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Chadwick: Elba was my first choice


Idris Elba was Justin Chadwick's top choice to play Mandela

Idris Elba was Justin Chadwick's top choice to play Mandela

Idris Elba was Justin Chadwick's top choice to play Mandela

Director Justin Chadwick has revealed Idris Elba was always his first choice to play Nelson Mandela in the biopic of his life.

The British filmmaker came aboard Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom after the project has been in the works for several years. He revealed he didn't want to get a "lookalike" for the role and insisted they get an actor "without any baggage".

Justin said: "My first choice was always Idris Elba. It had to be Idris Elba.

"The producer Anant Singh had written to Mandela in prison and Mandela had given him the rights to the book about 16 years ago. And they tried to make the film and they thought about different actors, big Hollywood stars.

"But when I came on three years ago - so I'm a relative newcomer to the project - my first thing was, 'We're not doing a looky likey version. I want someone who is subtle and true and young and real and somebody that didn't come with any baggage, and be able to capture the spirit of the man.

"I'd seen The Wire, and there's great subtlety with Idris Elba as an actor and so he was my first choice."

And the director insisted Idris and co-star Naomie Harris, who plays Mandela's wife Winnie, were extremely brave to take on the roles when they knew he planned to film on location in South Africa, with real local people as extras.

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Justin said: "It's a brave actor who would be prepared to work like that. I was creating 360 degree sets, we're working in Soweto, in areas where people are living, people who lived the struggle, they're living the struggle today in South Africa.

"So when you walk out on stage as Mandela there's five thousand people, in front of you, this is not CGI, they're real people who know their leader. And however openhearted and warm they are as South Africans, they will not take a lie.

"And if Idris hadn't got it right, they'd have had him, they'd have had me. This is their lives, this is their story.

"And that was my way of making the film right from the beginning, I said in the first conversation I had with Idris. And Idris is a brave actor because he was prepared to work like that. And Naomie too.

"What I hadn't accounted for was this chemistry between them that just seared through the screen. A brilliant energy to be around and that was the heart of the movie."

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