Bastille Day - Idris Elba Q&A
IDRIS ELBA (Actor: ‘Sean Briar’) Q&A
Golden Globe and SAG winner Idris Elba (Thor, The Wire, Luther) stars in James Watkins’ pulsating new thriller, Bastille Day. Set in
Elba plays Sean Briar, an American CIA agent
who joins forces with a young pickpocket (Richard Madden) in pursuit of a
QUESTION: What drew you to Bastille Day?
ELBA: James Watkins. Specifically because
James said he wanted to make a homage to the Seventies action films, where
there was less green screen and more actuality. And also the plot red herrings
the audience. You walk into what you think might be a ‘terrorism’ film about
terrorists in the big city and then it takes you on a different journey, where
it’s good over evil – bad guys trying to get some money. And I liked that
journey. I like action films and I think audiences that do appreciate an action
film will say, ‘This one takes me on journey, and gives me all the bits I like
in real time, and I’m reading subtitles because I’m in Paris, and not everybody
speaks English.’ It just a real, grounded approach to a buddy action flick and
I thought that was interesting.
QUESTION: Given recent real world events, is it a difficult time for a film like this? Will people be afraid to watch it even?
ELBA: I think that there is no control, as far
as filmmakers are concerned, with what happens in the real world. I suspect
that we shouldn’t as filmmakers veer away from making subjects close to what
happens in the real world. That’s the liberty of being an artist, to make what
you feel like, but absolutely – yeah – I think the filmmakers, StudioCanal,
were very cognitive of what’s happened in life and sensitive about how we put
this film out. The truth of the matter is, the film has no real correlation
with what’s going on. It just happens to be . This script is four years old and we
shot it almost two years ago. Paris
QUESTION: Still, the attacks in
must’ve been a shock for you… Paris
ELBA: It broke our hearts, without a doubt.
You’re like, ‘What?’ But more from the point of view that we were just there
and we were in a city that we loved. They embraced us as filmmakers and this
was happening to them – it was heartbreaking.
QUESTION: How did you cope with these stunt scenes?
ELBA: Hot baths! It was full on. Part of the
structure of the film, the fabric of the film, was that James wanted to see us
doing the stunts. A lot of CGI now dominates filmmaking and James wanted to
step away from that. And so for six weeks prior to filming, we were in the mix,
training. I did a lot of fighting. I like to fight! I also have a bit of a
martial arts background. So I got completely involved in that way.
QUESTION: James said he advised you to watch Lee Marvin in Point Blank. Had you never seen it before?
QUESTION: Was Marvin’s performance influential on you?
ELBA: Completely. A formidable character. [My
idea was to] Watch that character, watch the stoicism of him, and try and bring
that energy to my character.
QUESTION: What else can you bring to this kind of character?
ELBA: With a character like that…he’s a civil
servant. He makes his money doing these weird, covert operations. In real life,
there aren’t any screeches of tyres. There’s no music in the background. It’s a
hard job and if you have to chase someone, in a very dangerous situation, it’s
not as sexy as you might think on film. But in real life, what I try to bring
is that realism. I try and bring that tension, that feeling that this is his job
and this is what he does for a living, and try and implement that into the
character. It’s not written down in the script, and that’s what I try to bring
as much as I could.
QUESTION: How did you find working with Richard Madden? Did you mentor him?
ELBA: The truth is, Richard is a phenomenal
actor. There was no mentorship. More than anything, we approached this work
with a similar ethic. I can talk about character work and the mental work that
you have to put in to making these ordinary scenes seem real. And for some
actors that’s just tedious. And Richard and I are both accomplished, but I
learnt stuff from him. Also, I don’t think either of us had made a film like
this before. We plunged into it together and it was good.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s an exciting time for homegrown talent right now?
ELBA: There are a lot of really good British
actors that are working. There are a lot of good Australian actors, a lot of
good American actors…I think it’s just a good time for good actors. The character
actor, the leading man, or the funny guy actor, that’s going out. Now we’re
finding actors that can play different types of characters leading the way. And
if you’re a good actor, dedicated to your profession, then it’s a good time for
you – wherever you’re from.
QUESTION: How did you find doing the American accent. Did your co-star Kelly Reilly help at all?
ELBA: She’s flawless. She lives there and her
[American] accent is flawless.
QUESTION: You’ve worked there so much, you must know your American accent now?
