Idris Elba is returning to the small screen with an all-new Netflix series! To celebrate the debut of "Turn Up Charlie" on March 15, 2019, Wonderwall.com is taking a walk down memory lane to see how this once unknown British TV actor became one of the hottest leading men in Hollywood. Keep reading to find out more…
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Born in London to parents from Ghana and Sierra Leone, Idris Elba was drawn to acting from a young age. After spending time in the National Youth Music Theatre and developing a love for both music and acting, Idris began auditioning for roles in his early 20s. His first TV appearances were in 1994 in Britain — small parts in "2point4 Children" and "Space Precinct." For the next few years, Idris would continue to win small roles, but it wasn't until 1997 that he found more regular work with the British series "Insiders" and "Family Affairs" (pictured). Although both shows only lasted one season, Idris was quickly building his reputation as a solid TV actor.
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From 1998 to 2001, Idris Elba continued to find minor roles on British television shows (such as "In Defence," pictured) and even appeared in a few movies. In 1999, he acted in the French film "Belle Maman" — his first role on the big screen. The following year, he earned a small part in the U.K. thriller "Sorted" and in 2001, he landed his first U.S. movie role in the war comedy-drama "Buffalo Soldiers" starring Joaquin Phoenix and Anna Paquin. While Idris might not have been a household name (yet), he was clearly laying the groundwork for superstardom.
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After landing minor roles on several TV shows, including the U.S. crime drama "Law & Order" and the British comedy "Queens Supreme," Idris Elba scored a major recurring role on the American drama "The Wire" in 2002. As drug kingpin Russell "Stringer" Bell, Idris brought an intensity to the screen many had never seen before. He also became a first-time father that year when his soon-to-be ex-wife, Hanne Norgaard, delivered their daughter, Isan.
By 2005, directors and casting agents knew that Idris Elba was a talented up-and-coming star who would bring the heat with every line. As such, he was cast as Reverend Charles Frank in the dramatic, faith-inspired musical "The Gospel," where he delivered a powerful performance from the pulpit. Although Idris didn't headline the film, his role was a prominent one — he was listed second in the casting lineup — showing he'd come a long way from bit TV roles back home in Britain.
If you watched the 2007 true-crime drama "American Gangster" starring Denzel Washington, then you likely remember the heart-stopping scene where Denzel's character, Frank Lucas, exits a diner during breakfast to confront drug dealer Tango, played by Idris Elba. In the horrific scene, Tango laughs at Frank and tells him to "Get the f— outta here," which causes Frank to kill him in cold blood right on the street. Idris is seen here at the film's premiere.
2008 was a busy year for Idris Elba. After appearing on an episode of the HBO crime comedy "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" (pictured, with star Jill Scott), he popped up in a few movies like "Prom Night" and "RocknRolla." He even had a part in the Israeli drama "The Human Contract" starring Spanish actress Paz Vega.
In 2009, Idris Elba lit up the small screen with six appearances as Charles Miner on Season 5 of "The Office" on NBC. As the handsome executive who couldn't help but draw the ladies' attention, he gave Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) a major inferiority complex. Idris' deadpan approach to the role made his character a huge hit with fans and proved he was able to slay in comedy too.
In 2010, Idris Elba landed roles in several movies, including the crime thriller "Takers" starring the late Paul Walker. But his big-screen work that year didn't get nearly as much attention as his powerful lead performance on the BBC primetime television drama "Luther." As the titular detective chief inspector, Idris was a tour de force. His work on the show would earn him a Golden Globe Award (plus three more Globe nods), a Screen Actors Guild Award and four Emmy nominations. A fifth season of the acclaimed drama aired in early 2019.
In 2011, Idris Elba joined the superhero realm when he took on the role of Heimdall in the action flick "Thor" (pictured) starring Chris Hemsworth. That same year, Idris took a supernatural turn in the movie "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" as a hard-drinking monk who believed he could save Johnny Blaze's soul. Fans of the video game franchise "Call of Duty" might also remember Idris's voice on the "Modern Warfare 3" game. As if that weren't enough, the handsome star also had a role in the sci-fi film "Prometheus" starring Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender.
No longer a side character, Idris Elba continued to take on more serious roles to which he brought his famed intensity. That was apparent in his 2013 performance as Stacker Pentecost in the action drama "Pacific Rim." Although the film caused international controversy (China branded it "American propaganda") and was widely considered a flop, it brought Idris a lot of fanfare. Not only was he clearly the next big Hollywood heartthrob, but his talent proved that even a less-than-stellar movie couldn't damage his impressive reputation.
One of the most passionate and powerful performances to date from Idris Elba has to be his titular role in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." According to Idris, playing the former South African president taught him "patience," something he says every actor needs to develop. Shortly before Nelson Mandela's death in 2013, he gave the film — but, more specifically, Idris — his warm-hearted approval.
