Sunday, September 22, 2013

Idris Elba - Humble Beginnings, Being Divorced and The Paternity Test That Showed a Son Wasn't His


Idris Elba looks amazing on the cover of the latest GQ magazine where he talks about a lot of different things. His work as one of the best known black actors in Hollywood has been cemented this year with Pacific Rim, and the forthcoming Mandela for which some believe he'll be nominated for the Oscars. But beyond his work, Idris also gets personal, talking about his background and the two women that have defined his attitude to relationships. Read some excerpts below...



Elba spent his twenties going back and forth between New York and London, looking for work. In New York he would stay in Brooklyn, where he’d work on his American accent at a Fort Greene barbershop called Ace of Spades. He had an on-and-off relationship with a woman who lived in London, and when he was 26, they decided to get married. “I liked the idea of being married,” Elba says. “I was focused in on what I was trying to do in my life. And my girl supported me.”

But whatever roles there were in America, Elba wasn’t finding them. He DJ’d at New York dives to help make rent, worked for a while as a bouncer at Carolines, a comedy club. He and his wife moved around a bunch. “I had to keep going back and forth to New York, to London, to try and make a bit of money real quick.” Back in the States, Elba’s wife “didn’t adjust to the culture as quickly as I did.” And he was gone a lot. “We just had a hard time. The next thing you know, we broke up.”

The timing was bad; she was pregnant. Elba began sleeping in his Astro van. “The apartment we had lived in together was in Jersey City. So when I left, I was sofa-hopping here and there and got to a place where I was parking it in Jersey somewhere and just camping down for the night.”

What did you think when you were laying your head down at night to go to sleep in a van?

“I mean, it was like, ‘Fuck, where did I go wrong?’ I had a lot of promise in England, you know? ‘What the fuck are you doing here? Your visa’s going to run out soon. You’re going to have a baby. What the fuck are you doing?’ That’s what’s going through my head.”




[Idris] says he doesn’t live anywhere in particular, hasn’t for the better part of four or five years. “I’m like a Gypsy, man.” Elba’s daughter is 11 and lives in Atlanta now—his ex-wife moved there after they split up—and he and his daughter mostly see each other in places like this: hotel rooms, temporary spaces in New York, Los Angeles, or London. “We’ve had this relationship since she was 1. She’s always on the road.”

In 2010, when Elba was doing press for a forgettable movie called The Losers, he began excitedly telling reporters that he’d had a son. In The New York Times, he spoke of the child by name. Soon afterward, though, Elba stopped mentioning him. When Essence asked Elba a year later how his daughter enjoyed being an older sister, he answered point-blank: “I only have a daughter.”

Elba doesn’t like to talk about what happened—has never talked about it, in fact, understandably so—but today, for whatever reason, he does.

The story is this:

He was dating a woman in Florida, had been for a couple of years. They were living together and in love. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy. For a brief moment, it was among the happiest times of Elba’s life. “The celebration of having a son—from a man’s perspective, it’s massive.” He told friends about it. He told reporters about it. Then came the suggestion—not from the child’s mother, but from elsewhere—that not everything was what it appeared to be. “It wasn’t immediately obvious—well, it was, because he didn’t look like me,” Elba says. “But it wasn’t immediately obvious what had gone down.”

Eventually, Elba decided to take a paternity test, which showed the child wasn’t his. “To be given that and then have it taken away so harshly,” he says, “was like taking a full-on punch in the face: POW.”

And then there was the fact that he’d mentioned the kid in public, the knowledge, even then, that at some point he’d be sitting in a room like this one, being asked about the worst, most humiliating thing that ever happened to him. “You know, the truth is—like, even admitting it, I’ll probably get laughed at for the rest of my life. But it is just tragic, and it happened.” He looks directly at me when he says this. “But I wasn’t knocked out. I stood right the fuck back up, and I ain’t aiming to take another punch in the face ever again. Do you understand what I’m saying? It happened to me. I moved on.”

In a paradoxical way, he says, it was freeing. “I’ve not been an angel in my life, either—do you know what I’m saying? So to a certain extent, what goes around comes around. But for me in the future, I’m about being comfortable. That’s it.”

What does that mean?

“Now that I’ve achieved some of the things that I’ve wanted to achieve, I’m not going to be a slave to it all of a sudden. I respect the artist that lives that way. The people that just go, ‘You’re going to hate me for what I just did, or you’re not going to understand why I made that film or that record or whatever, but what you are watching is someone that’s living their life.’ You know: I’m not watching you; you’re watching me.”

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