Following British tele bit-parts on the likes of Absolutely Fabulous and Family Affairs (seriously), Elba got his break on six-part horror serial Ultraviolet.
In the criminally-unknown Jack Davenport-starring vampire serial he provided pivotal support as Vaughan Rice, a secret government operative who initially masqueraded as a police officer. That old chestnut.
Cockney? Standard UK mutterings.
Despite then nabbing a 12-episode part on the more-established series Dangerfield as a forensic scientist, it wouldn’t be long before Elba moved to New York.
“England is home and I love it,” the Cockney-voiced actor says. "But England couldn’t house my ambition”. Still, he occasionally returned home for jobs like The Inspector Lynley Mysteries. As you do.
Cockney? Not American yet.
Buffalo Soldiers (2001)
A small, almost not-there role yes, but Buffalo Soldiers is still Elba’s first major feature.
Never heard of it? Well, that may be because it was mysteriously delayed for two years and then, given its negative depiction of American troops, was deemed “too politically insensitive”.
Cockney? Not enough lines to notice.
Law & Order (2001)
While appearing on the New York stage in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, Idris got his big break in American television.
Sure, it was one episode, but it was one episode in Dick Wolf’s police-come-legal procedural Law & Order.
And when you’re appearing in Dick Wolf’s shows, you know you’ve made it.
The Wire (2002 - 2004)
There’s lot of cool characters in HBO’s now-finished The Wire (Lester Freamon, Jimmy McNulty, Rawls, The Bunk…), but Elba’s Stringer Bell corners the market in smooth.
Seeing the role as a chance to play “a mountain of different roles moulded into one”, his dichotic drug-dealing businessman is a mix of charisma, presence-oozing menace and smart polo shirts rolled into one ambitious kingpin.
Having conquered Baltimore, the world was now his oyster…
Cockney? Flawless Baltimore.
The Gospel (2005)
“I came off The Wire and was like, 'here I am world!' And nothing, silence…" Idris recalls.
But then, another feature movie came a-calling in the form of The Gospel, and the chance to play a Southern Baptist minister whose son is an R&B performer cooking up a soul storm on the stage.
Wire fans, bet you never saw that one coming…
Cockney? Pretty solid US tones, but a tad mixed.
All In The Game (2006)
It’s not generally well-known, but All In The Game is a pretty decent one-off British tele drama about Ray Winstone as an oldschool footy manager hanging onto his job.
In it, Elba plays Paul Sheldon, an honest former player who now functions as the Chairman’s voice of reason against Winstone’s often-dodgy wheeling and dealing. Ooooh.
Impressed by earlier performances, it was director Jim O’Hanlon’s decision to cast him; “The thing with Idris is presence. He often has fewer lines than anyone else, but you still feel he has the bigger part"
Cockney? Back to normal British.
Daddy's Little Girls (2007)
TV bit parts? Done. Feature movie debut? Done. Break-out tele appearance? Done and then some. So, next up then is obviously a rom-com…
Nabbing the lead in Tyler Perry’s romantic comedy Daddy’s Little Girls, Elba plays a blue-collar mechanic named Monty, who falls in love with Gabrielle Union’s rich attorney while battling for custody of his kids.
Problematically, their relationship and his custody hopes are both hindered by the arrival a the ex-girlfriend. Stringer wouldn’t have stood for that.
Cockney? The streetwise American variation.
The Reaping (2007)
Approaching the big-time steadily, the former DJ’s next port of call was decent-concept, low-grade horror The Reaping.
You remember the one don’t you? Where Hilary Swank is sent out to a swampy Louisiana town to investigate all the plague-like symptoms such as a blood-filled river, swarming locusts and a group of boys who watch Van Helsing on loop.
As for our man, he plays a scientist and Swank’s partner, working to uncover if a little girl is behind it all.
Cockney? Normal US voice again.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
On the cusp, the man born Idrissa then landed a main part in Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror follow-up to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days later – the imaginatively-titled 28 Weeks Later.
With Britain having been ravaged during Boyle’s seminal street-emptier, here Elba plays the American Army Brigadier in charge of re-populating the country.
As in getting families and people in you understand, not as in him and a few ladies doing it themselves you dirty minds…
Cockney? It’s set in the UK, but the character is American. Cor blimey.
American Gangster (2007)
Roundabout the time he was getting touted as the ‘next Denzel Washington’, The Wire star got cast in a movie with – you guessed it – Denzel Washington.
Musing on how this excited fans on the street, Idris explained: “Harlem was freaked out because, you know, there was Stringer Bell and then there was Denzel Washington.”
When asked on what it’s like to ping-pong back-and-forth accent-wise, he joked “Cut the cheque and I’ll speak anything you like.”
