The Story Behind That Bond Joke in Idris Elba's Luther: The Fallen Sun
Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, one of the things that floats to the front of my mind is a particular face that Idris Elba pulled on a red carpet for his debut film as a director, Yardie.
It was 2018. As Elba moved along the line of journalists waiting to chat to him, he came to Good Morning Britain’s roving reporter Divya Kohli. She had only one question.
“We just wanted to know if you liked it…” – Kohli was handed a plastic martini glass holding a lemon peel floating on some unidentified clear liquid – “shaken or stirred?”
“Stir-fried, actually,” Elba replied, grinning and immediately moving on. “Thank you.”
“Areyougonnabethenextdoubleohseven?” Kohli managed to shout after him.
“No,” said Elba, already several paces away.
The look that sets in on Elba’s face is something I just can’t stop seeing. It’s a grimace, and it’s resignation, and it’s very well subdued annoyance, and it’s bafflement, and it’s disappointment.
This was at the very peak of Idris-for-Bond mania, a time when literally every interview he did had to include That Question. Are you going to be James Bond, Idris? Do you think you’d make a good Bond? Why don’t you want to be James Bond, Idris? Why can’t you just do it for us, Idris?
Now in the new film Luther: The Fallen Sun, which is out today, there’s an exact replay of that Good Morning Britain moment. Luther’s offered a martini, but he turns it down flat. Neil Cross, the writer of Luther: The Fallen Sun, told the Radio Times it was “an extended middle finger and a wink” to the idea of Elba as Bond and the endless questioning about it.
Last time a filmmaker suggested making light of the Elba-for-Bond industrial complex, Elba demurred. In Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw, his bad guy Brixton taunts the heroes by declaring his newly bulletproof self “black Superman”. The script originally had it as “black James Bond,” but Elba suggested they change it as it was “too close to what everybody’s talking about”.
These days he’s clearly a little more relaxed about the whole thing, though clearly still somewhat wary of sparking the whole thing off again.
“The martini line is a bit cheeky, isn’t it?” Elba reflected to the Radio Times. “I was like, ‘Neil, are you sure you want to put that in?’”
As it is, it’s a nice little gag about the apparently never-ending quest to get Elba to say that yes – OK, fine, whatever, YES – he would like to play James Bond. But it also feels like polite but firm full stop to the whole thing.
If he’d wanted to, sure, he’d have been a great Bond. But he didn’t, so he wasn’t. That’s it.
There are many good reasons why Elba is right. He’s not the right age profile, for one thing, and if you’re after a Black actor for Bond then Daniel Kaluuya, Sope Dìrísù and John Boyega are much more like the kind of guy Eon are likely to look at.
But most of all, Elba just didn’t want to. As he’s said on numerous occasions, it feels like a lot of unnecessary stress.
“If I get it and it didn’t work, or it did work, would it be because of the color of my skin? That’s a difficult position to put myself into when I don’t need to,” he told Vanity Fair in 2019.
And yet people persist in asking. (“My Bond audition?” he replied to the Radio Times’ questioning this time. “Oh my God, no! I’ve been saying for years, no.”) If you stuck a microphone under the nose of any random person on the street and asked who should pick up the Aston Martin keys from Daniel Craig, Elba would probably still be one of the first few names out of their mouth. It’s just permanently parked there in the national consciousness.
Why? I think there are a couple of reasons. It feels like for some people, reflexively pulling for Elba – deeply likable, huge talent, known even to people who don’t like films and TV – is a convenient way of indicating that they’re not a massive stick-in-the-mud who thinks Bond can only be played by white guys with jawlines like Arctic ice shelves.
They’re not particularly invested in it, and they’re probably not sure who Daniel Kaluuya is, but they want to feel like they’re moving with the times. It’s an off-the-shelf opinion that becomes the start and end of a conversation. Next Bond then, what we saying? Idris Elba. Ah yeah, love Idris. He’d be great.
Another theory: one of the ways Britain keeps itself moving is to keep talking around and around a problem which has no solution. Endlessly discussing Elba as Bond has nothing to do with either Elba or Bond, really, just as mentioning how mad the weather’s been has nothing to do with sideways sleet, really. Sometimes the culture presents a topic which is exactly in the sweet spot of ‘intriguingly controversial’ and ‘simple to identify correct opinion’.
For a while, it was Lampard and Gerrard playing together in the middle for England. Before that, it was the euro. The eternal argument over whether Jaffa Cakes are cakes or biscuits fills the same hole. It’s not quite small talk, but it is some way from big talk. Presumably, back in the Middle Ages the peasant folk waiting for the potage to boil passed the time by arguing the toss between horseradish and fermented radishes as the perfect condiment.
It’s a safe way of tip-toeing toward having a real, actual conversation. But it’s all over now. Pack it away. With this one little gag, Idris Elba has looked at the martini glass you’re offering, smiled politely, and moved on.
Luther: The Fallen Sun is now streaming on Netflix.
From: Esquire UK