Idris Elba has a certain unmistakeable, charismatic vibe about him. The resulting magnetism extends to the wide range of characters he has brought to life over the years – from playing the second-in-command to a drug kingpin in The Wire to playing a guy who has to deal with the likes like Michael Scott in The Office, to playing a dedicated horseman committed to fighting off gentrifying developers in his neighborhood in the recently released Concrete Cowboy. Whether it’s as a leading man or part of a larger ensemble, Elba’s performances always stand out because of what he brings to each role.
Later this summer, Elba will make his DC Extended Universe debut in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad – a comic book adaption full of talent who could carry their own features if given the opportunity. We recently spoke with him about his role as the lesser-known comic character Bloodsport and what it was like to be part of such a chaotic batch of DC villains and antiheroes.
How were you first approached for the role for Bloodsport, and what made you say yes?
James Gunn reached out to me and said he had this project that he wanted to work on and didn’t tell me what it was. We had a meeting pretty late at night [and] what was appealing to me was that it wasn’t a continuation of the last film, and this is a new character. I just wanted to see where James wanted to go with this new film and this new character. So that was really what drew me in.
Bloodsport isn’t a very famous character. So what did you learn about him and what freedom were you given to bring him to life?
Like you say, he’s not very well known so I sort of traced his history back in the DC world. He’s popped up in some places. He’s more of the vigilante soldier type. He’s not going to have special powers, he’s just a really good assassin, basically. That was pretty consistent throughout his history. There was a little bit of leniency between myself and James collaboratively just working it out … what we want to bring to life. I felt very involved in that process, so essentially I got to bring him to life the way we wanted to.
You’re no stranger to superhero movies. You’re an MCU alum and I consider Hobbs & Shaw a superhero movie because you played Brixton Lore, the fantastic “Black Superman” in it. Did you bring any of those experiences to Bloodsport?
Playing any action character requires a level of real dedication just to the amount of work you have to do. So although I’ve been in the Marvel universe, Heimdall isn’t so much of an action character, despite moments where he’s had action. But Brixton in Hobbs & Shaw was 100% full on. Going from that into The Suicide Squad was a great transition because I basically brought some of the things I learned from the experiences I had on Hobbs & Shaw. It’s not the same character, but the level of effort is the same.
This ensemble cast is one of the wildest we’ve seen in a superhero movie. What was it like to work with everyone?
That was a lot of fun. It’s challenging keeping your character in one lane while you’ve got these really larger-than-life characters around you, especially Peacemaker who is a natural rival [to Bloodsport]. It’s kind of hard to sort of stay in your character with John Cena, who is incredible with improvisations. And then everyone else has this quick-fire banter, but Bloodsport, he doesn’t even like to talk. It’s like, you don’t want to be too friendly with these people. But I think that’s what’s beautiful about his arc. When you see the movie, he goes on a journey.
The dynamic with the actors is incredible. Really good, nice, hard-working people. James was so specific around timing and comedy and how you say lines and stuff. It was great to be a part of that. It’s almost like he’s a comic strip artist and he had these characters to play with and built these amazing frames. I love working with directors that have a complete vision, but allow you a little bit of latitude to bring it to life.
What was it like wearing that intricate Bloodsport costume?
The suit was very tricky to wear. Each component of his costume does something else, so it’s quite a tricky costume to design. I remember speaking to James about the many machinations of designs that he had gone through with this costume. When I came on board, it had to fit to who I am and how Bloodsport moves. It’s intricate but it looks incredible and badass when you see it in the film, but it was a real journey getting there.
What are his weapons like?
Just imagine a weapon that can transform from one thing into another and keep going. He’s got a pretty cool array of weapons.
In the trailer we see Bloodsport in vacation wear, a nice pair of grilling sandals and linen pants. Do you believe that Bloodsport is good on the grill and who would he play Spades or Dominos with and why?
With a name like Bloodsport he’s definitely going to grill. I don’t think he’s the guy that’s seasoning, but I think he’s behind the barbecue with the fire, making sure that meat and blood are cooking. As far as playing games with anyone, he doesn’t do that, he’s solitary, he doesn’t like company, and likes to be alone. He’s very guarded. He just wouldn’t find it interesting to play cards against anyone. He might play chess, maybe, but I don’t think he’s playing Spades at the barbecue.
Earlier this year, there was an announcement about you and your wife, Sabrina, teaming up with your respective production companies to develop an Afro-futuristic animated series. Can you speak to some of the motivation for wanting to put a story like Dantai out into the world?
I can tell you that it’s mainly the brainchild of Sabrina. Her deep passion and history with anime introduced me to it. From my perspective, I just love telling stories, but also this is a medium that’s kind of new and interesting to me, and it feels underserved in many, many ways. Sabrina is a super, super geek when it comes to anime [laughs], so, you know, I’m there. But I’m so engaged from what I’ve learned so far, Crunchyroll is incredible. We want to make something really exciting, hopefully that will maybe even bring more people to the genre.
You don’t know how happy it just made me to hear that your wife is a huge anime fan. I’m a huge anime fan, so finding other Black women who love that art form always makes me happy. So thank you for sharing that.
Yeah. You guys could definitely travel down some wormholes and discuss because she can go deep.
Would you all ever consider developing a superhero story or comic book adaptation?
We haven’t considered it. It would certainly be sort of a natural course of action in terms of how this came about. We would certainly consider that, but right now it’s one step at a time to try and get [Dantai] right and see how we go. But for me, if you know anything about me or my ambitions are out there, so (laughing) I’ll end up doing something in that space for sure.
Retcons and remakes and comics all go hand in hand. Are there any other comic characters you’d love a chance to bring to life, even though you’ve already been in the DC and the Marvel universe?
Well, we all need to see Black Superman but someone else is putting that in the works. But you know, that’s practically my nickname right now. (laughing) I’m being honest. I’m not the best dictionary of comic books [so] I honestly couldn’t speak with authority.
There is a character named Icon from Milestone comics, and although folks don’t like when you refer to him as the Black Superman, he is kind of like that analog. So I mean, there is still a chance for that to happen.
Wow. Okay. Thank you for that tidbit. What did you say was the name of the company it comes from?
He comes from Milestone Comics. They were a Black imprint. Dwayne McDuffie was part of this startup, but they were an imprint of DC Comics. Static Shock, Icon, Rocket and some other really prominent Black superheroes came from them. I’m sorry. I’m a comic nerd.
No, I did not know that. Who has it now?
DC does. Unfortunately, Dwayne McDuffie passed away. But DC is bringing it back. There are some actual comics that are in the works right now. Static Shock is one of them. I know that. I believe Michael B. Jordan is producing the movie. So they’re around. Yeah. So I’m just putting that bug in your ear.
Thank you very much. That’s great. I’m looking it up as we speak.
The Suicide Squad opens on Aug. 6 in theaters and HBO Max.
Check out more on The Suicide Squad in the latest issue of Den of Geek!