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Idris Elba ‘too street’ to play James Bond?



Idris Elba’s chances of being cast as the first black screen Bond took a hit this week when the author Anthony Horowitz claimed the star of Luther and The Wire was “too street” to be Britain’s favourite spy.

Hackney-born Elba, 42, has been one of the frontrunners to play 007 since leaked Sony emails suggested he was being considered to replace Daniel Craig. Might the filmmakers now be influenced by the writer’s comments?

Horowitz gave his opinion while doing promotional interviews for his new James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis: “For me, Idris Elba is a bit too rough to play the part. It’s not a colour issue. I think he is probably a bit too ‘street’ for Bond.”

Horowitz, who found fame with the teenage spy series Alex Rider before going on to write for shows including Poirot and Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War, was quick to point out that his objection wasn’t race based. He said he’d be happy for another black actor, such as the Hustle star Adrian Lester, to don the famous tuxedo.

So what is it about Elba that doesn’t float the author’s boat? Growing up in urban London, developing some form of street smarts was a necessity. Just being aware of our environment – of who is who and what they might do – is an incredibly useful life skill. One I would have thought a secret agent might find useful.

Entering the world of work, it quickly became obvious that appearing too “street” would play against me. It would be assumed that I was unpolished, and that I would cut corners. My bosses might also fear how I would come across to clients or customers. Modifying my accent and manner helped me put colleagues’ minds at rest. I tell anyone that asks, the most important thing I learned at university was how not to scare middle-class people.

Sometimes this required way of behaving and speaking is given the false label of “professionalism”, but usually when you ask people to define this required skill the response is ambiguous. This kind of social filter closes down opportunities and leads to monocultured work places.

Some of the brightest, most able people I know never succeeded in the corporate world because they were unable to scale this credibility barrier. Often they would give up after repeatedly failing at the interview stage, with phrases such as “the wrong cultural fit” ringing in their ears.

Ignoring the fact that Elba is an accomplished actor who has expertly adapted to play an American gangster, a Norse god and a South African icon, Horowitz feels that the British actor lacks the ability to be suave. James Bond has an exalted position in British culture. He is the symbol of a Britain and a Britishness that probably never really existed. This makes it hard to define or emulate his qualities: quintessentially British means different things to different people.

For an upper middle-class writer, this might mean they went to the right school and know what cutlery to use with their quinoa salad, but for the rest of the country this definition is much broader.

There is, of course, no law that says Bond needs to evolve with society. He can remain fixed in an imaginary past with outdated views and irrelevant skills. But if M’s door is closed to anyone with street smarts or a London swagger, Bond’s Britain will be a little bit less safe.

Horowitz went on to explain his reservations about Elba: “Is it a question of being suave? Yeah.” In the writer’s view, Elba just doesn’t measure up, but if suave means charming, sophisticated, charismatic and gallant, I know dozens of girls and a more than a few guys who would very much beg to differ.

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