Born to a Ghanaian mother and a Sierra Leonian father, Idris Elba is ashamed he hasn’t been to Sierra Leone.
“There’s a Sierra Leonean saying that you don’t walk into someone’s house with your two long arms,” he explains, and then translates it into Krio – the Sierra Leoneon creole he learned growing up: “Yu no for go na pass in us wit you long arm.” He says the words carefully, with the air of someone who has absorbed a language, but never used it much. “I want to go to Sierra Leone with something – whether it’s some sort of contribution to healthcare, or to the entertainment industry. My cousin is a nurse; we are talking about opening a clinic.”
Sierra Leone’s breathtaking landscape – with some of the most beautiful beaches in Africa – is also one of the world’s best-kept secrets, and Idris Elba has plans to use it. “I would really like to open a studio in Sierra Leone. It’s a country that can actually house and look like many parts of the world,” he says. “If I could somehow encourage a film community to use Sierra Leone as the studio in West Africa to make films there, that would be really cool.”
Idris ELba says his parents have OBE, the West African TV channel, on all the time. But the offerings of “Nollywood” are something Elba clearly only watches under duress.
Different strokes for different folks,” he says, laughing. “My parents love those films, they relate to them. But for me… the mistakes in continuity, the music playing over the dialogue the whole time, and there is always a central character who is an African woman screaming! Always!”
On his background versus fame
“I have the best memories of playing outside with my friends. We had very little but it didn’t matter. We’d go from Hackney (London, United Kingdom) across to Canning Town. It was the simple things that I enjoyed and I still do. It was a poor area back then but it taught me a lot. So today, when I think about how I have been nominated for these awards as an actor, I’m like ‘Wow, this is quite special for a boy who used to hang around Canning Town.’
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“I’ve been poor most of my life, so now I don’t really do things based on money, I do things on authenticity of how I feel. I mean, it’s important not to give yourself boundaries, which we can do quite easily, okay? People talk about aiming for the skies. Sometimes even aiming for the skies is intimidating. Just don’t give yourself boundaries. Your sky and my sky might be different, you know what I mean? Neither of us will touch the sky if we give ourselves boundaries.
I’d rather people go, ‘You know what, I’m not going to restrict myself,’ or go, ‘I can only do this,’ or ‘I can only do that,’ or, ‘I have to do it this way,’ or, ‘I have to do it that way.’ Inner magic, is that actually if I can see myself doing it, I can probably do it. I think it’s important that people just go, lose the boundaries, lose the conformity, and just go for it.”
I’m an ambitious person. I never consider myself in competition with anyone, and I’m not saying that from an arrogant standpoint, it’s just that my journey started so, so long ago, and I’m still on it and I won’t stand still.