Yet, if you watch the trailer released for Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday this week, you would be forgiven for thinking the anti-apartheid champion was more Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon.”
The two-minute, 30-second trailer is full of ominous, pounding music with more than one explosion and numerous gunshots.
“The leader you know, the man you don’t,” the film promises.
While producers The Weinstein Company have released smaller promotional “teasers,” the most recent trailer provides a longer look at Elba’s interpretation of Mandela.
While you wouldn’t confuse the two men, those who know Mandela and who have seen the trailer are impressed.
Sello Maake Ka Ncube, a South African actor, has played Mandela on stage. He praised Elba’s turn over other actors who have played the role: Morgan Freeman, David Harewood, Dennis Haysbert, Clarke Peters, Sidney Poitier and the aforementioned Glover.
“All have made the same error: they try to impersonate him rather than interpret him,” Ncube told the Guardian. “There is hope that Idris Elba will interpret the role for himself and it might be a seminal performance. We’re still waiting for a seminal performance.”
The film covers Mandela's early life through his time as a young lawyer leading the civil rights movement with the African National Congress.
He's working with outstanding material with a script by William Nicholson ("Gladiator") under direction from Justin Chadwick ("The Other Boleyn Girl").
Elba is rousing as he delivers Mandela's famous speech to a judge that sentences him to life in prison for terrorism: "My Lord, it is not I, but the government that should plead guilty," and "freedom — it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Elba is one of film’s hottest actors.
The 40-year-old Londoner just finished the surprise hit “Pacific Rim” and appeared in last summer’s big-budget “Prometheus.” Starring roles in TV’s “Luther” and “The Wire” would rate high among fans as his best.
As for “Long Walk to Freedom,” there’s already some who consider it Academy Award material.
“My film’s about his entire life,” Elba told the Guardian. “Anyone wanting to understand who Mandela was should go and watch my film.”
Mandela hits theaters on Nov. 29.