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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2010

Elba gets heist-happy

BY IAN SPELLING
NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE

"There's not much that's different," he says. "It is part of a genre of films. But I think this one skews a little bit younger just from the different types of cats in the film. I liked the fact that they wanted to do a stylish heist movie, and I just really wanted to do something that was for the masses, if you will."

Set to open nationwide Friday, Takers stars Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen, Michael Ealy, Elba, and Paul Walker as longtime pals and partners in crime with a pact to commit only one big bank robbery a year. However, they're convinced by a former partner (T.I.), who is fresh out of prison, to break their rule in order to chase a mega-score that would enable them to retire nice and early. Pulling off that last robbery won't be easy, though, with a dogged cop (Matt Dillon) on their tails and Russian mobsters after the same payday.

Elba plays Gordon Betts, the crew's leader. The actor is best known for his role as Stringer Bell in HBO's The Wire (2002-2004), and he's since appeared in American Gangster (2007), Rocknrolla (2008), Obsessed (2009), seven episodes of The Office, and The Losers (2010).

"I liked the idea that Gordon has led a life, that he's a real career criminal," Elba says, speaking by telephone from a hotel in Washington. "I liked the idea of playing an English character in an American story, an American film.

"They got some good actors to come in and do this movie and just have a good laugh with it," he says. "Once everyone clicked, it really came to life on the set. Chemistry is something you have to get when you're shooting. You have to wait for that payoff and, hopefully, it'll be there on the screen."

Elba goes on to espouse the virtues of an ensemble cast: There is far less pressure on any individual actor. It's more entertaining for the audience to watch several actors bounce off one another. Audiences have seen too many movies about lone wolves, with superstar leading men doing their thing. And so on.

That's true, true and true. On the other hand, ensemble movies can suffer from a lack of character development, because there's simply not enough time to fully flesh out all the players.

"That's another reason why chemistry is so important," Elba says. "You rely on the director, what he wants to see come of these scenes. I spent a lot of time with the actors I was in scenes with, rehearsing and talking about the scenes and the characters, because we wanted to bring a reality to it. If you believe that these guys know each other, you'll buy into them more without needing to see it all.

"So it was important that we all be on the same page, the actors, and we worked on that, making sure that we all came across as a unit."

Elba, 37, has a slew of projects completed and on the way. He can be seen now on the Showtime series The Big C, working a four-episode arc as the love interest of star Laura Linney's cancer-stricken character.

"I loved working with Laura," Elba says. "It's a great show. It's a really good, funny, lighthearted character that I play, which is a little different for me. It's four and out for now, though - no plans for me to go back."

He also co-stars as Heimdall in Thor, a Marvel Comics-based opus directed by Kenneth Branagh and featuring Chris Hemsworth as the thunder god, with Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, and Stellan Skarsgard rounding out the cast.

"Thor is going to be a big film, a big film," Elba says. "I always want to do something I haven't done before, and playing a Marvel comic kind of hero character has always been like a secret passion for me. So now I've gotten the chance to do it."

In the fall Elba also will be seen as the title character, a detective overwhelmed by the harrowing cases he investigates, in the British crime drama Luther. The six-part show recently aired on BBC-1, and will premiere on BBC America in October.

And then there's Legacy, an indie drama about a former black-ops officer (Elba) hiding out in Brooklyn and plotting to expose the man behind a mission gone horribly wrong - his own brother, a senator (Eamonn Walker). Elba produced Legacy, which is currently on the film-festival circuit as its backers seek a theatrical release.



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