Idrissa Akuna Elba was born on September 6, 1972, in the Hackney, London, England. An only child of Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian descent, Elba eventually attended the National Youth Music Theatre’s training programs. He landed a number of British television roles and worked with his father in a car factory before eventually making his way to America. He settled in Brooklyn, New York, and Jersey City, New Jersey, working as a doorman at the comedy club Carolines and DJing while struggling to make ends meet.
TV & Films
‘The Wire’ Breakthrough
Idris Elba got his major break starring as crime boss “Stringer” Bell on several seasons of the highly acclaimed HBO drama The Wire. Other parts followed, though Elba later lamented that he was continuing to get lots of offers for gangster roles during this time.
‘Daddy’s Little Girls,’ ‘Thor,’ ‘Prometheus’
The statuesque Elba transitioned to a big-screen career as well, landing film roles in a variety of genres. He starred as a mechanic in director Tyler Perry’s feature Daddy’s Little Girls(2007), a general in the zombie-laden 28 Weeks Later (2007) and a devoted husband opposite Beyoncé Knowles in Obsession (2009). Sci-fi/fantasy beckoned to the actor as well, as seen with his roles as Norse god Heimdall in Marvel Comics’ Thor (2011), directed by Kenneth Branagh, and as ship captain Janek in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012). Other films on Elba’s roster from this period include This Christmas (2007) and RocknRolla (2008).
Elba also continued his TV work over the years with series like The Office, The Big C and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The actor has received multiple Emmy Award nominations and won a 2012 Golden Globe Award for his lead role on the BBC America series Luther, portraying a driven yet tortured detective whose conduct brings up ethical issues.
‘Pacific Rim,’ ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’
In the summer of 2013, Elba was seen as Stacker Pentecost in Guillermo del Toro’s robotics-and-monsters flick Pacific Rim. That fall, he earned raves for his portrayal of South African president Nelson Mandela in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, starring opposite Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela. The actor earned Oscar buzz and was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the famed South African activist. (He lost the Globe to Matthew McConaughey, who won for his lead role in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club.)
‘No Good Deed,’ ‘Beasts of No Nation’
In 2014, Elba starred in the thriller No Good Deed, directed by Sam Miller and co-starring Empire‘s Taraji Henson. The following year he played a military commandant on the acclaimed Netflix drama Beasts of No Nation and continued his starring role onLuther, earning Golden Globe nominations for both.
‘Star Trek Beyond,’ ‘Zootopia,’ ‘The Dark Tower’
During a busy 2016, Elba appeared in A Hundred Streets, Bastille Day and Star Trek Beyond. He also provided voice work for the features Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Finding Dory. The following year, Elba portrayed Roland Deschain/The Gunslinger in The Dark Tower, based on Stephen King’s series, and co-starred with Kate Winslet in the survival tale The Mountain Between Us.
‘Yardie,’ ‘Hobbs & Shaw,’ ‘Cats’
After reprising the role of Heimdall for Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Elba made his feature film directing debut with the crime drama Yardie (2018). In 2019, he launched the Netflix series Turn Up Charlie, in which he plays a DJ, before returning to villainous roles for both the action-packed Hobbs & Shaw and the big-screen adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats.
The actor has also enjoyed a successful music career as a DJ, rapper and producer, going by the name Big Driis. He was featured on the 2016 Macklemore & Ryan Lewis single “Dance Off,” as well as the 2019 track “Boasty,” by Wiley, Stefflon Don and Sean Paul.
Among his high-profile DJ gigs, Elba handled the music at the May 2018 wedding of Harry and Meghan Markle, and spun a set at Coachella 2019. His record label, 7Wallace Music, is named after a London residence, with a nod to Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls.
Wife, Children and Personal
Elba married American model Sabrina Dhowre in April 2019. He was previously married to makeup artist Hanne “Kim” Nørgaard, with whom he had daughter Isan, and real estate lawyer Sonya Nicole Hamlin. Elba also fathered a son, Winston, with former girlfriend Naiyana Garth.
In March 2020, Elba was among the first public figures to announce that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.