A couple of weeks ago at Ibiza Rocks House at Pikes, I met one of my heroes. I’ve been a fan since seeing him in RocknRolla and was glued to the screen watching him as Luther, so meeting him was incredibly exciting for me. When I asked him for an interview, I wasn’t sure he’d have time to do it or would necessarily want to, so it was rather surreal to walk into his room on Saturday night. There he was, all six foot two of him, sipping an Isleña beer and working at his laptop on producing an upcoming album inspired by his time in Africa playing Nelson Mandela. If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m talking about Idris Elba. Actor, DJ, music producer and genuinely lovely, warm and down to earth, bloke. All nerves I had were quickly eased after he greeted me with a hug and I mentioned having a nine month old daughter. His face lit up as he told me about his four month old son and we spent a few minutes enthusing about our respective babies before beginning the interview, during which he talked about Djing, acting, music and Ibiza.
C: I personally didn’t know that you DJed until last year, I’ve always known you as an actor. Have you always DJed?
I: I DJed from when I was about 14 years old and I’ve always kept it as a hobby. When I became an actor, I played just for fun, you know at parties, but then I moved to America and I
DJed for a living because I couldn’t get any work as an actor. It was literally, like, ‘last night a DJ saved my life’, because I was definitely using my skills as a DJ to feed myself at one stage. I’d never really done it to feed myself or my family before I got to New York; in England it was all a lot of fun. So, over the last sort of five to ten years I’ve done it more on a professional basis, and played more of what I love to play, which is house. And over the last two years, having the opportunity to play here, well, it’s DJ heaven isn’t it? I’m really enjoying it, basically.
C: You’ve just answered my next question, which was why Ibiza, as you said, it’s DJ heaven, but is there a reason why Pike’s specifically?
I: There’s a couple of things. Pike’s because it’s an unusual venue and it spoke to me, you know? I do these parties called Seven Wallace parties, which are based on an address that I was living at, a house. And Pike’s has got a great house feel, I mean, it’s an old finca, so I like the vibe here. I want people who are coming to hear me DJ to feel like they’re coming to a house party. And when you go to a house party, the DJ’s a bonus, you know? You’re playing great music, but everyone’s there for the atmosphere, they’re having a party and it’s all just a lot of fun. So that was the first reason. The second reason was that Pike’s has got such a legacy behind it, it’s a historical place and I was intrigued by it. I’m an actor that DJ’s and Pike’s was the first place in this industry in Ibiza that housed me. (laughs) It was the first place where I actually got an offer to come and DJ, everyone else was just like ‘Hmmmmm, I’ll wait and just see how he gets on’ but Pike’s was very loyal and sort of adventurous and I liked that.
C: I saw you a couple weeks ago and, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s with the drum? You had a little drum, tambourine thing in the booth with you, which you were whacking away at in rhythm, dancing about and clearly having an amazing time, I just wondered….
I: (laughs, finishes questioning himself): …What’s that drum all about?! When I was probably about twenty one, I used to go to a club called Twice as Nice which was in Coliseum in London and it was the height of two step and garage, you know Karl Tuff Enuff Brown, Matt Jam, and they always had a percussionist player play live. A couple of times actually I played drums for garage DJ’s. I’d played drums as a kid, so when I got the opportunity to play over house music it was incredible, because you’re working with a DJ and he would signal, right, now, play or slack a little bit. So, in here now I’ve got the tambourine because I just love the sound of live percussion over a set. I think it just makes everyone go ‘ooaahhhh!’ It can get a little bit bogged down with just four to the floor sound and it’s something to break the monotony. And also ‘cos I love the sound! (Laughs) I just like bangin’ away at shit.
C: So, if you could play absolutely anywhere and for absolutely anyone, alive or dead, where would you play and who would you play for?
I: I would play for Biggie. If it was Biggie’s birthday party. And I’d be the DJ who came on to play the old school soul. Because Biggie liked old school soul and I love old soul. So that would be my ideal set. Biggie’d call me up and then he’d say Idris is gonna come on and he’s gonna play some old school shit. Yeah, that’d be my ultimate set.
C: Have you seen much of Ibiza or have you just been here Djing?
I: Yeah, I’ve seen some parts. I’ve been coming over for two years now and this year I’ve spent more time here at the weekends as opposed to just going straight home. I’ve travelled a little bit and I’ve got some friends in San Miguel and I’d never seen that part of the island before. I went to Benirrás on Sunday, and took the family and friends. Listen, I’ve always been saying to my friends that the mountains and I, my spirit, are connected somehow, no idea how, but wherever I go in the world I feel drawn by the mountains. So this year I’ve headed there.
C: Have you got a favourite place on the island yet?
I: At the moment I have to say San Miguel. My friend’s got a place up there in the mountains and it’s great because you can wander around naked and nobody knows!
C: Haha, you can do that in a lot of places around here without anyone knowing! Do you mind talking about the acting a bit?
I: The acting? Yeah, absolutely, cool.
C: I recently saw Long Walk to Freedom. Did you find it more daunting to play such a legendary, historic character than you would have for another role or did you just think, ‘right, this is a part I’m playing, I’m going to go for it’?
