Under normal circumstances, you would never associate the formidable and multidimensional Idris Elba, the hewed Hollywood heartthrob, with kid fare in the funny and entertaining Disney film Zootopia, which opens March 4. This is a long way from his role as a hardcore killer and kingpin in his breakout role in the blockbuster cable series “The Wire.”
In fact, this is a galaxy’s distance from anything the British-born thespian has ever taken on.
But the man who delivered an uncanny and brilliant performance as the South African revolutionary in Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom, who unnerved us as a sociopathic stalker in No Good Deed, gained our sympathy in as the victim of a crazed stalker in Obsessed, riveted us as Commandant in Beast of No Nation and thrilled us in American Gangster, has shown us unequivocally and incontrovertibly that his vast acting range enables him to take on any role – especially the role of a cartoon character.
In fact, that same booming baritone that drives women wild worldwide is perfect for the voice of a grizzled, hard-edged and formidable Police Chief Bogo in Zootopia, a mammal metropolis where various animals live and thrive. Zootopia is is the story of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. Unfortunately, that means working with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a wily fox who makes her job even harder.
For Elba, the opportunity to play in Zootopia alongside (figuratively not literally) a star-studded cast in a film aimed for a younger audience, something totally different from his aforementioned portfolio of films, was something he could not pass up.
“It was the opportunity to play something different, something that wasn’t that serious and I get to have a little bit of fun. I read the script and thought it was a funny script. I like animation and bringing characters to life in this way was definitely appealing to me. But playing a big guy who is also soft. I really enjoyed it.”
Although balancing his work schedule around Zootopia, and it was a challenge giving life to a character inside a room by himself, Elba said he would do it again in a heartbeat.
“Definitely, it opened a new world for me, where I used my voice instead of my face. It was like puppetry. You’re so used to using your face, your emotions, your body and you have to make that character feel alive,” he said. “And that was a massive challenge, and I loved that. I would definitely love to do that some more.”