As the child of a Syrian father and a Ghanian mother, the
Afro-British cinema and television actor Idris Elba built his
reputation as a performer in sitcoms and cable dramas during the
1990s and early 2000s before segueing into Hollywood movies in
Born in London on September 6, 1972, and raised in the
Hackney borough of that city (in the northeast quadrant), Elba
pursued acting as a high-school student, at the behest of a
drama teacher. Although his film, television, and stage work
officially commenced around 1992, Elba's premier credited role
arrived in 1995, with a supporting role on the episode of the
farcical British series Absolutely Fabulous, entitled "Sex."
Many supporting roles on British television followed,
including such series as Bramwell, The Bill, Degrees of Error,
The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, and The Governor. Elba grew deeply
frustrated, however, over the seemingly irrepressible tendency
of British casting directors to peg him in supporting roles.
"Back in London," he later recalled, "I was always just going to be
the best friend, or the crook or the detective on the side." When
Elba could take no more of this, he immigrated to the United States.
A couple of years of inactivity ensued, but after a supporting turn
on a 2001 episode of Law & Order, Elba landed a starring role on a
2002 HBO cop drama, The Wire.
In that part -- Elba's best-known and highest-profiled to date -- he
plays pusher "Stringer" Bell, the second in command to drug-dealing
kingpin Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris). Elba immediately became
notorious for daring to impart a pronounced level of affability to
Stringer (despite the character's profession); as a result, the role
attained widespread popularity with viewers and helped put the
series on the map. Elba stayed on the series through its first three
Elba then transitioned into big-screen roles; his most
prominent turns included that of Rev. Frank, a Southern
Baptist minister and gospel music hopeful threatened by the
arrival of an old friend who challenges his pastoral
position, in Rob Hardy's powerful spiritual drama The Gospel
(2005); Augustin Muganza, a Hutu captain grappling with the
1994 Rwandan genocide, in the mind-blowing HBO historical
drama Sometimes in April (2005); and a scientist and partner
of Hilary Swank's professional debunker of religious myths
in Stephen Hopkins' gothic, biblically themed horror picture
The Reaping (2007).
In 2006, Elba also signed on as the lead of the seriocomedy Tyler
Perry's Daddy's Little Girls (2007), playing Monty, a blue-collar
mechanic who falls in love with a six-figure attorney (Gabrielle
Union) and finds the relationship threatened by the re-arrival of
his ex-wife. He also joined the supporting cast of Juan Carlos
Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later, the horror-themed sequel to Danny
Boyle's 2002 zombie picture 28 Days Later.