Gangster Movie Yardie Marks Idris Elba’s Directorial Debut – He Reveals To RISING How His Drive Keeps Scoring Him Career Firsts

Idris Elba never seems to stand still – whether he’s acting in iconic TV or thought-provoking films, DJing or training for a professional kickboxing bout, he’s always looking for the next challenge to test his limits… Now with stylish crime thriller Yardie he’s discovering what it means to work on the other side of the camera.

In January, Yardie, made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Based on Victor Headley's 1992 novel, the drama documents the journey of Denis Dread, aka D, who arrives to London after witnessing the murder of his younger brother in Jamaica. As the right-hand man to a gang leader, he goes on a mission to find his brother's killer…

RISING Is Yardie another dream come true for you in that it marks your debut as a director? IE ‘I've been pointing towards this for a long time. I've tried to learn as much as I could from all the directors I've worked with before – take it all in and get ready for this. Because this was a period film, I remember my time working with Ridley Scott on American Gangster and how he was very attentive to detail. When I would walk onto the set, I really felt like it was 1973. So I tried to make sure that the actors on my film would have the same feeling of being in another era.’

RISING What was the biggest difference that you found while working as a director, as opposed to acting? IE ‘Directing is the hardest thing I've ever done. As a director, it’s all about preparation and overseeing every aspect of the story – the actors, the locations, the music, everything. It's much more time-consuming and involving. As an actor, I normally don't like to prepare too much and just let myself be more spontaneous and start thinking about the work I'm going to do when I arrive on the set. But for Yardie, I've spent six years bringing this movie into being.’

RISING Much of the film revolves around Jamaica where D, the lead character, sees his brother gunned down in Kingston as a result of gangland violence – how did you approach the story? IE ‘We tend to go for the violence. We tend to go for the most traumatic part. Of course, these films can be compelling but the opportunity here was to try and make this feel different. Yes, it is a gangster film, there is a gangster character in it, but this is an opportunity to put a different lens on Jamaica and Jamaican culture.’

RISING What attracted you to the story? IE ‘I read the book a while back. I don't read novels very often, but this was a story that really stuck with me and I thought it would make for a very powerful film. It's really about how this young man deals with the trauma of witnessing his brother's murder and goes on a 10-year journey to try to discover the truth about what happened.’

RISING You were a DJ before you became an actor and music is still a big part of your life, so what role does music play in Yardie? IE ‘I wanted the music to establish the sense of that time, the eighties, and give a vibe to the film. That was also the time where I started DJing as part of the club scene in London and other places, and I thought it was important to use music to give audiences the feeling like they had just gone to a club in London.’

RISING What was it like shooting many of the film's scenes in Jamaica? IE ‘I wanted to shoot in the hood where a lot of the action and violence would have taken place. It was important to make it as authentic as we could. That's why I also wanted to use a lot of Jamaican actors to achieve that kind of realism.’

RISING Directing is just one of many creative outlets for you. In addition to DJing, we've also seen you race cars and fight as a kickboxer. Where do you get all that energy and inspiration? IE ‘I'm always looking for new challenges. I'm very ambitious by nature and there's something in me and that makes me want to take advantage of all the opportunities I have. I always feel that there's something more I can accomplish.’

‘I also felt a sense of urgency after my dad died (in 2013) and how he was only 72. It was such a shame because there was so much more in life that he still wanted to do. It made me think that you never know when your time’s up and until that moment I'm going to do as much as I can and enjoy myself as long as I'm here.’

RISING Do you find yourself seeking out new experiences and stories as a result of that? IE ‘I’m someone who has a hard time staying still, I'm always in a restless state. People often have dreams and desires but wind up just thinking about them instead of going out and doing them. I need to feel like I'm always moving forward and doing as much as I can instead of just wondering about it. That's why I love throwing myself into as many different characters and stories as I can and living out different adventures. You just need the will to go out and do it!’

I believe in going out there and doing things instead of just wondering about it

RISING You’re known for embarking on personal challenges, such as training to fight as a pro kickboxer – what drives you to test your limits? IE ‘I think there's so much we can achieve if we have the will to do it. I like to say: “Life is for living.” We all have a lot of dreams and desires but we often don't get to realise them. For a long time I've believed in going out there and doing things instead of just thinking or wondering about doing them. Too many people think about what they want to do or who they would like to be instead of just being who they want to be. I like being able to go out and do all those things I've dreamed about.’

RISING Last year you worked in Vancouver and Jamaica. You shot Mandela in South Africa, and several years ago you visited your mother's homeland, Ghana, while shooting Beasts of No Nation – do you enjoy the traveling? IE ‘It seems like I'm always travelling. I love discovering new places and cultures. Going to Ghana was very emotional for me, though. I took my mum with me and it was the first time that she had been back in Ghana in 20 years.’

‘The people in Accra know who I am and have been following my career, so it was unbelievable to connect to them and I felt so welcomed. What was really beautiful was to see how proud the people there are of me and what I've accomplished, and so coming to Ghana and making the film there has been a very important moment in my life. I also got to meet a lot of my mum's family and sisters. It was very special... The people are wonderful and the weather is about as beautiful as any place on earth.’

RISING The cold and heavy snow while you were shooting The Mountain Between Us in British Columbia must have been a real contrast? IE ‘We were freezing out there and it was like -38 or something! Haha… But I had a great time in Vancouver, I love it there. The air was really good. I also thought Invermere was incredible. It's just beautiful, they’ve got all the hot springs around there, so you can jump in and get warm. And the people are great in Canada. The crews are incredible. I’ve got nothing but love for Canada.’

RISING What would you say is your favourite place to travel? IE ‘South Africa is very special. I enjoyed working there and getting to know the people. South Africans are very laid back and cool. It's a place that I know I could live in or spend a lot of time. They also have a great live music scene there.’

‘I also like places where I can go swimming and be next to the ocean and get to eat a lot of fresh fish. Jamaica was fantastic for eating seafood and all the cast and crew on Yardie loved Jamaican cooking. Getting to spend time there was phenomenal.’

WHAT NEXT? Watch the trailer for Idris Elba’s directorial debut, the gangster movie Yardie