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S&A 2013 Highlights: Top Hollywood Agencies Want Idris Elba, But Will Mainstream Movie Stardom Find Him?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 3, 2014 at 6:15PM

S&A 2013 Highlights: Top Hollywood Agencies Want Idris Elba, But Will Mainstream Movie Stardom Find Him?
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Idris Elba

Editor's note: As 2013 ends, and 2014 begins, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the last year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the 16th of many to come, originally posted in late April 2013. See my 2014 postscript at the bottom, after you read the original piece. Happy New Year to you all! 

We don't usually post agency signings, especially for those who are already stars, and are simply switching from one agency to another. But I thought this one from Deadline, titled ‘Luther’ And ‘Pacific Rim’ Star Idris Elba Is In Play At The Big Agencies, deserved a mention, and some commentary.

After quietly leaving UTA last week, Idris Elba is the hot actor in play, and it’s suspected he’ll either land at WME or CAA. Elba seems poised to finally make that transition from great actor to movie star, so he’s a real catch. But the gang at UTA certainly did their job; the agency booked him into Prometheus, Thor, Pacific Rim and Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom, the latter a film the agency packaged around director client Justin Chadwick. By the time he’s done starring in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim this summer and following up by playing Nelson Mandela in the Oscar-bait Weinstein Company release later this year, Elba should finally reach that level of stardom that has inexplicably eluded him. I must say that after watching his turns in The Wire and especially Neil Cross’s British crime series Luther, I find it baffling it has taken this long.

The piece was written by Deadline editor and regular news breaker, Mike Fleming Jr. 

The first thing that came to me as I started to read it was, great for Idris! Long-time readers of this blog will know that we're fans of the actor and his work, and believe he deserves more than the supporting roles in big-budget movies that make up much of his Hollywood resume. When he does star in a movie, it's usually something independently-backed that he's involved in behind the camera as well, often as a producer. 

Hollywood has yet to really recognize his movie star potential.

But, unlike Fleming, I'm not baffled that he's not a Hollywood movie star. I also don't think the reasons are that inexplicable. For me, it's quite simple. I'm not one to draw the race-card often, but I'd argue that the fact that he's black has a little something to do with it. 

If Elba were a white actor, he'd likely be up for almost every Hollywood movie leading man role. At least, he'd be on studio exec/producer/director short lists of actors for those parts. 

He's only 40 years old, has the looks, the physical stature, the charisma, exudes confidence, and is a presence on screen. Plus, he can actually act too.

Give me a white actor with all those credentials and I can almost guarantee that he'd be frequently having to reject plump starring roles if only because of the volume of offers he'd be receiving.

Elba is certainly working, which is great, and much more than some other black actors can say. So he's in some demand. But whether Fleming is right in that he's on the cusp of super-stardom, with top agencies evidently wanting to sign him, remains to be seen.

I'm not sure if he's crossed over into the American mainstream yet like a Will Smith or Denzel Washington, or if he ever will; but he and his former agents have made some wise choices in getting him cast in major Hollywood projects that will be seen widely, which should only help further raise his mainstream profile.

Recall that Will Smith's approach, when he mapped out a Hollywood acting career for himself, was to appear primarily in big-budget Hollywood studio spectacle, at least initially, since, as his research told him, those were the movies that played widely and made the most money.

I don't know that this has been Idris' or his former agent's strategy, but it seems to be working for him as well. But it's also wise that he's not just sticking to Hollywood blockbusters. Roles in films and TV series he produced, like Legacy, and Luther, and also the upcoming Nelson Mandela bio, demonstrate his ability and flexibility, which, I think, in the end, will only help garner him even more respect amongst audiences, as well as his peers - especially if he excels in those roles.

Other than the above projects, as well as No Good Deed for producer Will Packer, and the next and final season of Luther, all of which have already been shot and are currently in post-production, Idris doesn't have anything else in the works. 

Granted, he did announce that he was taking a year off to focus on his music, so it could be that he hasn't actively sought any new projects to accommodate his *vacation*. 

