EXCLUSIVE: Idris Elba Chats Luther, Bond & Beats


The return of John Luther is imminent, so we had to get the tea from Uncle (he has a grown daughter, people) Idris!

Our uncle based overseas is ready to reprise his role as John Luther for season five of the BBC First drama (coming to DSTV 119 on 27 January, btw) and we were lucky enough to get some first hand deets about all the drama and thrill. Oh, and of course we had to find out more about that djing thing he does since he’s on the Coachella 2019 line-up. And something about a Bond movie 🤷

Every new series of Luther tends to be bigger, faster, louder. How can you beat the last series?

I think the task is not to try and beat it but to match and then excel. In other words, to match it is to pay attention to the things that made sense, and compel the audience. And to excel is to make it more complex for us. The comforting thing about Luther from season one to season two is that the DNA doesn’t change. You see the murderer, you either know who it is or you see it happen, and then you watch John go through it. I don’t think we’ve ever tried to deviate from that but each time we’ve made it slightly more complex. We’ve started to dissect his timelines so he’s in this storyline and that storyline and that storyline all at the same time.
On this one I think it’s the most complex we’ve done. There are so many things going on. And the great thing about series creator, Neil [Cross] is he’s a great writer and he gives us complex storylines but the question is how do we make it still compelling? How do we fit it into an hour? How do we do four episodes and not exhaust the audience? That’s what I think Neil has done a great job of this year.

The trailer is full of action and almost cinematic. What are we really in for in Season 5?

I think the action is definitely amplified. The director wanted to make things as visceral as possible. We have four storylines and there are some big surprises coming in. At the same time we wanted that ticking-clock feeling. So the four storylines are compressed over a series of days in actuality in this show as opposed to weeks. It’s very music-led and image-led. That’s because we can’t tell you the story yet! The story’s complex.  In the last season we found John in a calm place, thinking about coming back to the force. This time he is in the force but he’s a calmer John. Things happen in this season that tip him over, I think.


DCI John Luther (IDRIS ELBA) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Des Willie

DCI John Luther (IDRIS ELBA) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Des Willie


London is like an unsung hero in the show – is there a significance to the setting?

I was just thinking earlier that Neil Cross is a great fan of literature that’s set in London. Jack the Ripper, that era of crime writing. And London was the back drop for many hideous murders. And I think that is partly why it’s structured around London a lot. And also because we’ve always had a comparison behind the scenes to Batman. We’ve always said London is Gotham City and John Luther is Batman because when we do that, we try and transpose the nature of comics into a real setting. That’s why London is shot the way it is. I think it’s quite a ‘sung’ hero, if you don’t mind me saying. We do celebrate London and its oddities and its quirkiness and its coldness sometimes. But I don’t think that’s untransferable. I would love to see Luther in Prague, in San Paolo, in Cape Town (I’m screaming!).

Maybe you’ll visit those places as 007 one day?

I don’t know. It’s a question I get haunted with at this point. I have no clue. If it was to happen it would be the will of a nation, how about that?


Luther has a new partner this series. Can you tell us about working with Wonmi Mosaku?

Luther’s had a few partners and the DNA is that Luther wants to come across as a good detective and keep them on the straight and narrow while he does it his way. Wonmi is a really great actor, and I loved working with her. She, more than most characters, challenges Luther more. He has a real sense of protection with her character, I think because she’s a black female detective and he wants her to climb. But of course things happen which I don’t want to say but it’s quite compelling.


Wonmi said she’s a big fan of the show because it’s about a black detective. Are you still conscious of that fact?

As a show, we hardly ever mention race. But I think for her character in the Met, her climb, there’s no talk that she’s black but it’s rare and that’s a fact. We don’t talk about it but Luther’s aware of it and so is she. We never really lay it thick. I think that’s good.  This is why we lend ourselves to the graphic novels and the Gotham Cities and the superheroes, because we can transpose those issues. I think the Metropolitan Police as a service love our show because actually we show an idealistic version of the Met here, which is that there’s no mention of colour. There’s bad guys and there’s cops.


You DJed at Tomorrowland in Belgium this year and you were just announced as part of the Coachella line-up – how dope?

Yeah. I’ve been DJing all my life but six years ago they (Tomorrowland) never would have invited me. I did a residency at Pacha in Ibiza this summer and I would never have had the opportunity to do that six years ago either because quite honestly nobody took me seriously. So it’s great. It’s a really big deal for me.


Which is more difficult, DJing or acting?

I think it’s more difficult to be a DJ because live in a venue of 3,000 people you either make them move or you don’t. With TV or film someone can write a review and it can be good or bad but it’s not as immediate. But I think the landscape has changed. I think that people are expecting hyphenates with musicians and actors and writers. You find that most people do more than one thing now.


What parts interest you as an actor at this stage in your career?

Variety. I’m definitely interested in variety. I think people have seen me play Luther and characters that are a little conflicted. I’ve played those characters. I just want variety. Some comedy, maybe? I’ve done a bit of comedy this year, with my [Sky One] show In The Long Run, which was amazing. I’m about to step into another comedy role for Netflix.


You’re spotted quite often in our little country after your role as Madiba – what’s the most special thing you’ve done here?

I was super honoured to be asked to play Nelson and to get the opportunity to do that. I feel like a son of the soil in South Africa. Whenever I go there I’m very much accepted and welcomed. I got to spend the night on Robben Island. Most people think that was unnecessary but it was very necessary for me to do that in order to understand just a little bit of Nelson went through. That remains one of my scariest moments of my life and dearest contributions to my art, to spend the night in jail! [laughs]. It was something I will never, ever forget.

DCI John Luther (IDRIS ELBA) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Des Willie

DCI John Luther (IDRIS ELBA) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Des Willie