Luther star Idris: ‘The dark side’s been a struggle’

Idris Elba makes his much anticipated return as TV’s most compelling cop in the third series of Luther (BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm) which sees him dealing with a new love interest, the return of charismatic murderess Alice and a detective who is desperate to prove that he is corrupt. TV & Satellite Week interrogated Idris to find out more…

Tell us about his romance with newcomer Mary (Sienna Guillory)…
“He has not been in love since the death of his ex-wife Zoe and he and Mary have a peculiar relationship, but there is sexual chemistry there and she helps him navigate through his dark stuff so for the first time you see him smiling and putting his life first. But things don’t stay that way…”

What’s it been like having Ruth Wilson back as Alice?
“I love watching her bring Alice to life, our scenes are like playing tennis with one of the greatest players in the world. Wherever you hit that ball she hits it right back and keeps it interesting. Alice has a very specific job this series and she comes back with everything that we love about her, but maybe a little bit more. She really is one of the greatest female TV characters.”

Is this Luther as macabre as ever?
“Yes, but the dark side has been a struggle. My personal life has been so much darker when I get home than ever before because the stuff that happens this time is too grim to shake off. In one scene I have to try to take down a man who is hanging from a tree and it really stayed with me. I’m sure the crew think I’m grumpy on set, but it’s just that I don’t do small talk when I’m in that space.”

Why has Luther captured the imagination?
“Part of the appeal is its audaciousness. We tend not to do big and daft things like they do in America, but Luther is the best of British drama while also being larger than life. Luther himself is more like an American than a British detective too, he gets away with murder, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve seen it all before.”

Do you still love your DJing?
“Yes, it’s such a different discipline. People don’t care if you are an actor then, your job is to get them dancing and it makes me happy, I can relax and have a good time.”

You recently directed a Playhouse Presents episode – would you like to do more directing?
“Yes, it gave me a new perspective on being an actor and on what directors have to do. If I was offered an opportunity to direct a TV show and be part of the creation team, I’d probably take that over another big role, because it was such a good experience.”

And we’ll see you in cinemas next year playing Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom; what was that like?
“Amazing. It is about his whole life and we shot it in Cape Town and I went to Robben Island, which was emotional. His iconic voice was the hardest thing for me to achieve and I’m sure you’ll hear my east London slip in!”

How do you deal with fame and being recognised?
“I tend to keep my hat down in public. I am a down to earth fella, but I am not great with fame and understanding how much of myself I am allowed to give and it’s about navigating things and realising that I can’t go to the market or wherever without 20 people stopping me.”

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