The Wire Week: Idris Elba (Stringer Bell)

When Russell “Stringer” Bell died on HBO’s The Wire, it was as if somebody we all knew was tragically murdered. He was the suave, even-tempered businessman that just happened to run a highly successful drug operation, along with Avon Barksdale (played by Wood Harris). He was also arguably the show’s most engaging character up until […]

When Russell “Stringer” Bell died on HBO’s The Wire, it was as if somebody we all knew was tragically murdered. He was the suave, even-tempered businessman that just happened to run a highly successful drug operation, along with Avon Barksdale (played by Wood Harris). He was also arguably the show’s most engaging character up until the climax of the third season.

Fortunately for the public, Idris Elba, who played Stringer, is alive and well. Since the demise of his character, his career has flourished. He’s got several project that drop this year ranging from nefarious street characters (American Gangster) epidemic survivor (28 Weeks Later) and, even a doting father in Daddy’s Little Girls.

Ever the Renaissance Man, Elba has also emerged as a DJ, MC and drops an EP this year. Big Man by East London is ‘Dris. The Englishman is serious about his craft and his myspace page conveys his musical message with purist’s frame of mind. The talented Mr. Elba speaks about his role, his music, and his career. There’s a lot of rumors about The Wire, with people saying Wood’s character Avon might come back. Some even say Stringer might return in some crazy plot twist. What’s the word?

Idris Elba: I think obviously the sources when we did the BET Awards show, it was a great look for BET to have two essential characters come out and announce expressly that the show is coming to BET. I think people ran away with the visual aspects of it and thought that my character and Wood’s characters were coming back. Wood’s character may definitely come back, I’m speculating here. They have another season his character may come back, but from what I understand of the show and the storyline and the way that’s developing I don’t see that happening. My character certainly will not come back, that’s impossible. Even if they wanted to make it happen or if there was a possibility, personally I wouldn’t endorse it.

In actuality the real Stringer Bell (the Baltimore person the character is based on) is alive and well, but for the purposes of The Wire they always wanted to use the dramatic tension that they were gonna gain from having a character like Stringer Bell and all of his antics. He was a deep character and I’m giving that to the writing, the writing is very deep on there. They needed that story tension, especially to propel them into three or four seasons. Like I said, we weren’t meant to last that long. I’ll be frank: my character was a sidekick, point blank. They told me that at my audition, “This is a character that is Avon’s consigliere, he’s the right hand man. This by no means the lead story.” I was like “Look, I’m just glad to be in the show. I think it’s fantastic.” Quite honestly, they just couldn’t ignore the magic that all of us were putting together, so it expanded. What did you think of Stringer as a character? To me, he was conflicted because he had this mature side, but he was also conniving.

Idris Elba: [Laughs] I always wanted to clear this up with people. People always wanna say that Stringer was two faced and conniving, but Stringer’s interest was always his business. I think “By any means necessary” was the motto that Stringer lived by. Any smart businessman never mixes emotion or makes a decision based on emotion. He makes a decision based on logic and I think because he was so calculated about it, because he was making decisions based on life and death and shootouts and weight it seemed like he was so cold and conniving. But I protect my character, man. He was a bro who was very straightforward, he knew what he wanted and how he had to go get it. They were ruthless businessmen that we know and love in the Hip-Hop industry that are just like that. They have to be that way because it’s a game where the weak will not survive. What did you think of the current season? Most of us have seen the finale by now.

Idris Elba: I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t seen it. I’ve seen two episodes of it and I feel that it has definitely taken a new direction and a direction that I think is definitely an interesting one. I think it’s a brave move on the creator’s part to change up completely, however I think that because they’re so smart and incredible writers they are at liberty to do that. That’s the one thing I’ll never put out there, that I have a beef with the creators or the show. The show is a fantastic show and it practically made my career in this country so I can not ever slap the hand that fed me. There’s definitely a side of me that was attached to the storyline and the growth that we were taking, and to see it snatched away so dramatically was definitely a blow. But hey, they’re at liberty to do that. You have an English accent but you talked like an American on The Wire. Is that something you trained to do or is that just something you’re able to do kind of similar to how we may mock or emulate a London accent?

