Idris Elba: 'Playing Nelson Mandela Changed My Life'

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By Jesselle Maminta | December 9, 2013 12:49 PM EST

Cast member Idris Elba, who portrays Nelson Mandela in the film, arrives for the Royal Premiere of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" in London CREDIT: REUTERS

Less than 24 hours after Nelson Mandela died last Friday, Idris Elba says playing the role of the South African icon changed his life. 

The British actor tells Fairfax Media how his role as Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" gave him a platform for a chance to change the world, which the anti-apartheid icon has done many years ago. 

'It's highlighted this distribution of power,' said Elba, adding, 'It's highlighted how lucky I am to be in the position I am.'

'I'm not Nelson Mandela, but I could walk in his shoes, couldn't I? I could do more. And that's what's changed since playing this role. I feel that sort of get-up-and-go, wanting to do a bit more.'

He also talks about spending the night at Mandela's old cell in Robben Island, which affected him deeply. 

'When I got let out in the morning I was so f---ing angry,' he recalled. 'And that was an internal conflict: 'What the f--- is this about? F--- these people. Let's go and make this f---ing revolutionary movie about Mandela'. It underlines, it fuels the scenes.'

In another interview with The Daily Mail, Elba shares how his father Winston and Mandela are similar to each other, so much that he took the former as his inspiration for playing the latter. Winston was a Sierra Leone native who migrated to Britain shortly before Idris was born.

'Ironically I looked just like my old man. I designed my Mandela on my dad,' explained Elba.

In particular, Elba copied his father's speaking pattern and carried it over in speaking as Mandela. 

'There are certain ways that African men speak English, and Mandela and my dad sort of fall into a similar category,' added Elba further. 'They are very grammar-conscious and like to use long words.'

Mandela, whose autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom' became the basis of his film biopic, died shortly before the British premiere of the film. The news was announced by producer Anant Singh at the end of the film showing. Elba and producer Harvey Weinstein then took the stage to lead a moment of silence in memory of the leader. 

"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" opens on February 6, 2014. 

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