After picking up his superhero sword once more as Heimdall in "Thor: The Dark World," Idris Elba took on two drastically different characters. In 2014, he played a father in the British family psychodrama "Second Coming" as well as a murderous escaped felon in the American thriller "No Good Deed" (pictured) alongside Taraji P. Henson. Although critics bashed the latter film, it was considered a box office hit, grossing more than $52 million.
In 2014, nearly 12 years after his first child was born, Idris Elba and girlfriend Naiyana Garth, a makeup artist, welcomed their first child together, a little boy named Winston. While many believed that Naiyana had tamed the renowned playboy, rumors of infidelity plagued Idris as their breakup made headlines in early 2016. Not only was he linked to American rapper K. Michelle, but he was seen leaving a nightclub with English supermodel Naomi Campbell. Idris moved out of the London home he and Naiyana shared with their toddler son.
Idris Elba's fans might be surprised to learn that not only is this talented British star an acclaimed actor, but he also moonlights in the music scene. Idris has said he began DJing when he was just 14. That passion led him to take on the name King Driis and over the years, he's spun at some of the hottest clubs. In 2019, he's performing at Coachella! He's also released several albums including "Mi Mandela" in 2014.
By 2015, Idris Elba was on top of his game. He once again took on the role of Heimdall, this time appearing in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," and was cast in "The Gunman" starring Sean Penn. However, it was his role in the Netflix original film "Beasts of No Nation" — which he also produced — that defined his year. His powerful portrayal of the commandant in this African war story earned Idris a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Independent Spirit Award.
Returning to the world of sci-fi action adventure in 2016, Idris Elba played Krall in "Star Trek Beyond" alongside stars including Chris Pine. The film was a blockbuster success, earning $343 million worldwide. Three other films he worked on that year were also big hits, albeit with a much younger audience: Idris lent his distinguished voice to "Zootopia" and "Finding Dory" and voiced the villainous Shere Khan in the film "The Jungle Book."
Idris Elba played a retired rugby player in "100 Streets" (which he also produced) opposite Gemma Arterton in early 2017. Overwhelmingly panned, the movie was called a "jigsaw [that] doesn't fit together" by a critic at The Guardian. Thankfully for Idris, it would prove to be just a blip on his long resume.
In between shooting "Luther" and working on various other projects, Idris Elba also filmed the Showtime original miniseries "Guerilla," which aired in the spring of 2017. The six-part British drama (Idris is seen here at its London premiere) from director John Ridley received critical acclaim. In it, Idris plays a political prisoner who examines radical activism in 1970s Britain.
Idris Elba starred alongside Matthew McConaughey in the Stephen King adaptation of "The Dark Tower," which hit theaters on Aug. 4, 2017. In the film, Idris plays the Gunslinger, who must protect the tower (and therefore the entire universe) from falling at the hands of Matthew's character, the Man in Black.
In the fall of 2017, Idris Elba starred in the high-profile drama "The Mountain Between Us" opposite Kate Winslet. He brought then-new love Sabrina Dhowre to the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of the movie that September. Five months later, Idris proposed marriage to the former beauty queen on bended knee at a screening of his directorial debut, the British crime drama "Yardie," in February 2018.
In late 2017, Idris Elba delivered another stellar performance opposite Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain in Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, "Molly's Game." In the biopic, the British actor played a lawyer for Jessica's Molly Bloom, a woman who runs a high-stakes underground poker game empire and becomes the target of an FBI investigation.
Outside of making his directorial debut and getting engaged, 2018 was a huge year for Idris Elba for other reasons. He filmed the 2019 "Fast & Furious" franchise spinoff "Hobbs & Shaw," in which he plays villain Brixton opposite Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. It was also announced that he'll be starring as feline villain Macavity in Tom Hooper's film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's award-winning musical "Cats," which hits theaters in December 2019. And on Nov. 5, Idris was revealed as People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive, the 33rd star to earn the honor. "My mum is going to be very, very proud," Idris said on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon," where the news was announced.
Idris Elba started off 2019 off in a major way with the release of "Turn Up Charlie." The British actor is not only the star of the Netflix series but also its creator and executive producer. The show focuses on a struggling DJ who finally gets a chance at success after becoming a "manny." The series premiere comes just a few months after promoters announced that Idris would be DJing at Coachella 2019. "It wasn't planned that way, but you couldn't write a better marketing setup," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "The last couple of years, my DJing has seen a lot more exposure. Doing a show about a DJ, that started about four years ago. And now we're here, so it's all come together [tied up] in a nice little bow."
Executive producing a Netflix series isn't the only career milestone Idris Elba accomplished in the early months of 2019. On March 9, he also ably hosted "Saturday Night Live" for the first time. He was joined by musical guest Khalid, who also made his debut on the show. Awesome!