DAYS OF THUNDER: We’re counting down to Friday’s release of “Thor” with a month of on-the-set reports, exclusive photos and interviews with the cast and crew of the first truly cosmic Marvel Studios film. Today: Co-star Idris Elba.
I’ve seen “Thor” and Idris Elba is a dominating screen presence as the grim, glowering Heimdall, the all-seeing, ever-listening sentry of Asgard. But not everyone is thrilled to see the British-born actor from “The Wire,” “The Losers” and “Luther” in the role. In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, the actor said he has heard the purists who say that a black actor shouldn’t portray a character rooted in Norse mythology but he is also hearing a chorus of complaint that sounds to his ears like racism.
“Purist comic-book fans are one thing; out-and-out racism is another,” the 38-year-old actor told journalist Leslie Gornstein in a Q&A published Sunday. “Of course, the more I speak on this topic, the more I fuel it. But, look, if people have a problem with me playing the character, just don’t go see the movie, you know?”
There’s a website calling for a boycott of Marvel for inserting “left-wing social engineering into European mythology” with the casting of Elba and the dust-up has been covered in the British press dating back to last year.
Early on Elba took the stance that in a film as fantastical as “Thor” it seems a bit odd to fixate on one authenticity topic. The Guardian picked up this quote in April 2010: “There has been a big debate about it: can a black man play a Nordic character? Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the color of my skin is wrong? I was cast in ‘Thor’ and I’m cast as a Nordic god. If you know anything about the Nords, they don’t look like me but there you go. I think that’s a sign of the times for the future. I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that’s good.”
Critics of the casting choice point out that in the Poetic Edda, the collection of poems that shape much of our contemporary view of Norse myth, Heimdall is even described as “the whitest of the gods” although some scholars have translated that to “the brightest” the gods. This new film, of course, is based on the Marvel Comics version of Thor and Asgard (and even that source material is in wild flux considering close to 50 years of revision, contradiction and cross-media interpretations) and the otherworldy characters are presented essentially as aliens who use a super-science (that appears to humans as magic) and were deified by the dazzled earthlings of antiquity. All of that makes arguments of authenticity a little slippery.
In the new interview, Elba also touched on his part in the upcoming “Ghost Rider” film, which again stars Nicolas Cage but is being framed as a savvier adaptation of the Marvel Comics character who has been a cult favorite for decades. Asked about his “alcoholic monk” character and the martial arts prospects of that role, Elba said the interviewer was half-right with the question. “That’s a pretty good description of him … except there are no martial arts. There is some fighting, but in the end he resorts to a gun — sorry. He’s also French. That’s the other part of the description you missed. I kind of adopted an Algerian French accent for that role and had a great time doing it. I liked playing that part.”
Elba praised the star of the film: “Nic is a very generous actor …. When you have an actor of that size and weight, who has been around that long, and you have an ensemble cast, he doesn’t have to do all the things he does to make the cast comfortable. He’ll feed you lines himself again and again and again. He’s very polite to the crew, talks to everyone, doesn’t mind stepping up to his own mark to line up a shot [instead of using a stand-in]. That is generous.”
He also said the special-effects approach of the “Thor” shoot taxed his stamina: “I did green screen for the first time! I wouldn’t like to do a whole movie of green screen, though. You kind of forget the plot a little — like being in a Broadway play and doing it over and over and forgetting your line halfway through. It’s a bit of, ‘Wait, what is this again? Oh, right, Frost Giant. OK.’ “
Elba declined to talk about his work in the upcoming Ridley Scott film, “Prometheus“: “If I did, I would probably be fired. I’m bound to silence.”
– Geoff Boucher
RECENT AND RELATED
GALLERY: Five decades of ‘Thor’ covers