Idris Elba: When I first got to the states it was three years before I could emulate the accent properly. On a visual aspect, Black is Black. People were like, “Yeah, he looks like he’s from my hood”, but the accent wasn’t completely right. I’ve always had to really train my ear to make it right. I’m still in training, it’s a difficult thing to do especially now that everyone knows I’m English. I did a film a Tyler Perry film called Daddy’s Little Girls. I remember the first week the producers called me like “Yo Idris, something is happening in the way you’re saying things that we need to address.” I was like “Damn, I’ve been called out.” So I had to tone in with a vocal trainer and really rein it in. In my real life I talk like me, so if I’m engrossed in my real life which is my music, DJing and my people that influence comes out. If I’m working at the same time, it’s really tough for me to let go of me in order to play the American side. I’m starting to hold onto that now. What’s bringing you to Hip-Hop? People may not know you have a history in rapping and DJing.

Idris Elba: It’s always been right there simultaneously with everything else. As long as I’ve been a backup man I’ve had two turntables right here in the bedroom. A large part of my career when I was acting, I was eating by DJing. Back home in London, I’ve got a very small pirate radio circuit. I started off in the pirate radio and sound circuit system. Hip-Hop wasn’t where I started, it was Reggae. There was Dancehall, Capleton, Buju [Banton], all them men, that’s where I really started to embrace the culture of music. The first time I heard Hip-Hop might well have been the Sugar Hill Gang, and I think the first song I listened to was a KRS-One record. That basically is where my music s**t started, I’ve always had a little studio. People say “You’re just getting into music?” I’ve always had a studio and a little something; I started making records on the eight-track tape recorders. When mini-discs came in, I started making beats. Has anything ever been published or put out before? No, never because quite honestly I’m a nerd with it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, to where I was like, “Alright, I just need to let the acting grow,” and that’s what I did. Now, Hip-Hop and music for me is my brain.

To me, it’s exercise. I’ve been afforded an amazing opportunity out here in the States and I’m a homegrown dude. I listen to UK artists daily, I like to know who’s hot and what’s what. Sometimes I’m waiting for the moment when the US and UK artists have their shine. Ten years ago, I’m pretty sure DJ Screw was like, “We’re gonna break this music down here and one day it’s gonna be big,” and eventually, it came. So that’s why I think right now I’m expressing the music. I’m definitely using the spotlight that I have to say “Yo, check it out. Listen to something new and different.” The accent is different and it’s always gonna be different although we’re speaking English. The idea is that I have this real small independent label out there in London and I’m going to try and introduce some UK acts, myself being first only because I am the door opener. The spotlight is on me so I’m definitely gonna open up that door. My whole idea is to allow other artists from the UK to jump on and get it in. Are you going to be working with any established UK artists, or any other artists for that matter?

Idris Elba: I’m doing this project called The Allies where every record is basically going to be a US artist and a UK artist. I’ve stepped out to a bunch of UK artists; I have a wish list. [Laughs] I’ve definitely stepped to Sway [Dasafo], I’m gonna step to Klashkenoff, Dirty Goods, Kano. Likewise, I wanna step to Chamillionaire out here, it’s gonna be US and UK. It’s time, I think an album like that would be mad and exciting. I know Wood Harris has some Hip-Hop aspirations too, are you guys gonna do anything together?

Idris Elba: [Laughs] When we were doing The Wire, I’d always carry a laptop and a 16 track machine. We started working on this mixtape which is called The Hotel Chronicles, which is basically me, Wood [Harris], Hassan [Johnson] and a few of ‘em which is because we were staying in hotels most of the time. We’d blaze the room out, stink the room up and just start spitting freestyles. Some of it is n***as just going in with that s**t, but I’d love to work with him. He’s a dope lyricist, his off-the-dome game is official. He’s one of the few I’ve known who can just spit it right off the top of his head. I made six records with Hassan, he has like a Staten Island flow, he has a great voice. He sounds like a baby Meth with his verses. I reached out to him too, I know he’s got some Hip-Hop aspirations. Michael K. Williams is out there as well, I hear his music is real good as well. Anything else you want to talk about or mention?

Idris Elba: I did the Denzel flick that is American Gangster, a bunch of people are in it. T.I., Common, I like to call them hybrid artists. I met Common, and I have to big him up, I’m glad to see that he’s courageous enough to go into acting. He stays true to it, he’s not a fake. He studies actors and at the same time he’s making great records. He’s an idol to me as is Mos [Def], hybrid artists that can do all this s**t. I have a couple of EPs, smaller independent joints that I’m coming out with. I had an opportunity to speak to Pete Rock the other day, he heard the EP that I did and I think that hopefully he’s gonna do a track with me and I’m excited about that. I’m just gonna put that out as a single, I love Pete Rock and I’m very fortunate to get one of those tracks. I’m gonna try to do it justice, big man. [Laughs] You have to know your limitations and know what you can try. You have to say “Aw s**t, I’m gonna be brave enough to try that.”

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