When Idris Elba takes on a new role – whether it’s fictional like Stringer Bell on “The Wire” or historical as Nelson Mandela in “Mandela: A Long Road to Freedom” – it usually has some degree of reality on which to base its performance.
This was not the case with his last character, a snarling red cartoon echidna named Knuckles.
As Elba explained in a video interview on Tuesday, “I’ve never met short, fluffy guys with big fists. I’m sorry, that’s not my experience. Maybe you did. , but not me.
To a generation of gamers, joins is best known as the rival to Sonic the Hedgehog, the high-speed star of the long-running Sega franchise.
the hit 2020 movie based on the gamewith Ben Schwartz voicing Sonic and Jim Carrey as his human nemesis, Dr. Robotnik, successfully translating the video game series into a film franchise blending live-action and animation.
That’s partly because Elba, 49, is an avid video game fan, and partly because he (like the author of this article) is the father of a 7-year-old son and he looked forward to making films they could share. like a family.
As Elba explained, “You and I remember those early early games and now here we are – our sons are like, ‘Wow, I can see ‘Sonic 2’ with my dad.” It is special.
(Even so, when I mentioned that my son and I had also bonded through video games, Elba warned, “Does he like Minecraft and Roblox? Be careful. Be aware. You could lose your child.”)
Elba spoke in more detail about his history as a player and the range of inspirations for Knuckles, including the actor’s own parents. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Were you a gamer before making this film?
One hundred percent. I literally have my Switch in my bag. When I started I had a Commodore 64 [a 1980s-era home computer]. Man, that’s how far it goes for me. And then when I could afford it, I got a Sega Genesis. And I’ve had pretty much every console since then. I’m an adult now, but I still play FIFA and driving games.
I started on a Commodore 64 too. It had a reputation for having incredibly easy-to-hack software.
Well, it’s funny you say that. I remember you could take a blank tape and copy a game onto it. And you had to remove the tabs from the tape so you don’t record over it. [Exaggeratedly serious voice] But of course all my games were authorized purchases, I bought them all.
How did the role of Knuckles first come to you?
I’ve done voiceovers in animation and I like to do things for younger audiences. But when my agent called with that, he couldn’t even finish his sentence. I was like, yeah, absolutely.
You have quite a job that your 7 year old son can’t see yet. Was it important that you did something that you could share with him?
[Laughs] There are many things that my child will not be able to see until he is an adult, and then he will be able to judge me. My daughter is 20 and she lived with me doing earlier work like “Finding Dory”. So it’s a very satisfying feeling for my son to see me doing something too.
What did you discuss with director Jeff Fowler about Knuckles when you first met?
We tried a few voices to figure out what it might sound like. He looks rather menacing… [exaggeratedly flexes arms] rrrr. In fact, I wanted to try playing it with a grating voice. I thought that might be funny. But they didn’t think it was funny and that idea was rejected immediately. [Laughs] But we tried different voices, cadences, accents. Knuckles isn’t a big talker, but when he talks he’s very direct.
You recently did the western “The Harder They Fall”. Was a villain like Rufus Buck still in your head when you discovered Knuckles?
Not “The Harder They Fall”, but my character in the Marvel world, in the “Thor” movies, heimdall, there is a sense of symmetry between these two voices. Listen, I have a deep voice and I could just use my voice as it is. I consciously didn’t want to look too much like Heimdall. But probably, yes, they sound exactly the same. [Laughs]
It was like you had a clear idea of where Knuckles came from and how you wanted him to sound. How would you explain it?
The first thing we noticed was that he’s from an ancient world — he’s a warrior of his tribe and English isn’t their first language. He doesn’t have a sense of humor the way Sonic does. He’s very dry and down-to-earth, and he uses English just to get his point across and move on. He has no time for niceties. We used this build as a way to start developing what it looks like.
Have you met people in real life who are very focused and intense on their goals, but maybe need more help in personal situations or don’t fully grasp sarcasm?
I work in an industry where there’s a lot of instructions being passed around left and right – do this, do that – and often the effective people are the ones who say to themselves, Hey, let’s do this. My parents are West African – they moved from Freetown, Sierra Leone to London in the early 70’s. So when English is not your first language and the culture is different – the meaning of English humour, it goes through a lot of people’s heads — I’ve seen it.
Growing up in London, did you feel that its culture and customs came more naturally to you than to your parents?
I was born there so I didn’t recognize it until I was old enough to understand that English culture was not their culture. I remember feeling that. My mother used to say: “At home in Africa, we do things like that. And I would never dare say it, but I used to think, we’re not in Africa — we’re in England. This was the beginning of my understanding of this clash of cultures. But I’ve been to Africa a few times, and I remember going to Sierra Leone and recognizing all these cultural things that I’d seen all my life but didn’t know where they came from. And there he was, at the origin of my parents. It was fascinating.
Do you prefer a voice-only role like Knuckles to your other past performances that involved motion capture?
Not necessarily. Motion capture is a fascinating art and discipline in itself. In this one, there would be no benefit to having any of my facial features for Knuckles. It wouldn’t make sense.
So you weren’t necessarily embittered after your experience with “Cats”?
Thanks for switching from hedgehogs to cats. I see what you did. From a performance perspective, it’s an incredible experience, being a feline. It’s something I experienced and will never have to experience again. This box has been checked.
Paramount was candid that they would like to do even more with Knuckles, including another movie “Sonic” and his own TV series. Was that part of the call for you?
It is now. Honestly, when I got it, I didn’t even know it would be on the table. I thought I was only doing one movie. But now the fact that I can probably play more Knuckles and maybe even immerse myself in its own world is awesome.
There’s another movie franchise that people would love to see you in, and we’re all looking forward to hearing about. Is this still a possibility for you?
You know which one I mean? The spy with the gun?
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
It has a famous code name with numbers –
Does he have numbers? Joins! Knuckles has numbers. No weapons.
Is it safe to say that we won’t be announcing any James Bond news in a Sonic the Hedgehog conversation?
Nooooooooo. No. I’m sorry to disappoint you.
That aside, would it surprise you if, many years from now, the roles you’re best known for are, say, Stringer Bell, Nelson Mandela, and Knuckles?
I think for any actor, the dream is to be able to play different roles and not be pigeonholed, and I feel like I was lucky to have that as a career. But it’s interesting. I was on a radio show, and they said, [booming radio announcer voice] “He played Luther. He did “Beasts of No Nation”. And now: it’s Knuckles. It’s like, uh, maybe you could say he played a seal in “Finding Dory” and a buffalo in “Zootopia,” he played a cat. And now it’s Knuckles. This range seems a little more appropriate. Going from Nelson Mandela to Knuckles is a bit long.