Idris Elba is a busy man. He’s released seven movies this year and has several more on tap for 2017. He’s on track to join Dwayne Johnson, Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio as one of the world’s highest earning actors after turns in the mega-grossing The Jungle Book, Finding Dory and Zootopia.
If you don’t know the name you haven’t been paying attention. Rev up Netflix and check out his work on TV shows like The Wire or Luther and movies like RocknRolla or Beasts of No Nation and become a fan. You should know he was once voted one of People magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People in the World and more than one twitter friend of mine refers to him as a “pretend boyfriend.”
Not only busy but good looking as well! I was pleased to be granted a fifteen-minute phone interview to discuss his debut in the Star Trek franchise as Krall, a hostile alien who causes trouble for Kirk, Spock and company in Star Trek Beyond.
I don’t usually write questions but I thought I might ask him if he watched Star Trek as a child. Would he consider himself a Trekker? Did he have a favourite Star Trek character growing up? Did he wonder what Star Trek fans would think of the predatory new character? Are there parallels between the film—and his character—and our world today? Has he considered what being part of the legacy of the show means?
If there was time at the end I might even follow up on the rumours and ask if he even wants to play James Bond.
Then the first call came in. “Idris is running behind.” Cool. This happens all the time on press days. Then another call and another and another. My phone hasn’t gotten this kind of workout since a Nigerian Prince called over and over to solicit my assistance in moving his fortune to North America. Each time a publicist announced another delay with the assurance the interview would still happen. As the time wore on the actual length of my interview began to tumble downhill from fifteen minutes down to seven.
In all two hours passed from my scheduled start time until my phone rang for real.
“Hi Richard, I’ll connect you with Idris,” said the perky voice on the other end of the line.
A minute passed before Elba’s familiar husky London accent filled my ear. Hallelujah! Better late than never. We talk over one another. “Hello… HELLO… Can you hear me?” It’s a bad cell phone connection. It sounds as if we’re talking through two tin cans connected by strings but I’ll take it.
I ask him about his childhood memories of Star Trek.
“It was a show me, my mum and my dad watched together,” he says. “They both liked it. It was a show that really took your imagination places. That’s my early memory of it. It was a really imaginative show that showed space travel in a way that was different, you know?”
It took him 23 seconds to speak the 50 words that told me his parents liked Star Trek. I mention this because as soon as he stopped talking and I started asking the next question I heard a strange beep beep sound followed by… nothing. The great void. No more husky voice. And like that, poof. He’s gone.
“Are you still there? I think we just lost him,” the eavesdropping publicist said. “Let me get him back for you. Just one second.”
I had visions of the actor walking around Fifth Avenue desperately yelling into his phone, “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” but in my heart I knew that wasn’t happening.
Minutes later she’s back. “I’m so sorry. We lost him. I know you only had a couple of minutes to speak with him…” actually it was twenty three seconds… “Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with him.”
My interview with Idris was over. Still born. Terminated before it even really began.
Was I mad? Not really. Frustrated? Yes. Not only had I wasted the afternoon waiting for Idris but now I didn’t have a story to file.
My friends on social media didn’t exactly see it my way. “What do you expect?” wrote one person. “He is the hottest man alive.” Another chose to look on the bright side. “That’s 45 seconds more Idris than the rest of us.” (I hadn’t yet timed the actual quote when hit facebook to vent.)
In the end it’s not a big deal. I’m choosing to look at the bright side. I didn’t get to chat with him but I do have a contender for the Guinness Book of World Records for Shortest (And Least Satisfying) Interview Ever.
A friend is boycotting the Academy Awards because his favourite film of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, didn’t make the Oscar’s Best Picture list.
The awards, he says, aren’t relevant because they ignore genre movies and in this particular case, have snubbed the most financially successful film of the year. In fact, the old canard that the Academy doesn’t honour genre movies with Best Picture nods has been shot down this year with nominations for The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Oscar folks also gave The Force Awakens five nominations and in recent years Inception, Avatar, District 9, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Django Unchained have all earned top nods with LOTR taking home the gold.
