Lesson learned: Do not bring up Idris Elba's early role as "gigolo" on "Absolutely Fabulous" when interviewing Idris Elba. Yes, the star of "The Wire," "Luther," the upcoming "Prometheus," and this weekend's "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" will give you a look that can only be translated as, "Good lord, what is wrong with you?"
In the rebooted "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," Elba plays Moreau, a free spirited, alcoholic friend of Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) -- the man who has been cursed as the Ghost Rider. Moviefone spoke to Elba about the new film, "The Wire," a big secret about the upcoming "Prometheus," and Elba's vastly underrated role as Charles Minor on "The Office." Also, unfortunately, "Ab Fab."
So, I saw your movie last night... I haven't seen it yet.
Really? The film companies tell you not to say that.
But now you did. I've got my scoop! Ah! I just want to be honest with you.
Your character, Moreau, seems like a carefree guy. I don't think he cares, but I think he lives in his skin so much that he's well-lived and well-traveled. But he does have a mission.
Did you go to them or did they come to you about this role? They came to me.
This sequel is nothing like the first film. But did it go through your head, "Maybe I shouldn't do this movie because people didn't like the first one?" Yeah. It was definitely a sort of like a, "Hm, should I be doing this?", because of the previous film. But, there was a new take on it and I personally know what I can bring to the table and I just felt that there was something there to work with. So, I believe that the second version of "Ghost Rider" has a completely different DNA. Just a different feeling and tempo -- and I'm part of that. So, hopefully, people will be forgiving.
That's interesting that you say "forgiving." Do you think people are hesitant because of the first one? I don't think they're hesitant, no. I think that any preconceptions that they have from the original "Ghost Rider" is going to go in with them when they see this film. But, they're going to be pleasantly surprised on the way out, I think.
Did you see the first "Ghost Rider"? Some of it.
What do you like about the new film that you didn't like abut the first one? The differences are that this movie feels a lot more grounded in reality. Like, there's a man, Johnny Blaze, and you get to know him...
I should remind you that he does urinate flames. [Laughing]
I just feel I should point that out before you go much further. Well, you know, someone has to do it. But I definitely feel like this film, the special effects are definitely a big part of this film, but there's a real feeling that you're there with him, though.
Did you know anything about Ghost Rider before being approached? Not before, but I did a lot of research about the part.
Did you read the comics for research? I saw some comics, yeah. I did. And they were all right. I think this interpretation is closer to the comics.
When you did decide to do this film, how long did you take? Was it just, "I'll sleep on it overnight"? I slept a couple of night on it...
So, two nights. Yeah, just two [laughs]. But it was really about working with the directors. Once I met them, I was like, "Yeah. Why not?" It's a challenge. It's different. I may get completely criticized for it, but it's something that i haven't done yet -- so let's go have fun.
Do people know you more from "The Wire" or "The Office"? It's either "The Wire" or "Luther."
I loved Charles Minor on "The Office." Oh, thank you.
And that was six episodes? Yes.
No one could break through with him. Yeah, he was a real one... and he's one of my favorite characters. But I'm not remembered for that very often. Do you think I would be?
Well, it's a very popular show. And he was such a cold guy... well, until soccer was brought up. [Laughs] It's hilarious because he is very passionate about it. No, I never get a chance to do any comedy and that was such a good opportunity to do it. When I got there it was really tough because that team, they're so used to pulling pranks on each other and having a good time. And they got me a couple of times.
What did they do? Ah, man, like they'd not say the lines. Or go, "Don't you have a line here?" and I'd be frozen.
Now that it's been a few years, do you look back on "The Wire" and think, You know, that really was horseshit that we never were nominated for an Emmy. I mean, I'm sure there's probably a million reasons for it. But "The Wire" wasn't a spoon-feeder. It demanded your attention and it demanded you be very diligent in watching it. You know?
Do you feel it's more popular today than when you were actually working on it? Yeah. Absolutely. And its popularity has not gone away.
Does that surprise you? Does it surprise me? [Pauses] Well, look, I'm not a creature of habit but when I watch "Columbo" -- which is a great character -- and it's not on the air, but I'll watch "Columbo" whenever I can catch reruns of "Columbo"...
You think he doesn't know what he's doing, then he comes back and gets you... He comes back and gets you! I love that. And I would revisit Columbo because it's still classic TV. And "The Wire" is like that, you know? It's classic TV. It has gained an audience more and more because people go, "You should check this out." But I can't begin to speculate on why it got ignored, but I feel like, you know, it's not easy TV. It's quite tough to watch.
Have you ever been part of a production as secretive as "Prometheus"? I can't tell you. [Laughs]
Good answer. No, I have to be honest, this particular film -- Twentieth Century Fox and Ridley Scott have been very, very diligent about keeping a lid on it. But, I know exactly why -- because the film depends on that. It needs that. It needs you to not know.
See, if you told me, even though people think they want to know, they don't really want to know. Because it's a shocker, isn't it? It's a shocker and the anticipation of a great filmmaker like Ridley Scott is part of the draw. Like, what is he going to do next? What's that about? And the more he cloaks it in, "There's something I can't tell you yet," it makes it more intriguing. And anyone that has that shortcut, "Well, I heard it was this," it's cheating.
So, you're saying that you know something about "Prometheus" that's going to blow our minds when we find out? Yes.
OK. I put myself on the line for you!
I love that one of your first credits is as "gigolo" on "Absolutely Fabulous." Why would you bring that up?
Because it's great. Right.
Was that not a good experience? It was an amazing experience.
OK, see... No, I just forget that people might have seen that. Somehow I figure that it might disappear.
Well, I feel that show is only one of a handful of British television shows that people in the United States know really well. Yeah, but Idris Elba in "Ab Fab"? No. "You mean that guy is Idris Elba? What?"
How does that happen? How do you become a gigolo in one episode of "Ab Fab"? It was a straight audition. I remember it was like, "Hey, we have this audition to play a male, sort of, stripper guy." I was like, "OK." And, next thing I know, I was in it -- and it was great fun. Those girls are such a good laugh.
You shouldn't be embarrassed by that. That's a great early credit. [Laughs] I'm not embarrassed; I'm proud. But it definitely always surprises me when it's brought up. I look like ten years old in it!
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter