Idris Elba is undeniably one of the most successful British actors of his generation. The five-time Emmy nominee has found success on both the stage and screen; he starred in one of TV’s greatest series and was once seen as a frontrunner to play James Bond (before he took himself out of the running).
Despite being considered for one of the greatest honors an English movie star can achieve, Elba credits much of his acting success to his decision to move to the United States. In a new interview with Esquire, he reflected on the ways that working in America has made it easier for him to find his niche as an artist.
“America gave me technical understanding of my craft,” Elba said. “It was an enhancement. I learned a lot. American actors have always been great. The works of Shakespeare live in a world of wonderment, poetry, fairy tale, the language of beauty and eloquence. The performer uses a skillset that amplifies that. There is an air and a grace to it that a good English actor has to understand. In America, in an Arthur Miller play, you might get a guy who’s just a guy: guy from Pennsylvania, guy from New York — just a guy, a human. American actors had this connection with real life. The accent and the cadence of the words in America allows for a really interesting flow of thoughts.”
In addition to the artistic benefits, Elba said he also appreciates the way American actors can earn critical accolades for working in a variety of genres. He compared it to what he saw as a limiting environment in England, where Shakespearean actors were consistently held in higher regard than mainstream film and television stars.
“In England, I did a TV thing for kids, and then a soap opera,” he said. “But unless I was doing Shakespeare, or one of these highbrow things that are outside of my actual culture, I wasn’t going to elevate in this country as an actor. In America, it felt like the sky was the limit. You didn’t have to do Shakespeare to be a good actor. I found it really freeing.”
Elba’s vocal skills can currently be appreciated in the Oscar-nominated animated short, “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse” — just one in a long line of varied roles the actor has landed.
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