From DCI John Luther to Charles Miner, the legendary Idris Elba has been a near constant on our screens for the last couple of decades, and his impressive career trajectory shows no sign of slowing down.
Although he’s been spending a lot of time focusing on his DJ career of late, Elba’s impressive –back-catalogue of roles proves there’s not much he can’t do.
Today, 2018’s World’s Sexiest Man turns 48, so what better time to dive into the archives and celebrate the most iconic characters he’s brought to the big and small screen.
Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell, The Wire (2002-2004)
There aren’t many who do high intensity drama better than Idris, which is what made his performance as Stringer Bell, in HBO’s The Wire, so damn good, and ultimately kick started his illustrious career.
Stringer serves as the right-hand man to drug kingpin Avon Barksdale while he takes economics classes at college.
Although there’s no getting away from the fact he’s fallen deep into a world of crime, there’s something so earnest about the way in which he desperately wants to legitimise the business, which means you can’t help but want him to succeed. We call that the Elba effect.
While he keeps a stern face throughout, there’s something strangely warm about Stringer navigating his way through a sea of drugs and violence.
Charles Miner, The Office (US) (2009)
When you look back over Elba’s career, it’s easy to forget his brief but effective role over the pond in The Office.
Having already made a name for himself in the States, the London-born actor took on the role of Charles Miner; a new boss who sent ripples through the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company with his strict management style.
What’s brilliant about this role – apart from how it’s so uncomfortable it makes you want to rip your own eyes out – is that we get to see Elba in a completely different setting to what we’re used to; stripped back from the multi-million-dollar action movies.
Much like Elba himself, stern-faced Charles was a bit of a heartthrob around the office and, as we all know, he’s very much aware of the effect he has on women.
Captain Janek, Prometheus (2012)
Although the Alien prequel was met with mixed reviews, the cool, calm and collected Elba that we’ve come to expect is enough to make Prometheus worth a watch.
Here he plays pragmatic Captain Janek, who leads a team on a mission to find the origins of humanity, before arriving on a distant world and discovering a threat that could push the human race into extinction.
Having established himself as a baddie in the past, Elba’s character positions himself as a hero by putting the needs of his crew above his own, and it’s so refreshing to see him on the other side.
Even if this film isn’t your cup of tea, it’s virtually impossible to not have a soft spot for Janek.
Marshal Stacker Pentecost, Pacific Rim (2013)
Again, sticking with the theme of Elba as a hero (we love to see it, don’t we?), his portrayal of Marshal Stacker Pentecost provides a soft, human element to what would otherwise essentially just be giant robots fighting with big explosions going off left, right and centre.
Even if sci-fi isn’t your bag, Elba’s heartfelt portrayal of Stacker and his troubled past shows just how diverse he really can be.
Commandant, Beasts of No Nation (2015)
We’ve already established that Elba plays a convincing hero, but the guns really come out (literally and metaphorically) when he plays a sadistic monster in Beasts of No Nation.
He deservedly won a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Film Independent Spirit Award, as well as being nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as an evil Commandant, who runs a rebel militia comprising mainly of child soldiers.
The film, which uncovers the harrowing realities of children born into war, was set in South Africa, but was actually filmed in Elba’s mother’s native Ghana.
It’s a difficult and emotional watch, but without a doubt one of his best performances.
Charlie, Turn Up Charlie (2019)
Elba has a reputation for playing some hardcore characters in some pretty serious films; the exception being The Office, although he admittedly does play a serious character. That’s why it would be an crime not to mention Netflix’s comedic drama Turn Up Charlie, where Elba takes on the lead.
In real life, Elba is the epitome of a cool dude, and he’s been making some serious waves in the world of electronic music in recent years. But, somehow, he manages to master the hilariously awkward DJ-cum-nanny in Turn Up Charlie so bloody well.
Despite his parents thinking he’s a superstar DJ, Charlie’s only hope for a second chance to ‘make it’ comes when he reluctantly becomes a nanny for his best friend’s kids.
The series is dangerously underrated, but it gives Elba the chance to show off his other main passion outside of acting: music.
Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, Luther (2010-present)
It has got to be said that Elba’s best and most lauded role comes in the form of Detective Chief Inspector John Luther; a troubled loner who, despite his questionable dealings in organised crime, has no problem putting the worst of the worst behind bars. He constantly bends the rules and crosses lines to save people’s lives, and ultimately gets to the bottom of some grim situations.
Elba is the king of dark, high intensity drama, and yet his complicated friendship with Alice Morgan adds a brilliant nuance to his character.
Although the BBC series came to a close, it was recently revealed that a Luther movie is on the horizon, and I can’t wait to see where Elba takes him next.
Happy birthday, Idris Elba, you absolute legend.
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