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

Features
by Tambay A. Obenson
January 3, 2014 6:15 PM
23 Comments
  • |

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?

Features
  • |

More: Idris Elba

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

23 Comments

  • handsomerandyblackladbrad1953 | March 21, 2014 10:51 AMReply

    M.Stradford,compared to Yours Truly,Idris Elba resembles Mike Tyson or Dennis Rodman!!!!!!

  • GeorgeneHargrove | January 4, 2014 6:52 AMReply

    Idris is very Talented actor therefore top agencies want to be sign with Idris .
    http://aminomusclesite.com/

  • aminojorge | April 12, 2014 3:36 PM

    aminomusclesite.net

  • aminojourge | April 12, 2014 3:35 PM

    its nice post

  • dl | January 4, 2014 5:11 AMReply

    Look at dominc west his co star in "the wire" his career has floundered hes doing made for tv movies in u.k! Also another british charismatic actor who has a similar stature and looks as idris is clive owen yes he has been sucessful but his carrer has taken a nose dive over the following years its very dificult to keep up the momenentum in hollywood most actors have 5 years top! not everyone can be a leo, brad, johnny, george, tom etc... even will and denzel have unusual success for black OR white! I reckon idris is doing fine he's vey new to films give him another couple of years and then we can analyse his sucess but its seems right now black brits are in vogue with chiwetel etc..who knows someone else could come out of the woodwork totally left field and eclipse them all!

  • Donella | January 5, 2014 9:27 AM

    I've got my eyes on Eamon Walker.

    Bring it!

  • C. | January 3, 2014 9:08 PMReply

    Meanwhile, absolutely no new projects for Lupita Nyong'o. Accordingly IMDb. Why?

  • C. | January 4, 2014 5:17 PM

    Liam Neeson's movie is already completed. And, if I am not mistaken, it was completed before "12 Years" wide release. Therefore, no new projects for Lupita. Female black actresses in lead characters, in big companies, that it is the worst case.

  • anna | January 4, 2014 1:43 AM

    She is in a new movie starring Liam Neeson, so your claims are false.

  • Mstradford | January 3, 2014 8:47 PMReply

    I think Idris Elba has put together an impressive film career in a short period of time. Look at some of his contemporaries, if we consider that he 'broke out' via television. Jon Hamm, white, early 4os, is still trying to find a film career. Bryan Cranston does great support in many films, but isn't carrying very many, while Keifer Sutherland, David Duchovny and countless others haven't been able to use they're television success to springboard to feature success. The only person to compare him to is fellow countryman Benedict Cumberbatch, who exploded from the BBC 'Sherlock' series and was all over the place theatrically in 2013. While an impressive actor, Cumberbatch is far from a classic leading man.

    He doesn't lack for working, there's never any talk about him not having acting chops. I'd say he's coming along nicely. He's been smart about his career and I'd be surprised if the 'year off for music thing' holds up.

    In my opinion, in recent years, excluding George Clooney and Will Farrell, I can't think of many actors regardless of age or color who have left television and made the impact that Elba has. I think he's immensely talented and the best is yet to come, as long as he doesn't fly off the rails.

    Finally, the idea that he's not attractive is laughable. I'm a straight, black man and it's clear to me that he's a good looking brother. More power to him.

  • james | January 7, 2014 7:12 AM

    bruce willis came from tv and became a MOVIE STAR.

  • Amari | January 3, 2014 7:09 PMReply

    The only thing he has against him is his age, but as long as he stays fit he should be fine. And I'm not sure how you can say this dude isn't handsome, I mean between his accent, charm, with and confidence, due could give Will Smith, George Clooney and whoever else you could think of a run for their money.

  • Donella | January 5, 2014 9:24 AM

    Idris is breathtaking. Size, swagger, looks, voice, charm.

  • mawon | January 3, 2014 6:54 PMReply

    Idris Elba not handsome. That's the funniest shit I heard all day.

  • PamelaBrookmab | January 3, 2014 6:43 PMReply

    my gf's sister just got a nice year old Mercedes-Benz R-Class Wagon by working part time off of a pc... why not find out more....... cash2.us

  • Amanda | April 17, 2013 5:12 PMReply

    I disagree with Tambay this racism argument is tired, look Idris Elba isn't a leading man because he's missing that something "extra" he's also not that attractive as someone else has pointed out. No offense, to Idris Elba fans but he's not handsome.

    Look at Jake Gyllenhaal he's a young white actor BUT his movies aren't that successful. Look at Ryan Gosling another young white actor in his 30s, his movies aren't blowing up at the box office either.

    Yes, racism exists in Hollywood nobody would deny this, but Elba is also 40 years old now he's going to be 41 this year. I think Hollywood has really done a disservice for the younger black guys under 40.

    Elba gets work, he consistently works, he has his own hit TV show on BBC America he's doing very well.

    There are plenty of white male actors who NEVER get to be leading men so I think it is more complicated than just race. Look at all those handsome white guys on the soaps such as Galen Gering, James Scott, Billy Miller.

  • CareyCarey | April 17, 2013 8:23 AMReply

    "If Elba was 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 list of actors for those parts" ~ Tambay

    "If a bullfrog had wings it wouldn't bump his behind every time it hopped" ~ Don King

    I can't make you love me if you don't. You can't make your heart feel something it won't ~ LYRICS from I Can't Make You Love Me

    I believe those last two quotes make the most sense, this is not about "racism" per se, because if it doesn't make dollars, it does not make sense. Idris Elba IS NOT a white man and you can't make white folks love him. Is that "racism"? NOPE, it's more akin to loving the one you're with and those you can most relate to.

