Idris Elba is the inspiration of many a mancrush. I blame The Wire, the HBO crime drama series that has developed a huge cult following over the last couple of years, fuelled by boxsets and breathless sharing of plaudits and praise. It is truly one of the most popular of the current crop of DVD-based ‘water-cooler’ series. In fact, it seemed a little anachronistic when BBC picked up the UK licence and started broadcasting the show earlier this year.
Even though Elba has enjoyed a long and varied career, it was his appearance as Stringer Bell, the suave, business-minded head of a drug gang, that brought him to greater prominence. He was attending the MCM Expo in order to promote The Losers, an upcoming film adaptation of the Vertigo graphic novel, by Andy Diggle and Jock, about a crack Special Forces team getting revenge on their previous CIA employers. He spoke about his involvement with The Losers, his dealings with Diggle, Jock, producer Joel Silver and director Sylvain White, as well as the beauty of Twitter, and how the film is going to feel “like Call of Duty 4”. How did you get involved in The Losers? I’ve worked with Joel Silver before, on two films, and it was just a matter of connecting the dots. Sylvain White, the director, is someone I’ve known in the industry, and he said to me ‘I’ve got this thing I’m working on’. And a few directors had looked at the script, and were going to make it, but Sylvain landed it. And he’s younger, and has got a gamer’s mentality. So, he and I connected immediately, and that was it. I read it, I liked it. Are you in any way prepared for what might come your way now that you’re doing a comic book movie, in terms of attention from fans? Of course, The Wire was very popular, but when it comes to comic book movies, there’s a certain level of fan. Have you any experience with this kind of thing?
I have, yeah. A long time ago, I was in a TV show called Ultraviolet, on Channel 4, with Joe Ahearne, fantastic writer. That was weird, I remember showing up to some smaller conventions, and people showing up looking like me. It would be a white fellow, with an afro, saying ‘I’m Vaughan!’. Fantastic, just real commitment to the show.
I’m not prepared for what The Losers might be. When I did my research, I realised that The Losers is quite an old comic, it’s been around for a while, so I think that it’s going to be exciting for the fans to see it come to life.
Did you read any of the older Losers stuff, the WW2 stuff?
Just a little bit. Just out of interest, and to see the artwork and the direction. Just to see what the characters were like. But it’s taken quite a transformation into what it is now.
It’s interesting that you say it’s taken a transformation, because doing a film related to the military, at the moment, would turn out very differently than it would have a few years ago, as people’s attitudes are different. How is that reflected in the film?
The onus isn’t really on the military, it’s more of a character-led thing. Obviously, we are in the military, and there’s that whole skeleton to the story, but it doesn’t focus on the workings of the military.
Would you say it takes any sort of ideological stance on the military at all?
No. I mean, it could, considering the story is about five soldiers that get picked on and blamed for something that they didn’t do, but it definitely veers away from that, and you end up watching five characters who happen to be soldiers, and happen to have that bond of the Army. But it isn’t about the Army. And that’s definitely refreshing. I think that we’ve seen, as an audience, way too much stuff on the Army. I think we’ve got Army fatigue, no pun intended!
What’s the film about, then?
It’s about these characters, this team that is a mix of Clay and Roque, who are the older special forces guys, and then they have these three other guys that put together the Losers team. And they go on this one detail, and when they get there, it goes terribly wrong, and they end up looking like they caused this huge fiasco in the middle of Bolivia, where people died… when, in fact, it was a cover up to smuggle some other stuff out of the way.
But then, with our tags ripped off our necks, we no longer have identities, it’s about going back and finding out what happened and claiming our identities back. We’re losers, we’ve lost everything, we’re practically dead. And, of course, we have incredible skills and resilience.
How close is the film to Andy Diggle and Jock’s version of the comic series?
It’s tough to put a legacy of comic books into one script. The idea as a writer, I guess, is to take the core points, take our characters, take the best parts of some of the comics, and transfer that into a story, and try to maintain the integrity of the original. It definitely maintains the integrity, but it doesn’t follow Andy and Jock’s storylines, per se. There’s a little bit of artistic licence. But you do get the feel that you’re watching The Losers.
That said, did you have much contact or camaraderie with Andy or Jock?
Actually, towards the end. I twit a lot, and Andy, he hit me up on Twitter. You know, I was sending pictures… I got in trouble for that, actually. I got a phonecall from Joel Silver, and you know Joel Silver is pissed at you when he doesn’t even say hello, he starts mid-sentence. So it’s like ‘Hello?’, ‘See, the thing is, Idris..!’, so that’s how that went down. But Andy, we hit each other back and forth on the Twitter.
Towards the end of the show, he came down, they both came down, to Puerto Rico, and it was quite interesting to watch them watch us. These two dudes that literally made this up in their basement – or in a pub, they said. And I’d taken this picture, when we were doing the poster, the photographer lay down and took this picture of us as if we were pointing down at him, and I took a picture on my iPhone of the photographer. And Jock freaked out, saying ‘Look at this picture!’, which is a classic of him, years ago, laying down on his back with, like, twelve guns pointing at him. And he was like ‘That’s me!’. That was a really interesting moment, it had come full circle.
It seems you’re quite happy to share and spread stuff about the film, before Joel told you not to. How do you feel about that?
I’m from a newer school of film, and he’s from an older school, where they have exclusives with magazines. I can’t remember the last time I bought a magazine, I get all my stuff from the internet. So, I understand where he’s coming from, but I think, for me, it’s a new world. I wouldn’t twit stuff that was detrimental to the story, or any key points. They’re just interesting things that only I could tell you. I don’t feel bad about it, and I don’t think he was serious. And, ultimately, I don’t know how many people follow me, maybe eleven or twelve thousand, but I said to Joel ‘That’s twelve thousand people who might not have known about the movie, who now know about it!’.
Do you think there’s a balance between being transparent and keeping things under wraps, with Twitter and other Internet outlets?
Yeah, I definitely feel it should be supervised. If I was a writer or a director, and spent all my life doing something that I really wanted to reveal to the world, then I’d hate it for somebody to undermine that, of course. But again, I think it should be embraced, as well. There are ways you can do it in order to get people interested in your project. You have to be a little bit more transparent now, I think, because people are smarter, the audiences are smarter. The whole big [evil ‘muahaha’ laugh] reveal is not as good any more.
Who are your favourite people to follow on Twitter?
Aw, dude, I’ve got a bunch of DJs and producers, and girls…! There’s the old truism about the difference between stage and film acting styles. Is there a similar thing with The Losers? Is it different from the more grounded acting that you’ve done before? Is it more stylised?
It depends on what the director wants. And my director, Sylvain White, his whole thing is ‘I want to make this look like Call of Duty 4… I want to bring people into the action’. Now what does that do to us as actors? It means that you’re in the moment, a little bit more engaged.I guess, for me, my reactions wouldn’t be any bigger, but they would just be fuller.
There’s a scene that I had to do, and I had to dive from one place to another, and it wasn’t just about me looking good diving, it was the whole… [cries out]… vividness of it, to paint the picture. So, slightly more exaggerated, but at the same time real.
When you read the comic books, these characters, they say two or three words, but you really feel the intensity. And the artist would draw a facial expression that makes you think he’s speaking right now, and I’m listening! There’s something about that, that I would bring out in the performance, and we all did, I think. If you get cool lines to say, say ’em… cool! [laughs]
Thanks for your time, Idris!
The Losers is due on 9th April. Idris Elba Twits here.