but finding an audience for that is hard to do. I do a lot of mixtapes where I blend in stuff. I'll put rock vocals with some reggae, I'll mix some drum-n-bass with some hip-hop.
AP: Have the floodgates of opportunity opened for you due to your work in "Sometimes in April?"
Elba: It's really from "The Wire," that's really where people discovered what I do. It hasn't exactly turned into checks yet, but the interest is definitely there. I'm not in a rush to become a "movie star" because as a black actor, we often tend to rush things or believe our hype a bit too early, and therefore our careers are shortened in the long run.
AP: Playing Stringer Bell also turned you into a sex symbol.
Elba: (Laughs.) Well, "Sometimes in April" knocked that out the box. There is no sex appeal in that movie nowhere! I think there's a shot of my feet, and I must not have had a pedicure for that month or so. That whole sex symbol thing came from Stringer being such a charismatic gangster, and Americans are in love with charismatic gangsters.