Idris Elba, the British actor who memorably portrayed The Wire’s Stringer Bell, has had a hit-or-miss post-HBO career; he’s been in stuff you’ve probably seen (American Gangster, 28 Weeks Later), as well as stuff you probably wish you hadn’t (Prom Night, The Unborn). Tonight, Elba breaks his post-Wire television sabbatical when he appears on The Office, in the first part of a six-episode arc. He also stars in next month’s Obsessed, a thriller in which he’s caught in a love triangle between Beyoncé and Ali Larter. Elba spoke to Vulture about the end of Stringer Bell, his D.J.-ing gigs, and working in the U.S. illegally.
Let’s get The Wire questions out of the way. How did you feel about the way Stringer Bell was killed off?
I think the scene is quite powerful. We sort of made it up on the day, how we were going do it. I saw it once; I don’t typically watch my own work. But yeah, it was good.
Have you been typecast since The Wire ended?
I haven’t played too many gangsters. A lot of it is trying to convince people that I can do things outside of gangsters. So I’ve gone the long route trying to do well-rounded characters.
And you’re also freelance D.J.-ing?
When I first moved to New York in 1998, I was D.J.-ing to survive. I wasn’t really allowed to work properly, because of my visa, so I would just do it to make some money while I was auditioning during the day. I used to D.J. at places like Guernica, Madame X, Ludlow Bar, and Pianos a couple of times.
And now you’re doing parties for Russell Simmons and Michael Jordan.
Yeah, bigger parties. But now it’s more celebrity stuff, it’s not as authentic. It’s not about me making the crowd move, it’s about my presence. I’m thinking of turning back to the underground scene. When I was working with
Greg Paul Greg Poole, who’s an old-school New York D.J., he and I would play all the progressive house stuff.
How did The Office role come about?
The creators of the show called me, said they wanted to put me in as this new character, that I’d be perfect for it, and I was honored, so I said yeah. I’m a fan of the show. I play Michael Scott’s new boss that comes in from corporate, and a lot of changes happen around the office because of my character. I’m still playing the straight guy, but he’s kind of got a bit of a quirk to him.
What’s your comedy background?
I don’t have a background in comedy at all. I don’t get an opportunity to do it as much as I’d like to. You know, my daughter would tell you that I’m a goofball, but that’s about it.
Are you flattered to be worthy of a Beyoncé–Ali Larter catfight in Obsessed?
When you put it that way, I guess I am. They’re both very, very beautiful women. And the story line is really quite extraordinary. I’m honored that we’re in a time and age where we can do a movie like this and it not be about race or anything like that.