Idris Elba is Everywhere with 'Beast' and 'Three Thousand Years of Longing'

CUL PS Idris Elba
Idris Elba Jeff Vespa/Contour/Getty

"It's a survival film with an African American family. Culturally, I felt like something that we hadn't seen before."

If anybody is going to fight a lion in a movie, it's going to be Idris Elba. And he does exactly that in Beast (August 19). "We've put a movie together that feels like a popcorn movie." Elba plays Dr. Nate Daniels, a widower who takes his two daughters to a South African game reserve to heal the loss of their mother—until things go dangerously wrong. "It's a survival film with an African American family. Culturally, I felt like something that we hadn't seen before." Elba is particularly proud of filming on location. "[South Africa] is a great filmmaking country, they have a long history of making films there." In what is a magical month for him, Elba also plays the genie-like title character in Three Thousand Years of Longing (August 31), adapted from a short story in The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by A.S. Byatt. It was "very different from Beast," says Elba. "I don't like to play one style of film, or one type of character. So it feels quite good to be able to say you can see this, but also you can see this and they're very, very different. That's a gift for any actor."

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PARTING SHOT WITH H. ALAN SCOTT
ON APPLE PODCASTS OR SPOTIFY

Beast is such a wild film in all the best of ways. What about it made you say yes to it?

I enjoyed the whole process. Discovering the script and figuring out why I wanted to do it, because I just felt like there was definitely something unique about it. Listen, we've seen Jaws, we've seen the animal-hunts-humans in many different ways. But the dynamic of the family, going through something like this together felt unique, going to Africa and being amongst an environment that is so beautiful to look at and real. But it's a survival film with an African American family. Culturally, I felt like something that we hadn't seen before. So the whole process was enjoyable. Making the film was difficult at times. We were in an environment that is quite isolating. But that's part of the story. But other than that, it was great. I felt like we've put a movie together that feels like a cinema movie. It's a popcorn movie.

The film really plays on the sense of comfort we feel on vacation, how we let our guard down. Did that stand out to you?

Yeah, it definitely excited me. Escapist film gives that sense that we're there, and we're away from ourselves and our real lives for a second. I really enjoy that aspect of being a filmmaker. We can create these environments where people can escape. I'm proud of this film. Obviously, the proof is in the pudding. The audience will tell me if we've achieved it, but for us as filmmakers, we feel like we're gonna take an audience on an experience.

Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries are so good as your daughters. In what ways did they enhance your performance?

They treated me like their father, I guess. We spent so much time together in close proximity, doing lots and lots of running around, we actually went through that even though there were no real lions. We actually went through that as a team of actors and became a family. They are very emotional and honest and definitely pushed me to try and be as real and relatable as a father to them and the audience, hopefully. So it was great. We had a good time getting to know each and running away from this lion together.

It's also just visually such a beautiful film. What was it like shooting in South Africa for those 10 weeks?

When we were there, it was very much winter. So it's cold, believe it or not. But they call South Africa "God's Country," because when you look around the vista, it's unbelievable. The environment, the sky, the sunshine, the landscapes, really beautiful. And it's a great filmmaking country, they have a long history of making films there. So the crews are really good, efficient, really polite and nice. And make you feel very special. I've been making films in Africa quite a bit for a long time. Mandela was a film that I made there, and every time I get to go back to South Africa I always feel like I should buy a house. Because it really is so comfortable.

August is kind of your month, because in addition to Beast you also have Three Thousand Years of Longing coming out, which has been a long time coming because of COVID setbacks. What's it like for it to finally be coming out?

You're right, it's taken a long time. We made that film during the height of the pandemic. Took a long time to do. It's a painstaking film to make. Intricate, very detailed, even though it's quite simple. But it was a difficult film to make. Very different from Beast. So I'm excited to see what the reaction is to that film.

It must be difficult to be promoting two very different films at the same time?

I guess. I love that people can sort of respect that. I don't like to play one style of film, or one type of character. So it feels quite good to be able to say you can see this, but also you can see this and they're very, very different. That's a gift for any actor. So I definitely feel proud to be able to have two different styles of film come out at the same time.

I have to ask you about your stint on The Office, because it's iconic. Do people still mention that to you?

Maybe the last two years, maybe they did reruns, I wasn't quite sure, but I got suddenly this big spike. I think I was actually trending on some social media for The Office. I was like, "Huh, people remember me from The Office?" People were like, you should bring Charles Miner back. So that was quite nice. It was actually a really nice feeling.

I think it's because of the type of character you played. We're so used to seeing you win, you're the tough guy, but on The Office Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) was able to one up you.

The truth is I don't get to do much comedy, so when I get a chance to go with Steve Carell, I don't care if I need to one up him, I just want to find a way to be funny in this thing. It's a lot of fun for me to do that show. I actually missed it because it kind of came and went and no one made a big deal out of it. But it was a big deal for me, because I do some comedy, but no one really paid attention. But to your point, people have seen it and love it. Really love it.

Listen to H. Alan Scott's full conversation with Idris Elba on Newsweek's Parting Shot. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Twitter: @HAlanScott