Legacy brings The Wire's Stringer to the big screen - Idris Elba interview

Legacy brings The Wire's Stringer to the big screen - Idris Elba interview

George Geddes

Miles Fielder checks in with The Wire’s Idris Elba, who closes this year’s festival in Glasgow-produced film Legacy

His show-stealing performance as smart Baltimore drug dealer Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell in the acclaimed US TV crime drama The Wire propelled Hackney-born actor Idris Elba into the big time. Subsequent to his two-year stint on the show that’s thought by many to be the best television series ever, the now 37-year-old former pirate radio DJ scored roles opposite Denzel Washington in American Gangster and Beyoncé Knowles in Obsessed. Last year he appeared in the popular US version of The Office and this year he takes the lead in new British crime series Luther. But before that Elba’s heading back to America to play a Norse god in the latest blockbuster adaptation of a Marvel Comics superhero, The Mighty Thor, currently being shot by Kenneth Branagh.

Elba’s next big screen appearance, however, will be in the modestly-budgeted British thriller Legacy, which is written and directed by Nigerian-English filmmaker Thomas Ikimi, produced by Glasgow production company Black Camel Pictures, shot on location in Dumfries and Galloway (where the interior of a town hall doubled as a New York apartment building) and which will receive its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival as the event’s closing night gala. Elba not only stars in the film, which concerns a Black Ops soldier suffering a mental breakdown and attempting to piece his life back together after returning from a botched mission in Eastern Europe, but he has also executive produced it. Why, then, did Elba single out this project with which to make his producing debut and use his current industry clout to get the film made?

‘The script was phenomenal,’ Elba says. ‘Halfway through reading it, I was convinced I wanted to do the film. The character of Malcolm Gray was not a walk in the park. We spend 90 per cent of the film with Malcolm in a hotel room and we watch him deteriorate on screen. But the role was very attractive, with complexities not typically offered in films today. We have seen schizophrenics, but he is a paranoid schizophrenic, and this is coupled with his journey of discovery. There are many themes in this film, but you are allowed to walk away at the end with your own idea of what you have seen – Thomas hasn’t spoon-fed the audience.’

It’s not hard to see why Elba has gotten behind Akimi. The young filmmaker made his feature debut in 2004 with Limbo, a noirish murder mystery with quasi-religious overtones, shot at the age of 23 while he was reading English Lit at Columbia University, New York. Apparently inspired by Dante’s Inferno, trade magazine Variety described it as a cross between The Matrix’s Wachowski brothers and Sartre. Limbo toured the film festival circuit, where it was lauded as a cult film-in-the-making, and brought its maker to the attention of Black Camel, which company was looking to follow up its own debut, the Scottish BAFTA-winning Nazi zombie horror Outpost.

‘This is Thomas’s second feature as a director,’ Elba says, ‘but he’s a very smart cat, very driven, adaptable, and knows what he wants. And Black Camel is a great team of filmmakers, with a great plan of execution. I was really impressed with them. Malcolm Gray would not be a walk in the park for any actor, but they had confidence in me. In the four weeks of filming, I was doing 12 to 14 hours a day, sleeping, then going back to being Malcolm. My life turned into Malcolm’s for the shoot. What you’re basically seeing is Idris deteriorate on camera.’

Seeing that from the man who played the seemingly invincible ‘Stringer’ Bell has got to be worth the price of admission.

Legacy, GFT 1, Sun 28 Feb, 8.30pm.