Of all the great television actors currently working, Idris Elba may have the best track record playing intense, on-the-edge characters. Obviously, he tapped into that with his turn as Stringer Bell on The Wire, but even his arc on The Office was vaguely terrifying. On Luther, currently in the midst of its second season on BBC America, Elba channels all of his fierceness and finally gets to use his own accent in his role as the ultimate detective on the edge, haunted by his past and constantly staring evil and violence directly in the face.
As his iPod reveals, Elba isn’t all-aggro-all-the-time. In fact, he has a deep weak spot for David Bowie and likes to unwind with Mumford & Sons. In a recent conversation with EW, Elba shared those revelations as well as some other tunes currently taking up residence in his headspace.
Wretch 32, Black and White
“He’s a rapper from U.K. and he’s been around for a while on the underground circuit for a long time. His lyrics are just poetry. There’s some grimy sort of street hip-hop stuff and there’s a bit of pop stuff, but at the heart of all this is his lyrics, and they’re quite poetic. Quite observational. He has a couple of jams on there, like ‘Traktor,’ which is a bit more of a club vibe and he has another song called ‘Don’t Go’ that went to number one in the U.K. U.K. hip-hop doesn’t really transfer across the world. I think partly to do with the fact that the words are so London or so regional that you might have to listen to it a few times to get into it. But I think that U.K. hip-hop has a real strong presence and it’s coming up slowly, with Tinie Tempah and some other guys starting to break out a little bit.”
Ed Sheeran, +
“He’s an acoustic artist. He sings and plays guitar and kind of sings like a rapper. He’s dope. Another very poetic storyteller. I actually had the opportunity to meet him once and he’s a really young, unassuming cat. He doesn’t look like a pop star. You wouldn’t think he could do what he does, but his music speaks to me.”
Yasmin featuring Shy FX, “Light Up the World”
“Yasmin’s a new artist. She’s got a couple of singles out that have been really popular. She kind of reminds me of a very young Sade in a way. It’s just a vibe that I get from her. She writes all her music herself. It’s very laid back. She’s got a sort of nice cadence and she writes quite honestly. It sounds quite calming I think.”
Bob Marley, “So Many Things to Say”
“Lauryn Hill did a great cover, but I love the original. I grew up on Bob. He says, ‘When the rain falls, it doesn’t fall on just one man, it falls on everybody.’ And that’s a great line. It’s like, ‘It’s all good you saying s— about me, but when the rain falls it all falls on all of us,’ and I love that. I can relate to that. As I step more into the public eye with my acting, everyone’s got something to say.”
David Bowie, Hunky Dory
“I love Bowie. He wasn’t the greatest vocalist but he could do some interesting things with his voice. He also had great melodies and great poetry. My character on Luther is a big Bowie fan, and I think that came out of a conversation between me and [creator] Neil Cross about how much we both liked Bowie. Interestingly enough, when I lived in Britain I wasn’t into Bowie as much as when I got here [to America]. But he has such a real rock and roll, universal sound.”
Royce da 5’9”, Success Is Certain
“Royce has been around for a long time. I used to play an old record of his called ‘Boom’ back in the day when I used to DJ. He’s a Detroit cat, he had a lot of underground kudos. Lyrically, he’s f—ing dope. American hip-hop just has the tradition of hip-hop. It sounds like hip-hop. U.K. hip-hop isn’t really called hip-hop, it’s called grime. Its DNA is is heavily connected to U.S. hip-hop but it’s not the same. And I don’t want it to be the same. I want it to be very much U.K.”
Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
“The sound of the lead guy’s voice reminds me of a rainy day in the British countryside. If I was a commercial director, I would have a scene with a girl walking down the street, living her life, and walking into a car insurance shop and I wanted this air of independence, I would put Mumford & Sons underneath my images.”