I: When I got the job, I was really daunted by it. In fact, I talked to the director and I said, I don’t think you want me or should have me, I tried to talk him out of it. Not because I didn’t think enough of my ability, but because I think the film deserves an actor that may have possibly lived with some of that gravitas. The story spanned over Mandela’s young years and his older years and I could relate to his younger years up until his jail years. He was about my age when he went to jail, so I could relate to his journey to that point, but the older years gave me a lot of anguish. But eventually I got the confidence from the fact that we were a making a film and telling a great, real story.
C: (notices dictaphone flashing) Oh it’s just flashed at me, no, no it’s ok. Sorry.
I: (laughs) hey as long as you’re not saying I just flashed at you, cos that would be a whole different story!
C: (laughing) yes, that would be a very different story (quickly changing subject before the mental images of said story enter my head and render my powers of speech useless) Errm, so, is there a role that you would love to play that you haven’t had the opportunity to play yet?
I: Well, as generic as this answer’s going to sound, I just love roles that challenge me further than I’ve ever been challenged. I find it such a compliment when people come up to me and say ‘Oh my god, you’re so different than I thought you were going to be’, because I’m not my characters, you know? So, any character that allows me to be as different as I can and makes those that know me go ‘is that the same man?’ those are the characters that I love to play. There’s no role in particular that stands out, but there are genres I like to make. I love films that depict people that made massive changes to human history. I love real stories. I’d love to play a musician, as that’s something that’s close to my heart.
C: The first time I saw you in anything, I think, was with Gerard Butler and Tom Hardy in RocknRolla. At the end there was the promise of a sequel. Is that something that’s in the pipeline?
I: I think that’s going to happen. It’s just an inkling that I’ve had. All the actors in that film are great and still relevant and I just feel it’s got to happen. When it happens is another thing, but in this day and age it’s like a good book series. You get one book, then you wait a while and you get another. And I think that’s good in film. The audience will grow and go ‘Hang about, they’re doing a RocknRolla two?’ and then a new audience will come, but the old audience will still be there too.
C: Will we be seeing more of Luther or is that done and dusted?
I: I wish I could say more about this, but the truth is I don’t know.
C: Have you got any more projects you can tell us about?
I: Yeah, I’ve got a music project that I’d love to talk about, which is my album that I made post Mandela. I got really close to the music scene while I was there, because Mandela was very close to music, so I wanted to go on a quest to find out what it was he might have been listening to. And, in that quest, I realised that musicianship in South Africa is incredible. Really, really deep. Odd and varied, and with many different sounds. So, I went back after filming had finished, and I made this album called Mi, Mandela. It’s a part of a series of albums I’m going to make during my career called character music. And character music is basically a point of view, musically, of a character. Each song on this album is hand made, written specifically to depict the journey of an actor playing Mr Mandela. It doesn’t speak of (singing) ‘I was learning my lines on a Friday…’ it speaks of the emotions, the experience of playing Mandela, the responsibility attached, it speaks of the trepidation. And it’s a really good album. I can actually play you a song from it. That album is going to be my first journey into me as a music producer, and whether people buy it, love it, or hate it, I want them to walk away and say ‘That guy put some thought into that album, as a musician’, because I did.
C: I’d like to listen to that.
(After the interview he played me a track featuring Mumford and Sons and Maverick Sabre from his forthcoming ‘Mi Mandela’ album, and I can tell you he has definitely put some thought into it. It was a beautiful, evocative, varied, layered song combining several styles seamlessly.)
C: Have you got a favourite character that you’ve played?
I: Actually, I just played a character in Ghana. My Mum’s from Ghana and it’s the first time I’d gone there. The film’s called Beasts of No Nation, and is adapted from the novel about child soldiers. I played the character of the commander. Not a favourable character, a warlord who turns children into soldiers. The experience of playing that was intense. I’d like to make a character album of that too.
C: You’ve also got a film coming out called No Good Deed, in which you play another nasty character, can you tell us about that?
I: Yeah, I play a right psychopath! It’s a real sort of old school thriller, if you liked Cape Fear and those kinds of films, you’ll love this. In terms of film, it’s a Friday popcorn sort of film, and Taraji P Henson, who’s my co-star, and I had a lot of fun just exploring that thriller feeling and seeing what we could make of it.
C: Back to music, have you or will you be playing anywhere other than Pike’s on the island this year?
I: I played Pacha this year and I was soooo happy! So happy! (laughs)
C: Was that one of your best experiences as a DJ?
I: Yes! Because I had an early slot and as any DJ will tell you, they’re hard. People have come for the main act, which was Too Many DJ’s in my case, so getting and keeping them engaged can be a challenge. But, I f*****g smashed it! (laughs again). I’d love to play some closing parties, if I’m invited. Last year was an experiment for me in Ibiza. To begin with people weren’t sure what to expect, but by week seven they were saying OK, cool, this is a great house party. Now this year, everyone’s like ‘oh, hey, welcome back, how are you doing?’ and I feel more respected and accepted as part of the resident team on the island. Hopefully that will transcend into me playing other parties too and being invited back to the island year after year.
C: How would you describe the island?
I: Mountains. (grins) Mountains of love.
Idris and Friends at Ibiza Rocks House at Pike’s is on Saturdays until the end of August. For guest list requests, please contact: