Interview: Idris Elba on why Luther is ‘therapy’

AFTER five years playing Luther, Idris Elba still feels the character has more to give. And, as he tells Shereen Low, there are big benefits to taking on such a dark role
Idris Elba as Luther. Picture: PAIdris Elba as Luther. Picture: PA
Idris Elba as Luther. Picture: PA

Idris Elba is on a high. The Golden Globe-winning actor, who DJs on the side, took to the decks as the opening act for none other than Madonna at her Berlin and London shows recently, gleefully sharing a photo of them together on stage afterwards on Twitter.

“Madonna is a legend. I met a beautiful person who has been working forever and is still going. We did an incredible show,” he admits, smiling.

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Asked how he got the gig, he plays down any celebrity connections, saying: “I am a DJ for hire, and she needed someone. I just got an email asking if I’d like to do it, and I said, ‘Absolutely’.”

The normally cool Elba, who also made his debut at Glastonbury this summer, said supporting Madge was a different experience.

“I’m standing by the curtain before I went on, and made the mistake of peeking to see who’s there and saw 17,000 people looking back,” the 43-year-old recalls. “I just entertained and played music. It’s such a buzz to perform.”

Aside from DJing, the actor - who was born in London’s Hackney and whose screen appearances this year include Netflix’s Beasts Of No Nation, Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron and thriller The Gunman - has also turned his hand to fashion, collaborating on a range for Superdry (he’s decked out in the brand today, of course).

“If I had the opportunity to have any influence in fashion, this is it. I’m no fashion guru, but I think I know how to dress and what a man wants to look like,” he notes.

Today though, the key agenda is promoting his return to BBC One crime thriller, Luther, in which he reprises his role as the titular genius murder-solver, DCI John Luther.

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The upcoming fourth series - a two-parter, once again written by the show’s New Zealand creator Neil Cross - comes more than two years after the third series, which aired in 2013.

The opening episode sees Luther hiding out in a cottage by the sea, away from the gritty East London, before a “monstrous” cannibalistic serial killer calls him back to his job.

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“We’ve got a loyal and demanding audience - and the audience, Neil and I were not satisfied with the ending of the last one,” Elba says. “It felt like there were unanswered questions and we needed to conclude some stuff, maybe close down a chapter to open a new chapter and keep the story growing. We’ve evolved, the whole show seems to have grown a bit.

“There’s some progression in Luther’s life. That version of Luther had to go and stop - and now this version of Luther, who is slightly older and a little bit smarter and wiser, this begins the birth of the next chapter.”

While he admits playing Luther is “not easy”, the father-of-two - who has also created an album to accompany the series - says it’s also quite “cathartic” portraying the grumpy detective, especially when it comes to unleashing emotions around his father’s death from cancer in September 2013.

“Luther is very hard to play, and hard to be in. It’s a very dark show and it isn’t easy but it’s part of my job. I always go to Luther when I’m at my grumpiest. It’s like, ‘I feel s**t, let’s do some Luther’. Because if I do it when I’m happy, it’ll drag me down,” he says.

“Actually, I use Luther as a therapy session because there’s a lot of screaming and shouting. ‘That was really good acting’, people will say, but I wasn’t acting, I was really angry. It is definitely therapy for me.”

In this series, Luther is joined by some newcomers - Theo Bloom (Darren Boyd), DS Emma Lane (Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie) and the mysterious Megan Cantor (Laura Haddock).

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“We always try to get fresh, great actors that have energy and stuff to fit into the DNA [of the show]. Laura’s amazing and unstoppable, you can’t take your eyes off her. Darren’s a stellar character,” Elba explains.

“Luther and DS Emma become partners and there is a camaraderie which grows as the show unfolds.”

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After playing Luther for more than five years, Elba says he’s not quite ready to say goodbye to the character.

“I do want to keep playing John in some way or form, because I’m really attached to it. I won’t probably get written another character like that for me on TV. At the moment, John’s still very much alive in my heart and Neil’s heart. We just have to figure out how to keep it going.”

The US remake, which Elba would executive produce, is “in development”. There have been talks for a film adaptation too - and Elba likes the idea of a stage version as well.

“Secretly, I’ve been imagining Luther on stage. It’s crazy but why not? It could be a very small detailed version of it on stage,” he says.

“I’m not sure what the end game is. I want to make his [Luther’s] world bigger and give a slightly larger scale to the whole thing. There are definitely different ways to dissect it. I think it’s a big challenge to make a film, economically.”

Luther aside, Elba - who has also been linked with possibly taking on the role of James Bond in the future - has a number of movies coming up, including The Jungle Book, in which he voices tiger Shere Khan; Star Trek Beyond and Finding Dory, the sequel to Finding Nemo.

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With questions about Bond off-limits, Elba is happy to comment on his Jungle Book role: “It’s a massive honour to be asked to play that character in a classic like that. But I did it because I wanted my children to watch something that was a classic and be a part of that.”

• Luther returns to BBC One on Tuesday, December 15

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