Idris Elba Dishes on “Luther”

Idris Elba is no stranger to playing complex characters. The British actor, who returns as the lead in BBC’s detective show “Luther” this week, starred as Stringer Bell in “The Wire” and portrays Nelson Mandela in the highly anticipated biopic this fall. But, despite it all, he maintains the mysterious detective John Luther is close to his heart.

“Internally, we wanted to get closer to Luther and not follow a route of oh, he’s getting more and more depressed or taking more and more drugs and wanting to shoot himself. We didn’t want to do that,” says Elba. “What we wanted to do is get to know him a bit closer and figure out what he would do under pressure.”

According to Elba, the theme for the third installment of “Luther,” which premieres Tuesday night, is understanding the main character’s legacy and performing a “sort of autopsy” on him. The villans in the show are even darker this season, he admits.

“And we wanted to make that stretch over the season so that at the end when we say the last words, we wanted the audience to say, ‘Now what?’ And literally look at Luther and go, ‘I don’t know where you can go from here, pal,'” he says.

Where Luther goes from here, according to Elba, is the big screen. There have long been rumors about a movie based on the show and those rumors will soon become a reality. The movie version of “Luther” is expected to explore the detective’s origin, much like a superhero movie, according to Elba.

“However, the time is really ripe for Luther to turn into a film, I think–considering, we’ve had a really interesting continuing following on the show,” he says. “And, our intention was always to take it to a film, which I think is where we can really explore what makes this man tick and really understand Luther, or go on weirder and more experimental journeys with him by using the film medium.”

In November, Elba will star in “Mandela: Walk to Freedom,” but he didn’t get the opportunity to meet the iconic leader before filming. Instead, he spent quite a bit of reading about Mandela and watching documentaries about his life before spending time in South Africa.

“You know, for me, that is a piece of history, told by film. And, honestly, my performance in it–I was just a vessel. I don’t know how to say that without making it sound corny but, it’s a great, massive opportunity, massive responsibility to play Mr. Mandela,” he says. “But I didn’t write that. None of us wrote that. That’s the truth. So, you know, for me, I’m just sort of like a tool in a toolbox to make that story come out.”

While in South Africa, Elba made sure to stay away from too many anecdotes about the former president so as not to taint his performance.

“Everybody has a Mandela story in South Africa, that’s for sure. And I was inundated with a wealth of information, and that was my preparation,” he says. “And there was some physical stuff and, some makeup stuff that we had to do. And I had to sort of understand and absorb before I started playing him.”

And even if Elba were offered the opportunity to play the legendary role of James Bond or to continue playing Luther, he would choose the detective, not the secret agent.

“I would definitely choose Luther or a role that I helped create. There’s a lot more longevity in that, for me, and obviously creative input that I’m really excited to offer into the next stage of me as an actor so – writing, directing and creating a character that I will play is the way forward for me,” he says. “So, yes, I think I would definitely choose a role that I could create.”

“Luther” premieres Tuesday, September 3 on BBC America at 10 p.m. ET; Wednesday, September 4, 9 p.m. ET; Thursday, September 5, 10 p.m. ET; Friday, September 6, 10 p.m. ET.