Genre movies do just fine with the Academy. No need for C-3PO to cry little metal tears. To the Academy’s credit, not recognizing the year’s box office behemoth while giving Room, a modestly grossing movie, Best Picture, Actress, Directing and Adapted Screenplay nods, actually suggests the Academy will not be wowed by wheelbarrows of cash.
Perhaps the truth is that the Oscars, and awards shows in general, are only as relevant as you want them to be. Are they as important as the Republican debates? It’s all just show biz, so maybe. Ultimately, unless you’re an actor, a director or a shareholder in a nominated film the Oscars are probably not extremely significant to your life. I pay attention to them as a function of my job, and I enjoy them, but this year I’m on board with my friend but for different reasons.
I’m disappointed in Oscar’s failure to acknowledge diversity. For the second year in a row all 20 acting nominations went to white actors. To be clear I’m not implying the Academy is overtly racist. There are too many voters for there to be a conspiracy to keep actors of colour out of the headline categories. Have you ever gone to a restaurant with more than 10 people and tried to get everyone to agree on an appetizer for the table? It’s nearly impossible. Now imagine trying to arrange collusion between 6,000 members of the Academy. Totally hopeless.
So if it’s not a conspiracy why were stellar performances from Creed’s Michael B. Jordan, The Hateful Eight’s Samuel L. Jackson, Sicario’s Benicio Del Toro, Beasts of No Nation’s Idris Elba or any of Straight Outta Compton’s top line cast not nominated? I think it’s a combination of studio decision makers, who tend to be white, male and older coupled with the same demographic of voters at the Academy.
It’s a systemic issue being addressed by Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ effort to mould the Academy’s membership to be more in line with the population.
Until the Oscars represent the full width and breadth of the best in Hollywood, regardless of race or gender, they will continue to slide toward irrelevancy. My guess is that the most interesting part of this year’s ceremony won’t be who wins Best Actor but host Chris Rock’s opening monologue, which, if the movie gods prevail, will address the situation in no uncertain terms. It’s a speech I’m predicting will be just as entertaining and provocative as any of the nominees, Star Wars: The Force Awakens included.
“I’m a good boy from a good family,” says Agu (Abraham Attah), the preteen protagonist of the drama “Beasts of No Nation.” His father is a teacher, his mother a churchgoing woman. Big brother is a muscle-head teen with a crush on local girl.
As civil war comes to his village (in an unnamed African country), summary executions become common and soon Agu is left alone and on a run for his life. He finds a new family as a child soldier under a rebel Commandant (Idris Elba). “A boy is very, very dangerous,” he says. “He has two eyes to see, two hands to strangle and fingers to pull a trigger. Leave this in my charge. I will be training him to be a warrior.”
The Commandant is charismatic leader, a master of indoctrination and brainwashing who weaves a protective web around the young boy, creating a family unit for the boy as he turns him into a killer. Agu is convinced the very real war is personal; it’s a battle against the people who killed his father. He ‘s taught the art of cruelty, how to hack a man to death with a machete and kill people by inserting grenades into their mouths.
The trip into the heart of darkness is sidelined by the Commandant’s own journey into Colonel Kurtz territory. Disillusioned, Agu begins to understand “the only reason we are fighting anymore is to be dying.”
“Beasts of No Nation” is a harrowing experience. It’s not the kind of movie you leave the theatre saying, “I really enjoyed that.” Instead, it’s an experience, an unforgiving film that begins by allowing us to get to know Agu’s family before tragedy strikes, then torments us with the terrifying sound of gunfire heard from inside a hiding place before showing us Agu’s descent into a hellish kind of survival. It’s ruthless and brutal, perhaps best summed up in the plainspoken words of the boy himself. “I saw terrible things and I did terrible things.” Be prepared, he may be a lot of things, but he’s not a liar.