Idris Elba is powering through his midlife crisis 007 rumours and all. He talks to Tim Lewis
Idris Elba is currently in the grip of a midlife crisis – “really and truly,” he insists – but it is also somehow the most Idris Elba kind of midlife crisis. No flashy little sports car or grunting Harley-Davidson. He’s not started dressing ridiculously, either: today, in a hotel room in London, the 45-year-old actor is wearing black, from his Vans trainers to his fitted polo shirt. He has something like nine tattoos peeking out here and there, the most eye-catching being a lion, representing Sierra Leone, inside a star, the emblem of Ghana, on his right fist.
Instead, Elba’s midlife crisis mainly seems to take the form of saying “yes” to new experiences. Untouchable as a profoundly charismatic, swaggering leading man (The Wire, Luther, Beasts of No Nation), he’s currently more interested in making himself feel uncomfortable. He’s just directed his first feature film, Yardie, an adaptation of a notorious novel about Jamaican gangsters in London. In the past couple of years, he’s filmed documentaries in which he has done everything from driving 180mph on a beach in Wales to flying in an aerobatics competition and making his professional kickboxing debut. He’s designed clothes for Superdry and he’s just set up his own record label. He continues to DJ around the world and he even spins tunes at weddings if you ask nicely (as his pals Harry and Meghan did).
So yes, Idris Elba may be having a midlife crisis, but perhaps inevitably, he’s making it not at all tragic.
“Yeah, there comes a time when you get to 40, 45, where you’re like, ‘Oh shit, I’m losing my youth, I’m facing 50,’” he says, stuffing salt and vinegar crisps in his mouth. “You’re on this cusp and it’s not like you can make new experiences so much, because you’ve probably covered it all. So part of this journey of digging deeper into my fears is the idea that I’m getting older. I’m probably annoying to people going, ‘Fucking hell, he never sits still.’ But we all die, we’ve got plenty of time to sit still.”
Elba is right: it should be annoying. It should definitely be annoying that he decides he wants to drive a car really fast and ends up shattering Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 88-year-old record for the “flying mile”. Then he learns to fly a stunt plane and defeats three professional pilots in a competition. Then he takes up kickboxing seriously in his 40s, and wins his first contest with a knockout in the first round.
But this is Elba we’re talking about. By law, every profile written about him has to mention how beloved he is. And it’s true. Since doing the interview, I’ve met a man who named his son after him, and a couple whose wedding speeches consisted almost entirely of jokes about how they were both obsessed with him. Everyone from George Clooney to Steven Spielberg thinks he should be the next James Bond (almost a decade of speculation linking him with the role reached feverish new volumes as we went to press when he tweeted, “My name’s Elba, Idris Elba.” Five hours later, he totally confused everyone by posting, “don’t believe the HYPE”).
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