Do you and your friends have different tastes? Probably. We can’t all be the same. I have a text thread going with one group of friends where we are always disagreeing about who we think is hot. The last time we fought about this, Sasha and I were onside for Shawn Mendes and Duana couldn’t get down because, as we always say, she prefers senior citizens. That devolved into a conversation about chest hair. In the end, despite our disparate attractions, we came together on one person, someone who does it for all of us: Idris Elba. I suspect it’s similar in your friend circles. That’s how rare he is, though. Idris Elba is a multi-quadrant star, not unlike Keanu Reeves.
Idris covers the new issue of Vanity Fair ahead of the release of Hobbs & Shaw. As noted in the article, there are few actors who can believably present a physical challenge to Dwayne The Rock Johnson. Even fewer who can present a believable challenge to both The Rock and Jason Statham. Idris is that guy. He is the man who could/should be Bond. And of course that comes up. But, as I’ve noted through the years, he’s annoyed by it now – not only because he was never seriously considered for it but because, probably, the people who were suggesting him for it didn’t think through what it would have meant for him, positive and negative.
“You just get disheartened,” he says, “when you get people from a generational point of view going, ‘It can’t be.’ And it really turns out to be the color of my skin. And then if I get it and it didn’t work, or it did work, would it be because of the color of my skin? That’s a difficult position to put myself into when I don’t need to.”
He doesn’t need to. So, once and for all, let’s move on because there are so many other great things he says in this interview that aren’t getting the same weight. I’m not going to spoil the whole piece here if you haven’t read it yet so I’ll just highlight a couple of points. First, what he admits near the end:
“Everything’s a balance in life,” Elba says. “I have to do the work, because it’s a popular time for me, and it’s best to have that. But also: I’m madly in love with my wife and my children.”
“I have to do the work because it’s a popular time for me.” I love this. I love it because not many actors in his position would put it this simply, this candidly. He’s not spending eight sentences telling you about looking to feed his artistic soul and finding his motivation and roles that feed and fuel his creativity. He’s saying that he’s on a streak right now, that he is “popular”, that as Duana likes to say, “he’s riding the horse in the direction that it’s going” – which is instantly recognisable to anyone growing up in an immigrant family: you charge through every door that’s open, you go through as many doors as you can go through, it’s almost a compulsion.
I also like that Idris uses the word “popular” here because it relates to what he said earlier about fame and what it takes to be famous now, like the actual mechanics of it, the specific requirements – and again, this isn’t something that his peers readily reveal, which is that, of course, Popularity Management is part of the game. Especially on social media:
He shows his insecurities to us all the time. We likely don’t experience it in quite those terms. But Elba does. “You’re throwing yourself out there for people to pick at you, or steer you, or tell you their opinion, or laugh at you, or celebrate you,” he says. “Whatever those are, you’re definitely amplifying that.” Growing comfortable in that space isn’t easy for him, or anyone. Just look at other actors. “Daniel Day-Lewis is an incredible actor,” Elba says, “but does not like to be in the public eye and manages to do the two. I can’t do that. I wish I could. I wish I could just be obscure, and no one ever have to see me, and never have to do interviews, and still have the career that he has.”
This is part of what makes celebrity in the 21st century uniquely difficult. Day-Lewis was already an Oscar winner by the time Elba arrived on the scene; he’d likely have faced a different climate coming up today, in an age of social media, where an engaged and personable performer like Elba is expected to wield his online clout in one way or another. “As you climb up the ladder,” he says, “people expect you to have way more followers, and you become the marketing engine. There used to be a day where I could have no followers and still get paid and people still expect me to do press. But if I come along with 8 million followers, and they’re all going to see my movie, the film companies want that. So the pressure to be more public is higher.” Gone, in other words, are the days of “saying whatever the fuck I wanted” on Twitter. “And if you take a picture of you, or your house, do know that there are people zooming in to see what’s behind you,” he says. “That stuff—you have to think about it way more than people back in the day.”
Well…yeah. Exactly. They DO have to think about their followers. They ARE asked to bring their followers to the table. There IS a numbers game that they’re constantly crunching. And no, it’s not, as so many of them want us to believe, just about “I just post what I want, and I don’t care how many people are following me”. Even Idris Elba, 46 years old, has to think about that. And he’s the one who can give you drama, action, comedy, sexy, and Cats! F-cking Cats! Who else can kick Jason Statham’s ass in one movie and purr and prowl around making cat faces in another? And still, he’s over there thinking about Instagram engagement. I’m not saying it’s right, all I’m saying is that it’s real, it’s a reality for celebrities, as much as most of them, the big ones, claim it isn’t. Maybe that’s why, as part of this feature, Vanity Fair also asked him to take a lie detector test. I mean, all celebrities are full of sh-t in one way or the other. With Idris though, his bullsh-t level, at least to me, seems significantly lower.
Click here to read the full article at Vanity Fair.