QUESTION: How was your experience working on this movie?
IDRIS ELBA: It was a great experience. It was one of my best filmmaking experiences. Great script, interesting team of actors and filmmakers. We were in Baton Rouge, shooting this film. The heat, I love the heat, so I was down. I loved that. It was a great experience. My character, Ben, had a very interesting arc, and I enjoyed playing it. I enjoyed exploring it.
QUESTION: Did you see any alligators while you were down there?
IDRIS ELBA: Yeah, one. A little baby one, and I had them remove it from the water before I got in.
QUESTION: What about the story or the character did you like playing?
IDRIS ELBA: Well, this is a religious man that has had an interesting background and changed his life. And now, he’s a religious man that debunks miracles. The reason for him doing that is to prove scientifically that God exists. So, Hilary’s character and Ben have a very interesting dynamic there because, obviously, she’s an atheist, and he is a man that wants to prove that God exists. We didn’t overplay that dynamic, but it was definitely underlining in all of our scenes. So, that was really fascinating, to play it but not play it.
QUESTION: How do you feel, personally, about the role?
IDRIS ELBA: You know, I would love to prove that there is a higher being. I would love to prove, scientifically, that there is a higher being, yes, indeed. But I’m not a religious man in that sense. I call myself a spiritual being, if you like.
QUESTION: There are a lot of hardcore Christian scientists who practice real science today. Do you think they’re trying to do that?
IDRIS ELBA: I think it has to be a personal thing. For me, personally, I want to say that if I could prove it personally, to me, so, let’s say I had a moment with God, I would prove for myself that to my satisfaction, that would be what it is. When we were researching this film that argument popped up all the time. It just added another layer to what I was doing, what I was building as a character. That’d be an interesting question for Hilary because she delved into the world of skeptics in preparation for this film. And I hadn’t because he wasn’t skeptical, but he was a scientist.
QUESTION: How did you feel about being the one going down into the darkened crypt when everyone in the audience is saying, ‘Why is he going down there?’
IDRIS ELBA: Well, while we were making it, Stephen, the director, wanted us to be aware that we’re not making a horror movie here. So, we are going down into this crypt. We’re going into a stairway because there are 100,000 locusts chasing you. You’re going to stay in that stairway and chill out for a second. So, the whole time we were making this movie, we stayed away from the horror clichés, or moments like that.
QUESTION: And you spend a lot of time in what looks like pretty icky water, and there are bugs and everything.
IDRIS ELBA: The bayous. If you’ve ever been down there, that’s what it looks like. That’s what it is. So, there wasn’t much in terms of green screen. The most horrific part for me was actually the locust scene, where we had to really use these locusts, and had them flown in. They’re these huge bugs. And there’s this one scene where the screen is filled up with locusts. And they’re buzzing across the screen. And we shot that in this big container, and the camera was underneath. And then, I had to sort of dig in, and that was horrific for me because I can’t stand bugs. These bad boys are just huge, and they fly. And they leave droppings everywhere.
QUESTION: Were those controlled tanks in any way?
IDRIS ELBA: Well, yeah, to a certain extent. They took an area and put a wire mesh underneath it, and then filled it with this red gunk, which is sort of like blood. But there was one baby crocodile there, and a few snakes running around, and trust me, I did the checking. I was, like, ‘Look, dudes, that water safe?’ I fell into it once, as well.
QUESTION: Tell me about working with Hilary, and playing characters that are so close.
IDRIS ELBA: Right. I didn’t know Hilary before. I knew who she was, of course, but I was expecting someone that was going to be very prepared. I like to be prepared as an actor, so there was a mutual respect as we walked into it. And that just helped our relationship off-screen, so that we could take it onscreen. She’s a very friendly, very open person open to a lot of discussion in terms of what we’re doing, doesn’t like to rehearse as much, but just likes to talk about, ‘What are we really doing? What is it about? Who’s in it? What are we saying?’ I really enjoyed that process with her. And I think that energy transferred onto the screen. In fact, the whole team, from the director down to the crew, we all really had a good time making this movie. As dark as this film is, and as complex as it is, it was a very interesting experience being in the bayou, being in Louisiana at that time. It was just a really bonding experience.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the atmosphere on the set both before and after Hurricane Katrina?
IDRIS ELBA: It was just a good film. We’re doing this very complex film, and it’s very technical and rigid. And of course Katrina comes, changes our lives. And then, when we come back, there’s a completely different atmosphere to the set. A lot of the people were locals that had lost their home or family members. And so here we are, doing this film about acts of God’s, and it just really changed the way we saw what we were doing. If this room decided to take off 50 feet in the air and then drop down, we would all look at each other for the rest of our lives differently. And that’s the way it was. It really gelled us together.
QUESTION: If something like that happened to me, I’d be very leery of going back.
IDRIS ELBA: Well, maybe you would and maybe you wouldn’t. There were discussions in terms of, ‘I’m not sure what to do.’ But there was the sense of, ‘I’m really glad I’m alive right now.’ The images on the news were so horrific, and what was really going on, 80 miles up the road from us, here we are, doing what we are paid to do, doing what we love. And yes, some of us lost our homes, but there was a sense of, ‘You know what, I’m really glad I’m alive.’ And that transferred into what we were doing on the film. Everything from the characters in the forefront to the background, to the environment, the attention to detail was heightened because of the subject matter.
QUESTION: There’s a great line in the movie. It says, ‘God protects his children even if they don’t know it yet.’ Have you ever looked back at your life and thought, ‘Well, thank God that happened?’
IDRIS ELBA: Well, yes, but not God so much as what I like to call my spirituality, my faith. Yeah, there have been plenty of opportunities where I thought, ‘Damn, I should have gotten that part,’ or whatever it was. And it turns out that it was for the better, absolutely. And I believe in that. I believe in that every day now. I try and say, ‘Well, there’s nothing good or bad that is going to come to me that isn’t supposed to, one way or another.’ And I believe in that, yeah.