15 May 2012

From Holly Street to Hollywood

AT the time of our interview, actor Idris Elba is in London reprising his role as the brilliant but troubled detective ‘Luther’, for the second series of the hit BBC drama of the same name.

He reveals this series sees a departure from the case-per-episode format, and instead tells two distinctive two-part stories spread over four hours. However, the brooding cinematography that helped define the first instalment is still very much present, with London appearing ‘almost as one of the characters’.

Much of the filming took place in Hackney, with locations to look out for in the new series including Bateman’s Row, Hoxton Street, Beck Road, Curtain Road, Old Street, Paul Street and Boundary Street. Filming last year carried on despite heavy snowfalls. For Elba, the show is a homecoming of sorts, as the first 11 years of his life were spent in the borough.

“It was the best time of my life,” says the 38-year-old actor who grew up on the old Holly Street estate and went to Queensbridge Primary School. He adds: “Hackney is very dear to me, it was where I learned to ride my bike and London Fields was my park of choice. I used to ride my bike around Haggerston, down the ramps and along the canal – that’s what all the kids did. I was really devastated when we left and moved to Canning Town.”

So, was it exciting to come back to the borough to film Luther? “It’s always good to come home whenever I’m in London. When I’m filming, I quite often jump in the car and drive around Dalston, which is my old stomping ground. It’s absolutely no surprise to me that the area is now one of the trendiest places in London – Hackney has always been cool,” he says.

Idris’s big break came in 2002, playing drug-dealer-turned-businessman Stringer Bell in ‘The Wire’. I ask him about the early comparisons made between the bleak housing projects of Baltimore that were so vividly depicted in the HBO series and Hackney.

He says: “I think there are some comparisons although England’s problem is nothing like that in America. In both places, young people find comfort in gangs and once that happens, their lives change. That is the comparison that some people were making, but I think Hackney is a borough that cares for people, you go to Hackney and there is a sense of pride.”

I ask Idris what advice he would give to young people in Hackney who aspire to his success. He says: “Education is the key – stick with it and don’t let your guard down, the more you know about what you want to do the better. I’d still encourage young people to keep an eye out for open auditions but it’s an interesting point.

"If I was growing up now, I’d have made a film – get a couple of mates and a mobile phone and make people see your talent, tell the story of where you’re from. There’s a lot of opportunity if you help make it happen.

“Kids from here can achieve, they need to say ‘Yo, I’m from Hackney and I’m proud’. Like Jay-Z, he’s from Brooklyn and he says how proud he is. People start to shun the bad things that other people say about a place and the whole community gets behind it.”

Idris then goes on to tell me about an event that has made him even prouder of the place he grew up. The owners of a new affordable housing scheme in Andre Street, E8, named one of the blocks Elba House and invited him to open it in February 2011. He says: “You can give me all the parts in the world, but that means so much. I’ve lived all over the place, but the only place I recognise as where I come from is Hackney.”

Curriculum Vitae:  Idris Elba
1972      Born in Hackney
1977     Attends Queensbridge Primary School
1983     Moves to Canning Town
1995-2001    TV appearances in Absolutely Fabulous, Family Affairs, Ultraviolet & Dangerfield
2002-4     Stringer Bell in HBO drama The Wire       
2005-9     US shows including The Office and films 28 Weeks Later, RockNRolla
2010        Luther, Takers and The Big C
2011        Thor and series two of Luther

*This article first appeared in 'Hackney Today' on 6 June 2011

Hackney-born Idris Elba believes education is the key to achievement

Hackney-born Idris Elba believes education is the key to achievement

Hackney-born Idris Elba believes education is the key to achievement

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