I feel lucky to be alive — Idris Elba

Golden Globe-winning actor and coronavirus survivor kicks off Ithra Talks online series

June 18, 2020
Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba.
Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba.

DHAHRAN — Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba sustained his connection with Saudi Arabia by talking about his life and his earlier visit to the Kingdom in 2018. He was the first speaker on the online speaker series “Ithra Talks”.

Idris Elba, while discussing his two decade-long career with online audiences, also described his visit to Saudi Arabia in 2018 as “warm and welcoming.”

Elba had made a short and quick visit to launch of Saudi Arabia’s $35 billion “Quality of Life” program of cultural, sports and entertainment initiative in Riyadh in 2018.

When questioned about that trip in Ithra Talks, Elba showed his sincerity as well his sense of humor by quipping, “My trip was very quick and brief, and I found it very warm and welcoming — and very warm, heat-wise!”

“It was incredibly warm and welcoming to me, in a surprising way, if I am honest. It was surprising because I wasn’t sure if my work had ever resonated in Saudi,” he said.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) launched its live online speaker series “Ithra Talks” with Elba recently, and it was hosted live on Ithra’s YouTube channel,

In his hour-long conversation, moderated by Saudi film director Ali Alsumayin, Elba opened up about his passion for acting and how his need to “jump into his soul” when playing a character can put him uncomfortably close to his own dark side.

He also discussed how COVID-19 is impacting the film industry and described how surviving coronavirus has given him a “new perspective on life.”

Ithra is following up with its second event in the series which will feature the US astrophysicist, author and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson on June 20 at 4 p.m. AST.

The following session, taking place on June 27, will welcome leading Norwegian architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, of the design firm behind Ithra’s iconic structure. He will be joined by the head of the Ithra Advisory Group, Fatmah Alrashid.

Designed to provoke insightful conversations and learning opportunities by bridging audiences with experts, “Ithra Talks” offers the chance to connect with world-renowned speakers in a virtual setting.

The series covers different topics including science, film, fashion and design, and allows locked down audiences to hear from, learn from and interact with the guests from the comfort of their own homes.

Ithra Talks Highlights: Idris Elba

Speaking about his own recent experience with COVID-19, with which he was diagnosed in March, Elba said: “I actually feel very lucky to be alive, if I’m honest. It’s almost given me a new lease of life ... a slightly different perspective on life. I’m very thankful that I’m good and healthy.”

In the wide-ranging discussion on YouTube, which was open to questions from the audience, the actor touched on a range of subjects relating to his life and his craft. Key highlights included:

On what makes a good actor

“A good actor tends to have been someone who has lived a life. Maybe that life has been good, or has been negative, all of that energy informs you as an actor. The more I live — the better I am as an Idris — the better I am as a character. I more I explore who I am, the more I can explore my characters. It’s important for an actor to build an encyclopedia of experiences.”

On becoming an actor

“I didn’t fall in love with acting until I was 17, when I went to college, I did acting, dance, directing, scene painting — but it was acting I fell in love with. Acting was the only way to release my energy.”

On putting your soul into it

“Everybody acts every day, except it’s not called acting. We all do some version of it. It’s role playing, it’s telling a story, it’s telling a lie, or omitting the truth.

“But when you watch a performance, what you are seeing is two things — the depth of the character as written, merged with the soul of an actor.

“I’m jumping into my soul, using my skills as someone who knows who to say words, or intonation, or using my voice, but it is my soul that is driving it.”

You can tell when an actor is going through the motions, but not putting their soul into a performance, he says: “You know why? You don’t believe it.”

On the psychological pressures of inhabiting dark characters

“Luther is a character who has real psychological damage. I’ve done five season, and after each season I’ve had to take a break directly after playing John Luther, as I can’t play John Luther without giving him part of my soul, but to play him I have to give him a part of my should that I suppress myself.”

“It’s a dark, angry, haunted part of my soul.”

On playing Nelson Mandela

“With Nelson Mandela it was a technical exercise. He’s very iconic — we understand how he looks, how he sounds. I don’t look or sound like Nelson Mandela, so I had to have a very technical approach to playing him, understand what his voice was doing, his language ... I had to really understand what his soul was doing — understand apartheid; Soweto, his tribe. I was a student of Nelson Mandela. And on top of that, there’s the application of my soul as an actor.”

On playing the commandant in “Beasts of No Nation”

“That was a very difficult character to like; he had very few qualities that I admired ... however, to play him I had to understand him, his circumstances, his background.

“My job as an actor is not to judge him, it’s to emulate him, it is to bring him to life to tell a story.”

On visiting Saudi Arabia

“It was incredibly warm and welcoming to me, in a surprising way, if I am honest. It was surprising because I wasn’t sure if my work had ever resonated in Saudi. My trip was very quick and brief, and I found it very warm and welcoming — and very warm, heat-wise!” — SG

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