It is not easy to capture a man’s life in 152 minutes, let alone a life as illustrious and complex as Nelson Mandela’s. For London-born actor Idris Elba
who played the South African leader in the 2013 biopic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” the task was sure to feel Herculean.
“I could never really articulate what it felt like to play Mandela properly in an interview,” he admits in a phone conversation with CNN.
Though the actor is British, and physically bears little resemblance to the late South African leader, Elba recalls the unexpectedly warm reception he received, particularly from extras on set — many of whom were locals who lived through the apartheid era.
“South Africa is very embracing. Even though I’m not from South Africa and was about to play Mandela, they still gave me a lot of love,” he says. By the end of filming, many were even calling him “Madiba.”
The experience, life-changing in many ways, was bound to feel odd. For Elba, the best way to capture not just the man but the feeling of playing him on film, was through music.
Next week will see the release of “Mi Mandela,” a tribute to Mandela made up of songs written and produced by Elba himself, and performed by a mixture of South African and British talent, including Mumford & Sons, the Mahotella Queens and Maverick Sabre.