    I am reminded of Tambay's post "Nollywood Drama 'Blood And Henna' Tackles 1996 Pfizer Drug Testing Scandal In Nigeria". Tambay and the reader Ster Effram were having a small debate on whether or not the film actually premiered in Nigerian theaters during the first quarter of this year. Ster said it had not ---> "I know these because some of us actually go to the cinema just to watch African titles as oppose to american films that we have been fed our whole life. Pls let us know when it will be in the cinemas."

    Therein lies the gist of my argument. America (those in control of the film industry) for the most part, makes movies for their "primary" audience because, again, if it doesn't make money, it does not make sense.

    I believe it's that simple. Idris Elba will never be a Hollywood "movie star" because in the eyes of many he does not have that loving feeling. He's not nearly as handsome as Denzel, nor does he possess his acting chops. He does not have Will Smith's resume, nor his "nice guy next door" looks. But most importantly, he's 40 years old and he IS a black man, not a white guy.

    I [WE] can't make them love us if they don't. We can't make their heart feel something it won't.

  • CareyCarey | January 4, 2014 3:34 AM

    "A lot of your critiques of Idris are based on things that take time. Give the man time"

    That's the fly in this ointment, "TIME" is not on his side! And let's be real about this, my "critique" as you called it, is not a critiques per se, they were facts. Fact 1. He does have the range nor skills as Denzel. Fact 2. His name does not turn heads as Will Smith's does. Nor does he have Will's "nice guy next door" looks which tends to help a black actor enter white folks homes without alarm or pause (Will Smith doesn't threaten or intimate them). Fact 3. As others have said, there are hundreds of white actors, younger white actors at that, who they can ride for many more year than Idris, who are in the same position he's in. Consequently, considering all the above, the industry does not need Idris Elba or any black actor who is not bringing something "special" and/or something they truly NEED to the table. That be Hollywood movie-stardom gifts/qualities, like Denzel's and Will's.

  • ALM | April 17, 2013 4:38 PM

    "He's not nearly as handsome as Denzel, nor does he possess his acting chops".

    Beauty is truly in the eyes of beholder. Idris is gorgeous. He doesn't have anything to worry about in the looks area. Then he has the nerve to have crazy swagger. LOL

    As for the acting, that is also a matter of opinion. By the way, Denzel wasn't always "Denzel". Check out some of his earlier film and television work. Denzel has admitted that he takes acting classes to this very day because he believes that there is always room for improvement. Denzel became better and developed his acting talent over time. Idris should be allowed that same chance.

    "He does not have Will Smith's resume...."

    Of course he doesn't. He hasn't been in the business nearly as long as Will Smith has. A lot of your critiques of Idris are based on things that take time. Give the man time.

  • AccidentalVisitor | April 17, 2013 1:20 AMReply

    I too felt it was strange that he was taking time off for his music career when I first learned about it. But then I thought that may be an excuse he is using to the media to cover up the fact that he may not have any good offers on the table. If a great opportunity came along I'm sure those music plans will go out the window.


    There was a writer of Forbes who I felt got it when writing about "42". He said despite the box office success of the movie there were likley to be more opportunities as a result for the film'w white director than for its two main black stars (Chadwick and Nicole). He pointed out there still aren't many opportunities for black actors. This led to him getting some negative pushback from in a few responses but he held his ground. Just as he should. He is 100% right. I tried to say something similar to a white writer who claimed Michael B. Jordan had a great career ahead of him based upon his performance in "Fruitvale" (sp). I responded that there had been other black actors who recently looked to be on the verge of stardom as well but to this day have not gotten the quality roles. The writer didn't take too kindly to my remarks.

  • Suzanne | September 28, 2013 9:43 PM

    @ACCIDENTALVISITOR - Idris Elba's father passed away last Saturday. I suspect he took the time off as a cover to really be closer to his aging parents. People need to understand that everything is NOT always about a career. People have personal lives and often have to attend to them. They just don't care to disclose it.

  • Ali | April 16, 2013 8:56 PMReply

    I don't understand the taking time off for his music thing. Which sounds like a bad move -- both from a publicity standpoint and a professional standpoint. Hollywood moves quick these days, and it's not like there aren't other equally talented, but unknown black actors of his status waiting in the wings for an opportunity. I can't say that I'm a fan or have ever seen anything that he's been in (I don't like many action movies), but I do know that when certain people stay away too long, audiences move on to someone else.

  • ALM | April 16, 2013 7:47 PMReply

    He could have another reason for taking the year off, a reason that he can't publicly state. He may have been offered a bunch of roles that he didn't agree with. Remember Dave Chappelle's commentary on the pattern with some actors in Hollywood, i.e. wearing a dress then flipping out?

    Remember what happened the last time he spoke out about working with TP? The role of Alex Cross was awarded to Tyler Perry.

Follow Shadow and Act

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • Minority Independent Producers Summit ...
  • John Legend Sets Up Independenlty-Financed ...
  • Fox Picks Up "International 'Bad Boys'-Style" ...
  • Film Based On Convicted African American ...
  • Watch The 'Half of a Yellow Sun' Title ...
  • New Original Feature-Length Doc - 'Kobe ...
  • If You Missed 'Jimmy Kimmel Live: Behind ...
  • First Poster For Latest Denzel Washington/Antoine ...
  • Interview: Marlon Wayans Talks Career, ...
  • Weekend B.O. April 18-20 (Depp Tanks) ...