Idris Elba: “Molly’s Game is about gender balance and power”
By all accounts, Idris Elba has had an incredibly good year. First, he played the heroic Roland Deschain in Nikolaj Arcel’s “The Dark Tower” and reprised his role of Heimdall in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Then, the actor took on his first lead romantic role in Hany Abu-Assad’s “The Mountain Between Us,” starring opposite Kate Winslet and it’s during filming of the movie in Vancouver he met his current girlfriend, 29-year-old former Miss Vancouver, Sabrina Dhowre. And to cap off a great 2017, he stars alongside Jessica Chastain in the thriller “Molly’s Game.
“It has been a rather good year,” agrees the Golden Globe award-winning actor who since his breakout role as Stringer Bell, the lieutenant of a Baltimore drug empire on the HBO series “The Wire,” has appeared in well over 40 films and television projects. There has also been directing stints for just four years ago, Elba made his directorial debut with his own teleplay, “The Pavement Psychologist” and he also created, directed and starred in the music video “Lover of Light” by Mumford and Sons, which has received more than nine million YouTube views. Adding, his company, Green Door Pictures, is developing a comedy titled “In The Long Run,” which set in 1985 London is about a West African family he says is loosely based on his childhood.
But despite starring in some major films from Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster,” “Star Trek Beyond,” to Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” which earned him a SAG award, Elba admits that he doesn’t have a systematic way of approaching roles.
“It really depends on the director. The Dark Tower was very much an action led film so there was some physical training. For Ben in The Mountain Between Us, there was a lot of talking about the characters with Kate and I, but in Molly’s Game, I had to memorize every single word and punctuation that was written and I don’t like to memorize words. I am more of a guy that sort of feels it and says it.”
A film based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target, Elba plays her defense lawyer who discovers that there’s much more to Molly than the salacious tabloid stories reveal.
“What attracted me to the role is that I play a lawyer that judges her and then decided to go against that and goes one step further and takes on the law system,” shares Elba. “Charlie is this very polished sort of seen-it-all hotshot lawyer, but I think he’s really intrigued by Molly because there is so much more complexity to her than how she initially presents. He thinks he has her figured out the minute she walks in the door and then she really challenges him with her intellect and the strength of her character and personality and I think that really draws him in.”
The directorial debut of playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”), poker drives the plot of this story, which follows an athlete who was in the qualifying trials for freestyle skiing when an accident sent her down a very different path of hosting illegal high-stakes poker games. She ends up getting raided by the FBI, and writing a book about the whole affair.
“This isn’t a whistle blowing film,” Elba continues. “It’s actually about integrity and it’s about gender balance and about power.” In the film, Sorkin brilliantly cuts between Molly’s rise to power in the backrooms of Los Angeles following her fall from grace as an Olympic skier and her meetings with her lawyer. It’s a neatly done rise-and-fall story as Molly’s brush with Hollywood royalty, sports stars and business titans give her a decade of glitzy and glamorous success, but she soon attracts the wrong kind of attention when she inadvertently engages members of the Russian mob. There’s money, power and sexism in this indelible story about a woman competing in an all-male world and it’s the kind of gritty tale Hollywood gravitates to.
“Hollywood has a lot of hanging fruit for stories and there are so many different personality types in this industry. There is the glamour of course, but there is the real underbelly and the uglier side, which we are all seeing come up now in what is happening in Hollywood,” says Elba, who starred as Nelson Mandela in The Weinstein Company biopic “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom,” a performance which earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
“Molly’s Game” is in theaters December 25
By Samantha Ofole-Prince/Photo credit Michael Gibson