Idris Elba, one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men, recently shared with Esquire how devastated and bewildered he was when he lost his father, Winston, to lung cancer in 2013. He and his dad had been celebrating Idris’ Golden Globe-nominated performance as Nelson Mandela in the biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Winston in fact had cried saying, “I cannot believe my son has been asked to play that great man,” and remarked that Idris’ portrayal of the anti-apartheid revolutionary reminded him of his own father. Idris replied, “It’s funny you say that because I was trying to be you.”

Following the loss of his dad, the British star felt he had little to offer in his work as an actor. “I got to a place where I wasn’t even living anymore. I was becoming a robot with my work. I have no fear of jumping out of burning cars or out of buildings on set, but in reality, I couldn’t run one hundred meters. I just felt out of touch with reality,” he told the magazine.

When he started acting in England, Idris noticed he was only being cast in supporting roles. Realizing lead roles were not likely to come his way in England, Elba moved to New York City where he believed he had a better chance to procure the kinds of parts which would expand his acting horizons and further his career goals. “I had to transform the way the industry saw me. I had to climb out of that box,” he said. Sure enough, once in the United States, Elba received the choice role of the business-minded heroin dealer Stringer Bell in the HBO series The Wire. The part went on to open many doors for the compelling performer.

But as he struggled with a grief-triggered midlife crisis, Elba recalled his father’s words of wisdom: “Fear nothing. Do what you want to do, but be educated and intelligent and confident about it.” This advice inspired him to take things to the extreme: As he’d long secretly wanted to race cars, among other vehicles, Elba hosted a short Discovery UK series called Idris Elba: No Limits seeking adrenaline-releasing, fiercely competitive motorsports. Indeed Elba would go on to shatter an 88-year-old speeding record while driving a 626-horsepower car at over 180 miles per hour. No wonder there are rumors that Elba is in consideration to play the next James Bond!

Feeling invigorated, Elba bravely committed to starring as a ruthless rebel leader named Commandment in the horrific West African war film Beasts of No Nation. The role won him many accolades including yet another Golden Globe nomination. Altogether, Elba has been nominated four times for a Golden Globe, winning one for his performance in the BBC America drama Luther.=

These days, Elba has so much momentum in his acting career that he’s concerned he actually might burning himself out. The Hollywood superstar has several films that are soon to be released. He plays a lone gunslinger in the western action horror film The Dark Tower; stars opposite Kate Winslet in the romance-disaster film The Mountain Between Us; appears again as Sentry of Asgard, Heimdall in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok; and plays opposite Jessica Chastain in the underground-poker drama Molly’s Game. Clearly, Elba has reclaimed his zest for life.

Every actor goes through tough personal experiences that have the potential to affect his or her performances. In Elba’s case, it was grief that presented a serious and indeed an overwhelming challenge. Granted, his approach to dealing with that grief was unconventional–to say the least! But have you ever experienced similar hurdles, feeling like you had to phone in performances due to personal matters? If so, what helped you to hang in there and overcome?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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