The English actor Idris Elba is best known for two TV characters that have become iconic, though they've become iconic on different sides of the Atlantic. In his native UK he is best known as the police detective John Luther in the procedural series Luther, which started in 2010 and is still occasionally revived. In the U.S. he is famous as Stringer Bell, the business-minded drug dealer in David Simon's Baltimore-based cable show The Wire (2002-04), which many critics have hailed as the greatest TV drama series ever made. The fact that Elba was famous in the U.S. before he became a fixture in his native England shouldn't be too much of a surprise, but, in any case The Wire was a hit in the UK, too.
Elba was born Idrissa in 1972 in London to a Sierra Leonean father and a Ghanian mother. Though he exhibited an interest in acting at an early age and managed to land some stage roles, his first main interest was DJing, a vocation he still pursues in his spare time. When he was a teenager he was such in demand for weddings and such that he started his own DJ company where he toiled under the moniker DJ Driis.
Television gave him his in to acting professionally. During the early 90s he appeared on numerous series in supporting roles, but didn't get a credit until 1995 when he played a gigolo on Absolutely Fabulous. He moved to New York City for a time to hone his skills on stage, occasionally returning the England to do small acting jobs.
Stringer Bell was offered to him after he had appeared in a 2001 episode of Law & Order. Elba's turn on The Wire made him more than a star, it made him a sex symbol, and most Americans were shocked to learn that he didn't actually grow up in Baltimore. Fortunately, he managed to avoid typecasting and followed up the Bell role with a part in Sometime in April, an HBO movie about the Rwandan genocide. He also spent six episodes on the American comedy show, The Office, which, ironically, was based on an English comedy series.
It was then that he returned to England full time in order to do Luther, in which his character is a psychologically challenged police detective who often over reacts on the job.
In terms of movies, Elba's most acclaimed job was as a warlord in the Netflix film Beasts of No Nation, about child soldiers in an unnamed African country for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. American audiences are probably mostly familiar with his portrayal of Heimdall in the Thor and Avengers series, but he also portrayed Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom, which was based on Mandela's autobiography.
Still, Elba didn't really get a lead part in a major motion picture until last year's sci fi blockbuster The Dark Tower, based on Stephen King's series of fantasy novels. He played Roland Deschain, the legendary "Gunslinger" who travels between dimensions to hunt the dastardly Man in Black. He then followed it up with another start turn in Aaron Sorkin's directing debut, Molly's Game, alongside Jessica Chastain.
With his deep baritone, he's also in demand for animated movies, having lent his mellifluous tones to The Jungle Book, Finding Dory, and Zootopia. In the near future he will make his own directing debut with an adaptation of Victor Headley's 1992 cult novel, Yardie, which is about a young Jamaican man's rise from London social housing projects to the top of the drug underworld, something that Elba should know about through he experience playing Stringer Bell. Elba will play a supporting role in the movie.