Call me Elba, Idris Elba

Ethan Sapienza, Staff Writer

There have been many iterations of James Bond, some good (Sean Connery, Daniel Craig), some less than stellar (sadly, Timothy Dalton) and some outright strange (Pierce Brosnan). However, all have been white. The masculine ideal is undoubtedly defined by who fills the role, helping the series achieve success and relevancy or failing the celebrated novels. As we find Craig nearing the end of his tenure, we enter into a discussion over who should be his successor.

In the current milieu of fantastic working British actors, the subject is ripe for debate. Few candidates have been as popular and divisive as the illustrious Idris Elba, whose credits span multiple genres and whose physique makes me tremble with inadequacy. The Bond rhetoric has many issues, from misogyny to alcoholism and its outright iteration of requirements for being a gentleman, but this is the character of Bond, and it would be phenomenal to see Elba’s interpretation of the British spy because he is stunning  skillfully and visually.

His 6’3″ height makes him stand out both in a crowd and onscreen, his body elicits thoughts of an Adonis and his striking face with deep-set eyes can convey a range of complex emotions, giving him an ageless air. Elba has a physical gravitas that is difficult to match  a virile presence that is genuine, effortless and wholly captivating. While Connery may be seen as the standard for oozing suavity, Elba could be the first Bond to simply stand in front of the camera and sell the character. And that’s without mentioning his actual acting prowess.

In “Luther,” the popular BBC series that is arguably his biggest credit, Elba plays the scarred and occasionally crooked detective John Luther with aplomb. He’s a tormented, dominating figure, whose nuances could suck the air out of the show with a lesser actor. Elba handles it with utter resolution. He commands the series with his mere physical presence, compels it with subtle fluctuation between human empathy and demonic anger, and allows it to succeed by giving space to formulate chemistry and connection between his fellow cast members.

The show is undoubtedly dark, something Elba has not shied away from. His upcoming role as an African warlord in Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation” is not the kind of role that will win over hearts. Considering this theme, Elba seems like a natural fit to follow Craig, whose films have been marked by a more realistic, gloomy take. The trend makes sense, as Bond matched contemporary thrillers (both the “Bourne” and “Dark Knight” trilogies) and provided a level of seriousness and severity that had been lacking.

Discussion of Elba’s skin color is important as well, in terms of his eligibility for the role. One such assertion was that he’s too street, supposedly in response to his roles on “Luther” and “The Wire,” which is a horrible accusation and just one of many reminders that racism is so prevalent in film. The industry suffers from this myopia, bluntly favoring white males, which would make an African American portraying the classically white Bond a powerful move.

Although having Elba succeed Craig would be a way to diversify film, in the end it is important again to stress Elba’s own capabilities. Elba is a great actor, and my goodness  would he make a great Bond.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday Oct. 22 print edition. Email Ethan at [email protected]