“This year, I’m not going to work as an actor and I’m going to put my mind into music [...] It’s a progression thing with me. I want to make music but I don’t want to shove it down people’s throats. People are just barely getting to know me as an actor. But I do it from the heart, I’m not doing it for money — I just enjoy doing it. I’ve been asked to do lots of collaborations. I did something with Milk, which is a great band and an odd collaboration, I’ve done stuff with Jay-Z on his album American Gangster, so there’s bits and pieces that I’m just going to keep moving forward with.”

But if movie stardom is something that he actually wants (that's the key question here - does he even want to be a movie star?), taking a year off at this juncture in his career is a questionable move, from my POV. There's that saying about striking while the iron is hot, and if he's *hot* right now, he should be striking often and hard.

I suppose, from his POV, he could be considering the fact that, over the next 12 months, 4 different movies he's a part of (2 he stars or co-stars in), as well as a TV series, will debut, which will keep him in the news, as he does the various press junkets for each project. 

And if, by some chance, he picks up an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his work in Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, or even if The Weinstein Company (who picked up release rights to the film), are able to do what they do best, which is generate enough buzz around his performance, that should give him a nice boost, and will definitely keep his name on the lips of those with the power to really affect careers.

All that to say, in the end, I'm not as surprised that Idris Elba isn't a Hollywood movie star yet, or that he isn't attracting the kinds of leading man opportunities others with less, in similar positions, have. Unlike some of his Caucasian contemporaries, there just doesn't seem to be a decisive, definite desire or push to make him "the next Hollywood male movie star." There are certain actors (who will remain nameless) who are continuously cast in major projects, and one can only wonder why they are, given that they so clearly lack a number of crucial elements necessary for them to shine in those roles, in those projects.

Meanwhile, here's an actor with all the required goods, who doesn't seem to be getting the same kinds of breaks. 

But, let's see what happens with Mr Elba in the next 12 months. And maybe the new agency he signs with will be able to work the kind of magic on his career that he might be hoping for; although Fleming's piece doesn't say why Elba left UTA. But when an actor leaves an agency in search of another, there can only be a handful of reasons why; and usually at the top of that list, I'd venture to guess, is that they think they should be, or could be doing better than they are, and so seek out new representation.

But there is also this to consider from Fleming's piece:

Elba has also established himself as a serial agency jumper in the U.S. He moved from ICM to CAA, back to ICM, and then chose UTA over WME and CAA two years ago.

Does Idris have a loyalty problem with all this "agency jumping?" Could that actually be hindering his progress instead of assisting it? Although I don't know what the reasons were for all this shifting over the years, it might affect how hard agencies work for him, if they don't think he'll be around with them for long.

But what do you folks say? Especially all you actors with agents...

This was written in April of 2013. Since then, the final season of Luther aired; he reprised his role in Thor: Dark World; Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom opened to some buzz around the film and Idris' performance, including grabbing a Golden Globe Award nomination; toplined a 2-part, 2-hour BBC feature documentary on the history of motorcar racing; booked a starring role in a Paris-set thriller that will see him battle terrorists in the City of Light, titled Bastille Day; booked a starring role in Cary Fukunaga's film adaptation of Nigeria author Uzodinma Iweala’s bestselling debut novel Beasts of No Nation; was said to be in talks to join Sean Penn and Javier Bardem in director Pierre Morel's action thriller titled The Gunman, which is based on the novel, The Prone Gunman, by Jean-Patrick Manchette; signed up to produce a new UK feature titled One Square Mile, which will be directed by Michael Caton-Jones (, The JackalRob Roy); booked a co-starring role in British playwright Debbie Tucker Green's feature debut Second Coming; and there's the big screen adaptation of Luther that he's been talking about for a couple of years now. So, as I said in the piece last year, he's certainly not suffering for work. He's busy. But, is he where he really could be, at this stage of his career?

This article is related to: Idris Elba


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