Idris Elba turned a lot of heads with his guest role on The Office. But his talents aren’t just limited to comedy — or to acting, for that matter.


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If you’re looking to pin down Idris Elba, the star of this month’s action thriller Takers, don’t bother. The Brit can do — and has done — just about everything. He’s mastered comedy (he played short-lived regional manager Charles Miner on The Office) as well as drama (he starred in HBO’s The Wire and in the film American Gangster). But beyond acting, Elba, under the alias Driis, has also recorded a hip-hop EP and frequently DJs. The 37-year-old, who grew up in East London but now makes his home in both Los Angeles and Miami, is always up for the next challenge. He talked to American Way about his many talents.

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Takers looks like the perfect summer escape. What’s the scoop?
It’s sort of a modern-day Dirty Dozen, but it’s younger — it’s got cool action sequences and cool characters. It’s a bunch of thieves that pull together and pull off a heist. I play Gordon, who’s the leader of this heist crew and a career criminal.

You’ve played a drug lord on The Wire, and you play another bad guy here. How do you humanize your characters for yourself?
I don’t think [Gordon] is a bad guy. He’s been doing this a long time, and he’s looking toward the exit sign now. He’s a thief, yes, but he’s not an evil genius or something like that. He’s not really into hurting people, but he will if he has to. Also, I chose to make him an English character, which is slightly different than the American characters.

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A lot of readers will know you from the U.S. version of The Office, so they may be surprised to know that you are, in fact, English. You pulled it off so convincingly.
I embrace that compliment, so thank you! I’m very proud of The Office. It was only six episodes, and my character had a short arc, but I was so proud of that character because it was my departure into comedy.

You dropped out of high school to pursue music but weren’t met with immediate success. In retrospect, were you surprised with the path that you took to get here?
You know, I come from a working-class family, and the idea of hard work was etched into my brain as a child — seeing my parents, who came from Africa and then came to England in the early ’70s. So acting was not a way out, because I suspected that I was going to have to work hard, and I actually wasn’t going to do it if I didn’t have to work hard. I just thought, You know what, I’m going to actually try and go in for the job and learn on the job. On-the-job training is the best way to learn anything, I think.

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You’ve also made a name for yourself as a DJ. Do you have a preference for one or the other?
They’re very separate worlds. My DJ-ing is a small piece of the pie, which also includes producing and my music persona. So that world is very much a self-contained world. I don’t typically have too many other people working for me in my music, which means a lot more control: I set my own pace. But my fi lm work is definitely a team effort. So I like my music when I want to disappear into my own world, and I love what I do for a living as an actor because that’s what I’m used to.

You’ve cut a few albums; what can readers expect when they download your tracks?
It’s tough to describe because I approach my music the way I approach my acting, which is I like to keep challenging myself. So, one EP was purely hip-hop. Then another EP is more of a laid-back, easy groove — sort of soulful folk music with a little bit of acoustic. DJs tend to fuse music together, and I do that with my productions.

You’re really feeding all aspects of who you are as an artist.
Yes, yes, yes. When you have a creative mind, you have to just keep reinventing and keep it fresh.