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There’s a good chance you were entertained by Idris Elba in 2016.
The actor voiced characters in three Disney hits – “Zootopia,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Finding Dory” – and also starred as the villain Krall in “Star Trek Beyond.” In 2017, we’ll have the luxury of seeing more of his face in “Thor: Ragnarok” and “The Dark Tower,” but before that we’ll see Elba in a small movie he’s tried to get off the ground for three years.
“100 Streets” (in theaters and On Demand January 13) follows the lives of people who live within a square mile of a London neighborhood. Elba’s character is the most complex, a former rugby star who has found himself in a drug and depression tailspin that concludes with a dramatic standoff with police.
Elba, who is also a producer on the movie, talked to Business Insider about how the project has prepared him for his upcoming feature directing debut, how his passion for music keeps him grounded (check out his appearance on a Macklemore song and his own singing and rapping), and why he no longer gets a kick out of the rumors that he’s the next James Bond.
Jason Guerrasio: What is the creative satisfaction you get producing a movie like “100 Streets”?
Idris Elba: With this particular project it was a small film that really doesn’t attract the big film financiers so I have a small production company called Green Door Pictures and basically my ambition for the company is to help smaller films come to life, especially films that explore the human condition like this film does. So I get a huge buzz out of watching that grow and seeing my little company help things move along. It’s very satisfying because it’s a passion piece and I enjoy that. It’s hard, it takes a very long time to make an independent film come alive, but the process is satisfying when people say they dug it.
Guerrasio: Do you think if you didn’t produce this film and put your name on it that it would have gotten made?
Elba: I’m sure it would have been made one way or another eventually but for me I was determined to make it. So I can’t say it wouldn’t have been made but I –
Guerrasio: You helped it get a green light a little faster.
Elba: Yeah. Definitely.
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Guerrasio: Max is at a different point in his life than you are now, he’s past his prime, but can you relate to a character like this that still lives under a microscope?
Elba: I can relate to it. His is a little extreme compared to mine, but people in the spotlight tend to be scrutinized, every move they make. I guess you can say my star is rising or whatever, but what comes with that is a lot more inquisitive people who want to know who you are as a person and what life decisions you’re actually making. Because you’re an actor or sportsman people want to know that and they are curious. But it’s part of the job – if I didn’t want anyone to know anything about me, I would have probably gone for a different career path.
Guerrasio: You were DJing and making music before your breakout role on “The Wire” in the early 2000s and you still do it. Has that become your escape from people like me who are curious about your life and what you do daily?
Elba: Yeah. I think people love music and, yes, they want to know more about that person but they only want to know more about the person if they like the music. With actors and sports people you don’t even have to know anything about what they do and you end up getting probed. But with musicians they have the veil, if the music is good. It can be obscure and you’re allowed to do different things without being overly scrutinized. I get a lot of freedom and a lot of relief when I make music because it’s faceless.
Guerrasio: How close are you to your first feature directing effort, “Yardie“?
Elba: Six months. I start making this film next year and I’m going into prep so I’m very close. It’s been a two-year process.
Guerrasio: Producing something like “100 Streets,” can that help prepare you at all to direct?
Elba: Yeah, as a producer you’re helping put all the elements together for the director, so yeah, I totally am seeing all the different sides of a director’s job from an actor’s point of view and now a producer’s point of view. It’s definitely given me a lot more bandwidth as a director.
Guerrasio: We saw you do so many different things in 2016, both in the flesh and through your voice. Did you have a personal favorite?
Elba: [Laughs] I really enjoyed being a part of “Zootopia.” I enjoyed all the movies I did a voice for, but “Zootopia” was a very, very bold film and it was just really great that Disney made a film like that that really challenged young people and adults to think a little bit about our existence in the human race using animals.
Guerrasio: I have to bring this up because I want to see it happen: Can you give any update on the James Bond rumors? Have the producers on the film reached out?
Elba: Are people still talking about that?
Guerrasio: I’m talking about it!
Elba: [Laughs] No, man, I don’t know anything. Nothing, there’s no update whatsoever.
Guerrasio: Do you get a kick out of the rumors or are you over it now?
Elba: No, I don’t get a kick out of it.
Guerrasio: But even in “100 Streets,” there are scenes where you are wearing a tux. You had to have looked in the mirror while shooting and said, “Yeah, I can play Bond.”
Elba: [Laughs] That’s a compliment, man, I appreciate that.
Guerrasio: You are certainly a busy guy at the moment, but any chance we will see you appear in the “Pacific Rim” sequel?
Elba: I don’t think so. I don’t even know where they are starting the story, but I’m not in it. I know that much.