ELBA: Yeah, I think I do. It’s an evolving
muscle. It doesn’t always stay perfect if you don’t use it. For this film, I
went for an accent that was flat. I tried to think about the civil servant of
it all, the history of being in the army and what tends to flatten out American
accents. They tend to sound similar, the cadence…that’s what I went for.
QUESTION: It’s you singing at the end, right?
ELBA: ‘Spinging’ – speak singing!
QUESTION: It sounded like Right Said Fred!
ELBA: They did sell a lot of records! They did
sell a lot of records! Right Said Id!
QUESTION: So is it a new song?
ELBA: Yeah, it’s a new song. A new ‘spingle’! ‘Spung’
by myself! No, actually James and I talked about the music. I was a producer on
certain aspects of this film, and the soundtrack was important to James. He
wanted to figure out how to make that as good as the film, and so I went to Fat
Boy Slim, who has a real love for film, and he and I wanted to work together. I
said, ‘Here’s an opportunity to make something interesting.’ He encouraged me
to ‘sping’ on it! It’s a cool word!
QUESTION: You’re voicing Shere Khan in The Jungle Book. How was the experience of doing that?
ELBA: It was great. It was great working with
Jon Favreau. He’s an actor’s director, without a doubt. But also a genius
filmmaker, a visionary actually. Consider that he brought Iron Man to life and now is about to bring The Jungle Book remake to life. I was so excited to have the
opportunity to work with him. I learnt a lot. I’ve done some animation work
before but this was quite a big, unique experience, and his vision for it was
QUESTION: How involved with that vision can you be when you’re the voice?
ELBA: I think you can be very influential to
it. The animators live and die by what you bring, the expression to your voice.
I go up at the end of my sentence and
they figure out a facial expression that works, and what they do is they film
you and see how your face moves. They don’t mirror that…Shere Khan and I don’t
look alike at all, but they mirror what my mouth might be doing, where my eyes
might be and so on.
QUESTION: How much was The Wire a turning point in your life?
IDRIS ELBA: Stringer
was a massive changing point in my life. As an actor, I’d been working in the
game ten years, and then I was not working in Bell for four years, and then suddenly
Stringer Bell landed in my lap and it changed my life. It was very much a
defining moment. New York
QUESTION: Have you found more and more people discovering the show?
IDRIS ELBA: Interestingly enough, the influx of new fans has been always Europe – outside of
Even in America ,
at the time of its airing, The Wire wasn’t
the popular show. We were dwarfed by The
Sopranos immensely. But the global fanbase has just grown continuously. I
was in America ,
with my girlfriend, hanging out, and we’re sitting at this café. And then there
are ten lads on the other table and they look like the Gypsy Kings! Scary
looking! I’m like, ‘Babe, we’re in Romania , those guys over there are
going to jump us.’ She’s like, ‘You idiot! They’re not going to jump us. Don’t
be fucking stupid.’ Then when this guy stood up, I grabbed a bottle and he went
‘Stringer Bell! Stringer Romania !
Take a picture! I told you it’s Stringer Bell!’ And I put the bottle down… Bell
QUESTION: How was your time in the Marvel universe?
ELBA: I had a great time making those films,
and they’re really successful. I think out of the Marvel films, they are very
ambitious. Hey guys, there’s a man with long hair, a beautiful guy with a
hammer that flies – suspend your belief!’ It could be taken as a bit silly. But
I think the Marvel team have done a really good job with that.
QUESTION: Did you always want to be an actor?
ELBA: No. I made that decision consciously
when I was around 14, 15, in secondary school. I was very much a mimic when I
was younger. My Dad and Mum – they’d love me to tell a story of what happened,
and I’d play all the characters. My uncle would come round, and I could mimic
him all day long. So that was about the extent of my acting abilities.
QUESTION: Did you have professional teachers that took you on?
ELBA: Yeah. I had a very good drama teacher –
who I also had a crush on! Ha-ha! But she was so influential and instrumental
in having me structure a plan. At 14, she recognised I was good at drama. By 16
years-old, she had already helped me figure out what the next stages were for
taking it seriously, which included going to college and doing a drama course
and then perhaps going to drama school. She gave me a lot. Honestly, she
encouraged me to be an actor – and I don’t think I’d be doing it if I didn’t have
that encouragement from her.
QUESTION: Were your parents against the idea of being an actor?
ELBA: Yeah, they sure did. My Mum and Dad were
not like, ‘You want to be an actor? Great!’ They were like, ‘Oh, yeah. Why
don’t you go and work with your Dad at Ford’s for a year and then you can save
up some money!’ And that was exactly what happened