Idris Elba was so committed to playing Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (the upcoming biopic based on Mandela’s autobiography of the same name), the actor spent one night on Robben Island, locked in a cell next to the one where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 18 years, to prepare.
Elba told UK’s Daily Mail, “It was a s–thole. I had a thin blanket for a mattress and that’s all there was between me and the concrete floor. They gave me a bowl. I had no water, nothing to drink at all. I was wearing my sweats and whatnot. I had two iPads to document myself and a cell phone.”
Elba also revealed he was not alone in the cell next to Mandela. “I slept for about an hour in total. There were ghosts there — of course there were! — because people had died there,” he claims. “I woke in the night and a massive cold thing hit my face, almost like cold water … it was obviously a spirit.” He added, “The wind made the cell bars make this ringing sound that echoed throughout the building. They clanged all night. I was on my own, but I wasn’t alone.”
Clearly Elba was well-prepared to become Nelson Mandela. And his efforts may pay off in awards. Early buzz says the British actor is an Oscar contender for Best Actor, along with Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. The UK native said, “Every time I did the cell scenes in the film, I thought of that night. It wasn’t pretend for me.”