In addition to his acting work, Elba is a DJ under the moniker DJ Big Driis (or Big Driis the Londoner) and a hip hop and soul musician. In 2016, he was named in the Time 100 list of the Most Influential People in the World.
An only child, Idrissa Akuna Elba was born on 6 September 1972 in Hackney. His father, Winston, was a Sierra Leonean and worked in the Ford motor factory at Dagenham, while his mother, Eve, was a Ghanaian. Elba's parents were married in Sierra Leone and later moved to London. Elba was brought up in Hackney and East Ham, and shortened his first name from Idrissa to "Idris" at school in Canning Town, where he first became involved in acting. He credits The Stage with giving him his first big break; having seen an advertisement for a play in a newspaper, Elba auditioned and met his first agent while performing in the role. In 1986, he began helping an uncle with his wedding DJ business; within a year, he had started his own DJ company with some of his friends.
Elba left school in 1988, and won a place in the National Youth Music Theatre thanks to a £1,500 Prince's Trust grant. His first acting role was in Crimewatch murder reconstructions. To support himself between roles in Crimewatch reconstructions, he worked in jobs such as tyre-fitting, cold call advertising sales, and working night shifts at Ford Dagenham. He was working in nightclubs, under the DJ nickname "Big Driis", aged nineteen, but began auditioning for television roles in his early-twenties.
In 1995, Elba landed his first significant role on a series called Bramwell, a medical drama set in 1890s England. He played a central character in an episode of Season 1, an African petty thief named Charlie Carter, who lost his (white) wife to childbirth and had to figure out how to support his newborn daughter. His first named role arrived earlier in 1995, cast as a gigolo on the "Sex" episode of Absolutely Fabulous. Many supporting roles on British television followed, including series such as The Bill and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries. He joined the cast of the soap opera Family Affairs and went on to appear on the television serial Ultraviolet and later on Dangerfield. He decided to move to New York City soon after. He returned to England occasionally for a television role, such as a part in one of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries. In 2001, Elba played Achilles in a stage production of Troilus and Cressida in New York City.
After a supporting turn on a 2001 episode of Law & Order, Elba landed a starring role on the 2002 HBO drama series The Wire. From 2002 to 2004, Elba portrayed Russell "Stringer" Bell in the series, perhaps his best-known role in the United States. In 2005, he portrayed Captain Augustin Muganza in Sometimes in April, an HBO film about the Rwandan Genocide. Elba appeared on the 2007 BET special Black Men: The Truth. He appeared as Charlie Gotso on The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, filmed in Botswana. The series premiered on 23 March 2008, Easter Sunday, on BBC One, receiving a high 6.3 million viewers and 27% of the audience share.
In January 2009, it was reported per Variety that Elba would portray Charles Miner, a new rival to Dunder Mifflin regional manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) for NBC's The Office. Elba appeared in a six-episode story arc later in the 2009 season as well as the season finale. In September 2009, he signed a deal to star as the lead role on the six-part BBC television series Luther, which aired in May 2010. He appeared on Showtime's The Big C in 2010. At the 69th Golden Globe Awards telecast on 15 January 2012, Elba won the Award for Best Actor in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television for his role on the BBC crime thriller series Luther.
In 2007, Elba signed on as the lead role of the film Daddy's Little Girls, playing Monty, a blue-collar mechanic who falls in love with an attorney helping him gain custody of his kids, and finds the relationship and his custody hopes threatened by the return of his former wife. He appeared in 28 Weeks Later (2007) and This Christmas (2007), which brought in nearly $50 million at the box office in 2007. In 2008, he starred in the horror film Prom Night and the criminal comedy RocknRolla. In 2009, he starred in the horror film The Unborn and in Obsessed, a thriller that had him cast opposite Beyoncé. The latter was a box office success, taking $29 million in its opening weekend.
Elba's next film was Legacy (2010), in which he portrayed a black ops soldier who returned to Brooklyn after a failed mission in Eastern Europe, where he undertook a journey looking for retribution. He starred in Dark Castle's adaptation of DC/Vertigo's The Losers, under the direction of Sylvain White, in the role of Roque, the second-in-command of a black-ops team out for revenge against a government that did them wrong. Filming took place in Puerto Rico and the movie was released in April 2010. Elba appeared in the thriller Takers (2010). He played Heimdall in Kenneth Branagh's film Thor (2011) (based on the Marvel Comics superhero of the same name).
In August 2010, Elba signed up to portray the title character in a reboot of James Patterson's Alex Cross film franchise. However, in February 2011, he was replaced by Tyler Perry. In Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), the reboot to Ghost Rider (2007), Elba played an alcoholic warrior monk tasked with finding the title character. In February 2012, Elba confirmed that he would portray Nelson Mandela in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which is based on his autobiography. As part of his preparation for the role, Elba spent a night locked in a cell alone on Robben Island, where Mandela had been imprisoned. His performance earned him a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.
