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Is Idris Elba a Hollywood Leading Man Yet?

Is Idris Elba a Hollywood Leading Man Yet?

From a previous Telegraph (UK) profile of Idris Elba that I stumbled upon this morning: 

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“It was really weird,” he begins. “I’d just done eight months in South Africa. I came to England and the day I came back I had to do reshoots on Thor 2.” He raises an eyebrow. “And in the actual scene my hair was different, my…” He stops and gives an exasperated sigh. “I was like, ‘This is torture, man. I don’t want to do this.’ My agent said: ‘You have to, it’s part of the deal.’ ” In the scene in question in the superhero movie, “I’m actually falling down from a spaceship, so they had to put me in harness in this green-screen studio. And in between takes I was stuck there, fake hair stuck on to my head with glue, this fucking helmet, while they reset. And I’m thinking: ‘24 hours ago, I was Mandela’. When I walked into the set the extras called me Madiba. I was literally walking in this man’s boots. [Within] six months, the crew, we were all so in love with this film we had made. I was him. I was Mandela, practically,” he insists. “Then there I was, in this stupid harness, with this wig and this sword and these contact lenses. It ripped my heart out.”

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Reading this, I tried to make sense of what he really was saying here, without actually saying it, and this is what I came up with: His frustration with having to take what are essentially secondary, peripheral roles in major Hollywood movies, and only being able to play leading men when it’s a *smaller* picture, typically one made outside of the USA, that he co-produced. 

My thinking there then led me to the question of whether Elba will ever become the Hollywood leading man that he really should be at this stage of his career, that his white contemporaries currently are – some who don’t even have anywhere close to the on-screen presence that he possesses seemingly effortlessly. By all accounts, Elba probably should be in contention for almost every top studio project with a leading man role in it (most of the movies made in Hollywood today). Instead, he gets to play second fiddle to guys like Chris Hemsworth, Charlie Hunnam, and Nicholas Cage to name a few. And that’s when he’s actually cast in a major studio project, which, even though it may seem like he works a lot, really isn’t all that often. Just take a look at his IMDB page. Aside from *niche* fare like “No Good Deed” and “Obsessed” several years back, he really hasn’t starred in a Hollywood studio-backed high profile production – and by that, I mean, like a Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, Johnny Depp, Mark Wahlberg, Will Smith, Robert Downey Jr, etc, etc, etc, starring in a film produced to be seen widely. Maybe start with a franchise, or a smart, solidly written drama that’s both commercial and awards-worthy, like some of the white actors he plays sidekick or mentor to, typically get to star in. Instead of, as he suggests, having to essentially take several steps back, each time he’s offered a role in one of these kinds of movies, after having played an icon like Mandela in a much smaller film, not made in the USA, that isn’t seen by as many people.

It’s not as if he’s an *unknown* actor or doesn’t have crossover awareness. Fanboys and girls around the world, regardless of skin color, seem to love him, and want to see him on screen more, preferably in juicier, starring roles. For those opportunities, he has to head back to the UK, and/or produce himself. Not that doing so is a negative. It’s a good thing that he’s able to get some passion projects off the ground, whether the backing comes from the USA or elsewhere. But, the point is, it seems like, as he appears to be stating here, that he should be doing more than what he’s been given to do when it comes to what Hollywood specifically has to offer him; and, like his white contemporaries, he should be able to move from a project like “Mandela” to another role, in another film that’s just as prominent, but on a much larger scale, and not a peripheral character like Heimdall from the “Thor” franchise.

The fact that he isn’t already a Hollywood superstar, and still has to hustle for the work that he gets, creating projects for himself, is puzzling. He has the talent, the screen presence, huge cross-over appeal, and international awareness, plus he’s won multiple awards, women want to be with him, and men want to be him. The man should be in line for every top leading man role right now – not supporting the likes of Nicolas Cage, Sean Penn, Charlie Hunnam, Chris Hemsworth and others. They should be playing second fiddle to him!

I’m certainly not one to use the so-called “race card,” but I just can’t help but believe that if Idris Elba were a white actor, he would be in far more demand than he currently is. His name would likely be on every leading man role shortlist.

Elba picked up two SAG Awards over the weekend, and made history in the process, becoming the first actor to win in 2 categories for individual performances in the same year: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role for “Beasts of No Nation,” and Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for “Luther.”

Let’s see what his history-making wins do for his career, if anything. As of today, all that he has on his upcoming slate are, voicing characters for 3 different animated movies, as well as an indie British drama titled “A Hundred Streets” (he’s part of an ensemble cast, so he’s not the standout star). Last month it was announced that he was the leading candidate to star in the adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series – a part that was previously linked to Javier Bardem and Russell Crowe. But nothing’s been confirmed yet, so we can’t count that as a definite. But that’s it! Voicing characters in 3 animated movies; one member of an ensemble cast of a British indie; and the possibility that he might star in “The Dark Tower.”

I’m sure he’s glad to at least be working and collecting paychecks, but I’m sure he’d like to be given the kinds of big-time opportunities that make careers, and allow an actor of his caliber to stretch and build. Maybe tonight’s wins will assist. We’ll see. At least he’s certainly not waiting around for things to come to him, as he continues to produce worm for himself – “Luther” for example. Although at this point, I’m surprised that the transition to the big screen for the beloved character hasn’t happened yet, even though it’s been in discussion for about 2 years now.

Again, the point is whether he’s being fully embraced in Hollywood (the largest and most influential film industry in the entire world) the way the likes of the Hemsworth brothers, Hugh Jackman, and other (white) non-American actors and actresses have, and whether his frustrations, as expressed in the quote at the top of this post, are valid.

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