In a recent interview on Complex’s “Hot Ones,” Idris Elba talked about how his parents raised him to be an honest person.
But during that same conversation, the actor admitted to suppressing the truth so he could land the role of Stringer Bell, the iconic character in HBO’s “The Wire” that ran from 2002 to 2008.
For those not familiar with the show, it was set in Baltimore and focused on the illegal drug trade within the city. It also devoted entire seasons to different perspectives, whether the story was told from the angle of City Hall, the local school system or the drug crews themselves.
But before Elba would secure the part of Bell, he had to first leap over one major hurdle. And that was to pretend he was from Baltimore instead of East London. He had to hide his British accent as well.
It wasn’t Elba’s idea to bend the truth, however, it was that of casting director Alexa Fogel, who badly wanted him to audition.
“So David Simon specifically told Alexa Fogel … ‘Listen, this is about Baltimore. I don’t want to see no non-Americans for any of these roles,” Elba recalled. “Alexa Fogel was a casting director that was really into seeing new talent. … She said ‘I love you, but you got to promise me you can’t tell him you’re from East London.’”
The actor said he lived in Brooklyn, New York, at the time, and Fogel told him to sit in a local barbershop all day to become familiar with American accents.
Elba eventually read for the role, Simon liked what he saw, and the actor made it to the fourth audition. But that’s when his secret would start to unravel, because he was asked about his upbringing.
“Now this is the moment of truth,” said the 46-year-old. “My parents told me not to lie, you gotta look someone in the eye and be honest. I have lied, it’s never worked out for me.”
“I said ‘Listen, mate, I’m from London, bro,’” Elba continued. “Don’t fire Alexa, because she told me not to tell you guys. And he jumped up and said, ‘I knew it, I knew it.’”
Simon then offered Elba the job, but it wasn’t for the role of Avon Barksdale — which eventually went to Wood Harris — it was for Stringer Bell, the consigliere and co-boss of a major Baltimore drug operation.
Next, Elba will be seen as the criminal mastermind Brixton Lore in the action film “Hobbs & Shaw,” which hits theaters Friday, August 2.
You can see him talk about getting the part of Bell below starting at the 16:16 mark.