In June 2012, Elba portrayed Captain Janek in Ridley Scott's Prometheus. He joined the cast of the film Pacific Rim (2013) in the role of Stacker Pentecost. In January 2014, he confirmed that he would be starring in a film adaptation of Luther. In 2014, he starred in No Good Deed as a vengeful psychopathic serial killer.
In 2015, Elba appeared as Heimdall in the superhero blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon. Elba also starred alongside Abraham Attah in the film Beasts of No Nation which premiered in select theaters and on Netflix. He earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture as well as a BAFTA nomination for a Supporting Actor award in the Film category. In 2016, he had several voice roles: the cape buffalo chief of police, Chief Bogo, in Disney's Zootopia, alongside Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman; villainous tiger Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, a live-action remake of the animated 1967 film of the same name; and Pixar's Finding Dory, alongside Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks, both reprising their roles from Finding Nemo (2003). Also that year, he played the main antagonist, Krall, in the sequel Star Trek Beyond. In 2017, he played Roland Deschain in the film adaptation The Dark Tower. Elba stars in Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut film, Molly's Game, alongside Jessica Chastain.
Elba has appeared in music videos for Fat Joe (2002), Angie Stone (2004) and rapper Giggs (2010). In 2006, he recorded the four-song EP Big Man for Hevlar Records. He co-produced and performed on the intro to Jay-Z's album American Gangster (2007). He DJed at the 2007 NBA All Star parties at The Venetian and Ice House Lounge in Las Vegas.
In July 2009, Elba was the DJ for BET's current series Rising Icons. Elba announced the release of his first single "Please Be True." In the August 2009 issue of Essence magazine, he announced the name of his six-song EP as Kings Among Kings. He released his EP High Class Problems Vol. 1 in the United Kingdom in February 2010, for which he has won many prizes including a Billboard Music Awards nomination.
In 2011, he performed on the intro to Pharoahe Monch's album W.A.R.. The following year, he co-directed and performed in the Mumford & Sons music video for "Lover of the Light".
In 2014, he produced K. Michelle's "The Rebellious Soul Musical" which debuted on VH1 on 19 August 2014. In May, Elba featured on Mr Hudson's single "Step Into the Shadows". Mr Hudson also produced his album Idris Elba Presents mi Mandela, which was released in November 2014. He also featured on the remix of Ghanaian music group, VVIP's single "selfie" together with Nigerian rapper Phyno released on 12 September 2014 and video released on YouTube on 11 April 2015.
Elba performed a rap for the second album by Noel Fielding and Sergio Pizzorno's band, the Loose Tapestries. Elba also rapped in a remix of Skepta's "Shutdown" which was uploaded on 1 June 2015 to SoundCloud. On 17 August, a song was released on which Elba appeared on Nigerian singer D'banj's single "Confidential", featuring Sierra Leonean rapper Shadow Boxer with the video uploaded to YouTube on 20 August. In November 2015, Elba opened for Madonna during her Rebel Heart Tour in Berlin, Germany. Elba is also featured on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album This Unruly Mess I've Made (2016).
In October 2014, Elba presented the series Journey Dot Africa with Idris Elba on BBC Radio 2, exploring all types of African music. Elba has also featured in various television commercials for Sky box-sets in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. Elba has created a collaboration with British fashion label Superdry, which launched at the end of November 2015.
The Prince's Trust, a youth charity which Elba credits with helping to start his career, appointed him its Anti-crime Ambassador in April 2009. In July 2010, he announced his support for Oona King in her campaign to become the Labour Party candidate for Mayor of London in 2012.
After dating since 2013, Elba's girlfriend Naiyana Garth gave birth to their son Winston Elba in 2014.
On religion, Elba states that he is "spiritual but not religious", clarifying that "... I'm not a religious man in that sense. I call myself a spiritual being, if you like."
Elba competed in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship as well as starring on the show Idris Elba: No Limits, where he races a rally car with help from Ari Vatanen. Discovery Channel also produced a second documentary, Idris Elba: Fighter, chronicling Elba's 12-month kickboxing and mixed martial arts training under Muay Thai coach Kieran Keddle, culminating in Elba's first professional kickboxing fight–and win–against Lionel Graves, a younger, more experienced Dutch opponent, at London's York Hall.
In mid 2017, Idris publically supported the Gladesmore Community School project Everybody Dreams LDN
Elba was selected as one of People's annual 100 Most Beautiful People in the World in May 2007. He was named Essence's annual 2013 Sexiest Man of the Year and was also ranked No. 2 in People's annual Sexiest Man Alive in 2013.
In October 2014, Elba was presented with a MOBO Inspiration Award. In 2015, he was named one of GQ magazine's 50 best dressed British men.
As part of his Discovery Channel miniseries Idris Elba: No Limits, he broke the course record land speed "Flying Mile" for the Pendine Sands.
Elba was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to drama.Albums
2015: Murdah Loves John (The John Luther Character Album)
2006: Big Man
2009: Kings Among Kings
2010: High Class Problems Vol. 1
2014: Idris Elba Presents Mi Mandela
2011: Merry DriisMas Holiday Mixtape