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There’s not much that Idris Elba can’t do. He’s an actor, a musician, a DJ, a producer and now People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2018 – and he does it all with unashamed modesty that drags you into his nonchalant, charming persona.
But when it comes to his work, Idris is all business, all the time… which adds depth to his dark, brooding, twisted and damaged character DCI John Luther in crime thriller Luther (2010-current, Seasons 1-4 can be streamed on Showmax).
Like his character, Idris can’t say no, despite how taxing the role is.
“Luther goes back, he can’t stay away for too long. Ultimately as a protector, he wants to fix what he can see other people won’t be able to,” explains the London-born Idris.
Unlike most series that have a new season every year, Luther averages two years between instalments, with Season 4 being broadcast in 2015 and script work only beginning on Season 5 now. “He goes back [to London at the start of season 4] because being away is very challenging for him, very taxing.”
So what goes into making a character like John Luther? It’s not as simple as saying “he can do this, he can do that and arrest the bad guys”. Here are the crucial elements that maketh the man.
“The character is dark. He has a lot of demons. You do end up taking some of that home with you. That isn’t necessarily fun,” says Idris.
Luther isn’t a dedicated detective, he’s obsessively involved. When he works on a case, he dives in 100%, whether it’s hunting a thief or a psychopath killer and that doesn’t take its toll, adds the actor… at first.
“Luther, he’s not a fragile man, but he might end up becoming fragile after what he goes through.”
What would a great detective be without a nemesis? And in Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson, Alison in drama series The Affair, 2014-current), Luther might’ve met his match.
She’s a brilliant serial killer who toys with Luther, wrapping him around her finger in Seasons 1 through 3.
“Alice is so much fun to play,” says Ruth. “She’s crazy and mad – I find her really funny but other people don’t. She has no conscience and that pushes Luther to places he does not want to be.”
You could dress Idris in a potato sack and he’d still look like a god chiselled out of ebony.
Luckily for his character, the wardrobe team have given Luther stylish threads, but that in itself is a character, says Idris: “When he puts his coat on, it definitely feels good. That’s when you’re reimprinting the DNA of the show. When he slips that on, he’s ready to go to the ends of the Earth to solve his crime. That adds to his walk, his stride that he takes to get to the bullpen [crime scene]. He’s back. Back in the mood to work, back in the mood to solve crimes – even though it’s going to get heavy.”
Swapping the city life for a remote house on a cliff at the end of Season 3 is more than just getting away from the rat race.
“Given that he was on the edge of a cliff [literally and figuratively] and living a secluded life, it felt pretty good and natural,” explains Idris. “He’s gone through a lot of trauma, each time you go through anything bad in your life, it makes you a bit more reflective and it definitely scars you in some way. This series, he’s looking for peace. He’s very much in love with a woman he meets and is in a different kind of relationship. This series is very much about Luther trying to get to the finish line and trying to change his life.”
PS: If Idris ever plays British super spy James Bond (there have been rumours for years already), Ruth Wilson has already volunteered to play his nemesis.
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