Bastille Day Q & A - Idris Elba

Bastille Day is about to hit the cinemas in NZ so we have secured some chats with the stars... first up it's Idris Elba

Golden Globe and SAG winner Idris Elba (Thor, The Wire, Luther) stars in James Watkins’ pulsating new thriller, Bastille Day. Set in Paris, Elba plays Sean Briar, an American CIA agent who joins forces with a young pickpocket (Richard Madden) in pursuit of a terrorism group.

QUESTION: What drew you to Bastille Day?

IDRIS ELBA: James Watkins. Specifically because James said he wanted to make a homage to the Seventies action films, where there was less green screen and more actuality. And also the plot red herrings the audience. You walk into what you think might be a ‘terrorism’ film about terrorists in the big city and then it takes you on a different journey, where it’s good over evil – bad guys trying to get some money. And I liked that journey. I like action films and I think audiences that do appreciate an action film will say, ‘This one takes me on journey, and gives me all the bits I like in real time, and I’m reading subtitles because I’m in Paris, and not everybody speaks English.’ It just a real, grounded approach to a buddy action flick and I thought that was interesting.

QUESTION: Given recent real world events, is it a difficult time for a film like this? Will people be afraid to watch it even?

IDRIS ELBA: I think that there is no control, as far as filmmakers are concerned, with what happens in the real world. I suspect that we shouldn’t as filmmakers veer away from making subjects close to what happens in the real world. That’s the liberty of being an artist, to make what you feel like, but absolutely – yeah – I think the filmmakers, StudioCanal, were very cognitive of what’s happened in life and sensitive about how we put this film out. The truth of the matter is, the film has no real correlation with what’s going on. It just happens to be Paris. This script is four years old and we shot it almost two years ago.

QUESTION: Still, the attacks in Paris must’ve been a shock for you…

IDRIS ELBA: It broke our hearts, without a doubt. You’re like, ‘What?’ But more from the point of view that we were just there and we were in a city that we loved. They embraced us as filmmakers and this was happening to them – it was heartbreaking.

QUESTION: How did you cope with these stunt scenes?

IDRIS ELBA: Hot baths! It was full on. Part of the structure of the film, the fabric of the film, was that James wanted to see us doing the stunts. A lot of CGI now dominates filmmaking and James wanted to step away from that. And so for six weeks prior to filming, we were in the mix, training. I did a lot of fighting. I like to fight! I also have a bit of a martial arts background. So I got completely involved in that way.

QUESTION: James said he advised you to watch Lee Marvin in Point Blank. Had you never seen it before?

IDRIS ELBA: I hadn’t, no.

QUESTION: Was Marvin’s performance influential on you?

IDRIS ELBA: Completely. A formidable character. [My idea was to] Watch that character, watch the stoicism of him, and try and bring that energy to my character.

QUESTION: What else can you bring to this kind of character?

IDRIS ELBA: With a character like that…he’s a civil servant. He makes his money doing these weird, covert operations. In real life, there aren’t any screeches of tyres. There’s no music in the background. It’s a hard job and if you have to chase someone, in a very dangerous situation, it’s not as sexy as you might think on film. But in real life, what I try to bring is that realism. I try and bring that tension, that feeling that this is his job and this is what he does for a living, and try and implement that into the character. It’s not written down in the script, and that’s what I try to bring as much as I could.

QUESTION: How did you find working with Richard Madden? Did you mentor him?

IDRIS ELBA: The truth is, Richard is a phenomenal actor. There was no mentorship. More than anything, we approached this work with a similar ethic. I can talk about character work and the mental work that you have to put in to making these ordinary scenes seem real. And for some actors that’s just tedious. And Richard and I are both accomplished, but I learnt stuff from him. Also, I don’t think either of us had made a film like this before. We plunged into it together and it was good.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s an exciting time for homegrown talent right now?

IDRIS ELBA: There are a lot of really good British actors that are working. There are a lot of good Australian actors, a lot of good American actors…I think it’s just a good time for good actors. The character actor, the leading man, or the funny guy actor, that’s going out. Now we’re finding actors that can play different types of characters leading the way. And if you’re a good actor, dedicated to your profession, then it’s a good time for you – wherever you’re from.

QUESTION: How did you find doing the American accent. Did your co-star Kelly Reilly help at all?

IDRIS ELBA: She’s flawless. She lives there and her [American] accent is flawless.

QUESTION: You’ve worked there so much, you must know your American accent now?

IDRIS ELBA: Yeah, I think I do. It’s an evolving muscle. It doesn’t always stay perfect if you don’t use it. For this film, I went for an accent that was flat. I tried to think about the civil servant of it all, the history of being in the army and what tends to flatten out American accents. They tend to sound similar, the cadence…that’s what I went for.

QUESTION: It’s you singing at the end, right?

IDRIS ELBA: ‘Spinging’ – speak singing!



QUESTION: It sounded like Right Said Fred!

IDRIS ELBA: They did sell a lot of records! They did sell a lot of records! Right Said Id!

QUESTION: So is it a new song?

IDRIS ELBA: Yeah, it’s a new song. A new ‘spingle’! ‘Spung’ by myself! No, actually James and I talked about the music. I was a producer on certain aspects of this film, and the soundtrack was important to James. He wanted to figure out how to make that as good as the film, and so I went to Fat Boy Slim, who has a real love for film, and he and I wanted to work together. I said, ‘Here’s an opportunity to make something interesting.’ He encouraged me to ‘sping’ on it! It’s a cool word!

QUESTION: You’re voicing Shere Khan in The Jungle Book. How was the experience of doing that?

IDRIS ELBA: It was great. It was great working with Jon Favreau. He’s an actor’s director, without a doubt. But also a genius filmmaker, a visionary actually. Consider that he brought Iron Man to life and now is about to bring The Jungle Book remake to life. I was so excited to have the opportunity to work with him. I learnt a lot. I’ve done some animation work before but this was quite a big, unique experience, and his vision for it was really incredible.

QUESTION: How involved with that vision can you be when you’re the voice?

IDRIS ELBA: I think you can be very influential to it. The animators live and die by what you bring, the expression to your voice. I go up at the end of my sentence and they figure out a facial expression that works, and what they do is they film you and see how your face moves. They don’t mirror that…Shere Khan and I don’t look alike at all, but they mirror what my mouth might be doing, where my eyes might be and so on.

QUESTION: How much was The Wire a turning point in your life?

IDRIS ELBA: Stringer Bell was a massive changing point in my life. As an actor, I’d been working in the game ten years, and then I was not working in New York for four years, and then suddenly Stringer Bell landed in my lap and it changed my life. It was very much a defining moment.

QUESTION: Have you found more and more people discovering the show?

IDRIS ELBA: Interestingly enough, the influx of new fans has been always Europe – outside of America. Even in America, at the time of its airing, The Wire wasn’t the popular show. We were dwarfed by The Sopranos immensely. But the global fanbase has just grown continuously. I was in Romania, with my girlfriend, hanging out, and we’re sitting at this cafĂ©. And then there are ten lads on the other table and they look like the Gypsy Kings! Scary looking! I’m like, ‘Babe, we’re in Romania, those guys over there are going to jump us.’ She’s like, ‘You idiot! They’re not going to jump us. Don’t be fucking stupid.’ Then when this guy stood up, I grabbed a bottle and he went ‘Stringer Bell! Stringer Bell! Take a picture! I told you it’s Stringer Bell!’ And I put the bottle down…

QUESTION: How was your time in the Marvel universe?

IDRIS ELBA: I had a great time making those films, and they’re really successful. I think out of the Marvel films, they are very ambitious. Hey guys, there’s a man with long hair, a beautiful guy with a hammer that flies – suspend your belief!’ It could be taken as a bit silly. But I think the Marvel team have done a really good job with that.

QUESTION: Did you always want to be an actor?

IDRIS ELBA: No. I made that decision consciously when I was around 14, 15, in secondary school. I was very much a mimic when I was younger. My Dad and Mum – they’d love me to tell a story of what happened, and I’d play all the characters. My uncle would come round, and I could mimic him all day long. So that was about the extent of my acting abilities.

QUESTION: Did you have professional teachers that took you on?

IDRIS ELBA: Yeah. I had a very good drama teacher – who I also had a crush on! Ha-ha! But she was so influential and instrumental in having me structure a plan. At 14, she recognised I was good at drama. By 16 years-old, she had already helped me figure out what the next stages were for taking it seriously, which included going to college and doing a drama course and then perhaps going to drama school. She gave me a lot. Honestly, she encouraged me to be an actor – and I don’t think I’d be doing it if I didn’t have that encouragement from her.

QUESTION: Were your parents against the idea of being an actor?

IDRIS ELBA: Yeah, they sure did. My Mum and Dad were not like, ‘You want to be an actor? Great!’ They were like, ‘Oh, yeah. Why don’t you go and work with your Dad at Ford’s for a year and then you can save up some money!’ And that was exactly what happened.

Bastille Day is in New Zealand Cinemas from 12th May 2016
Rated R16 - Contains Violence, offensive language & nudity