Cockney? American, of the gangster variety.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (2008)
During his Hollywood arrival phase, Elba also appeared in other bits and bobs. There was HBO’s Rwandan Genocide movie Sometimes In April. Then there was TV special; Black Men: The Truth.
Most notable of these though was his role in the beeb’s pilot for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Despite ‘just’ playing a guest role, former director Jim O’Hanlon still praised his performance.
“He is not a showy actor” states the helmer. “You see in No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, he does so much with his eyes, how he looks at people, how he listens to people.”
Cockney? You tell us.
Prom Night (2008)
In the Brittany Snow-starring teen horror flick Prom Night (which is about, you guessed it, prom night), Idris plays a detective who formerly jailed the now-on-the-loose killer.
“This is the second time he’s going to go through this whole thing” the actor notes of his character while praising the project.
A paycheck movie inbetween more ‘serious’ projects? Perhaps. But who’d miss the chance to have Elba utilise his pearly tones as an edgy cop on the hunt for a teacher-turned-murderer?
Cockney? Not guilty.
Landing a role opposite Gerry Butler in Guy Ritchie’s return to guns and geezerism with RocknRolla, it was safe to say Idris was now part of the Hollywood A-list.
Discussing his preparation for the role of London gangster Mumbles, he explains; “Going back home and just soaking myself into the environment of London where I’m from was part of it.”
As for the variations in his accent over the years, he further clarified; “My English accent was a little Americanized because I’ve lived here for a while, but it was nice to do it.”
Cockney? Sort of, but with a yank flavour.
The Human Contract (2008)
Next up he starred The Human Contract, a drama about a high-flying corporate man who harbours a deep, dark secret.
Most interestingly of all though, is that the trust-orientated thriller was written and directed by none other that Mrs Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith.
It’s only a minor role as a co-worker of Jason Clarke’s main character, but some Idris is better than none.
Cockney? Mostly American, but with flecks of Brit.
The Unborn (2008)
Another horror flick for our man next as he stars in the Michael Bay-produced and David Goyer-directed horror The Unborn.
Involved in exorcism and a plot involved a dead haunting twin, it’s another minor role for Idris, but cut the man some slack – he filmed four different projects in 2008.
Cockney? Hard to tell. Probably.
Back to lead-role time again, as Elba headlines a Fatal Attraction-like thriller alongside Beyonce Knowles and Ali Larter.
The plot sees him as a happily-married successful asset manager, while Beyonce plays his wife and Larter the crazy temp who stalks his family.
Despite being a story we’ve seen a dozen times before, Obsessed was a box office success that showed our man has leading man credentials. Good lad.
Cockney? Fairly solid Americana.
The Office (2009)
In season five of the American version of The Office (its okay to like it now, even if you loved the original) Elba pleasingly pops up for a seven-episode arc.
Playing the newly-appointed Vice President of Sales, Idris’ rocks the boat somewhat as his no-nonsense approach upsets both Steve Carell’s laidback bossman and John Krasinski’s prankster.
Though acknowledging that appearing on the show widened his fan-base, he felt the role was too straight: “I had this idea to take the character to the left and make him eccentric.”
Cockney? Not at all.
The Losers (2010)
An adaptation of the DC / Vertigo comic, The Losers has an A-Team-ish plot as a team of elite black-ops soldiers are framed and forced to go rogue.
Elba plays the scar-faced second in command Roque, teaming up with the entertaining likes of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chris Evans.
"It was just a wicked opportunity" Elba says. "[It] takes you back to some of the films of the '80s". And that, as we all know, is a good thing.
Cockney? Getting a bit mixed now.
No, he’s not playing Superman’s nemesis, one Lex Luthor.
Instead, it’s back to the box as Idrissa nabs the lead in six-episode British psychological crime drama, playing the titular lead, DCI John Luther.
Though describing it as “a modern spin on the maverick detective", he further details “He's like a super-hero and he never changes his clothes!" We agree, if you look closely you'll spot loads of Batman references. Seriously.
Cockney? Strike a light, sort of!
“We’re takers gents, that’s what we do for a living” our man charismatically narrates at the start of the upcoming Takers’ trailer.
The plot sees Elba mix it up with the ludicrously good-looking Paul Walker, former Darth Hayden Christensen, rapper T.I. and the husky-voiced Matt Dillon.
It’s not out yet, but looks pretty good with plenty of ass-kicking, suit-wearing and trucks falling through holes in the ground.
Cockney? Not this time.
Getting involved in a superhero movie, Elba has been cast in Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming film Thor.
Predictably though, as he’s been cast as the rainbow bridge-guarding Norse God Heimdall - who happens to be “the whitest of the Gods” - the fanboys have been in uproar.
“There has been a big debate about it: can a black man play a Nordic character?" he said. “Hang about, Thor's mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That's OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?”
Cockney? We very much doubt it, no matter how much we wish it were so.