Idrissa Akuna Elba, born in England, was the only child of African immigrants. At 16, he earned a grant and joined the National Youth Music Theatre, where he publicly sang for the first time in a production of Guys and Dolls. His family discouraged his thespian aspirations, but by his early twenties, he was auditioning for television and stage roles, netting his first credited small screen part in Absolutely Fabulous.
He followed that with a series of guest shots, most notably on the long-running crime drama Silent Witness and the primetime soap Family Affairs, capped with the second male lead in the Channel 4 vampire-themed, sci-fi miniseries, Ultraviolet. The next year, he joined the cast of the medical/crime series Dangerfield.
After moving to New York and trying to perfect an American accent, Elba did manage to win the role of Achilles in a 2001 New York stage production of Troilus and Cressida, a small role in the ill-fated Buffalo Soldiers and a guest shot on NBC's staple cop procedural show Law & Order. Then, he scored an audition with producer David Simon for his upcoming HBO series, The Wire. Elba initially read for the role of Baltimore drug kingpin Avon Barksdale, returning for multiple callbacks. On the day his daughter was born, the producers awarded him the role of Stringer Bell, Barksdale's less prominent consigliere/business manager, and, when he thanked them in his normal voice, producers were stunned to hear his accent.
The role gave Elba nearly instant street credibility, certainly in pop cultural circles, as he rubbed elbows with top-tier urban artists and producers such as Sean Combs, Ludacris and Jay-Z. Essence magazine dubbed him one of the "Ten Hottest Men on the Planet" in 2004 and 2005 and his film work picked up steam. He stole the show in a supporting role as a young Southern minister in the indie drama, The Gospel, and then earned the lead as a conscientious Rwandan army captain caught in the middle of that country's infamous genocide in Sometimes in April a made-for-HBO companion piece to the more famous feature, Hotel Rwanda. He scored roles in bigger-profile projects, including The Reaping, Prom Night, American Gangster, 28 Weeks Later and Daddy's Little Girls.
Elba's success allowed him to go after his musical predilections. He issued an EP, "Big Man," and his Hollywood networking would see "Driis" land tracks on movie soundtracks such as those of Prom Night and Perry's Madea Goes to Jail. After a handful of other supporting roles, he scored a coveted male lead opposite superstar Beyoncé Knowles in the Fatal Attraction redux, Obsessed. In early 2009, Elba donned a suit again to make a high-profile splash in American TV comedy by joining the cast of NBC's hit The Office.
The actor was genuinely humbled upon learning that he earned nominations for both the Golden Globes and Emmy Awards in 2011; he went on to win the Globe for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie. In fact, 2011 proved to be a banner one, as Elba earned a second Emmy nod for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as a painter and love interest to a high school teacher battling cancer on The Big C.
The turn of the decade also saw Elba jumping into the world of comic-book adaptations. He appeared in a smaller, but pivotal role of Heimdall, the all-seeing, all-hearing sentry to the gates of mythical Asgard in the fantasy epic Thor. He reprised his part as the imposing Heimdall in the superhero sequel Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Infinity War.
Elba also appeared in "Prometheus," director Ridley Scott's quasi-prequel to his 1979 sci-fi masterpiece "Alien." Next he played an inspiring leader and tough robot pilot in the monster-infested blockbuster Pacific Rim. He appeared as Krall in Star Trek Beyond in 2016. He starred in the Netflix original film Beasts of No Nation in 2015, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. He starred in an adaption of the Stephen King novel The Dark Tower in 2017.
Since 2010, Idris has starred as the titular character in the BBC's mystery drama series Luther. Elba plays a brilliant but emotionally impulsive detective. His performance in the show has earned him multiple Emmy nominations, multiple Golden Globe nominations and one win, and a SAG award.
In 2019, Elba began starring in the Netflix original series Turn Up Charlie. The show follows Charlie, a struggling DJ and eternal bachelor is given a final chance at success when he reluctantly becomes a manny to his famous best friend's problem-child daughter. In the same year, he performed at Coachella music festival.
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