It's hard not to like Idris Elba. He's personable, charming, and—we're not afraid to say it—simply wonderful to look at. He even designs his own sexy wardrobe for Superdry. But in the new war drama Beasts of No Nation, he will straight-up send chills down your spine in his role as a commandant of a group of mercenary soldiers in West Africa. The film, adapted from the book of the same title by Uzodinma Iweala and directed by True Detective's Cary Joji Fukunaga, follows what happens to one young boy, Agu (Abraham Attah), after his family is killed during civil war. Agu is taken in by Elba's character and forced to become a child soldier.
For Elba, he knows you won't like him and that's one reason he took the role. "Actors love playing bad guys, and there's no doubt I like playing him," he told us when the movie screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. "I wanted to find a way for people to say, 'I don’t like him, but I can see his dilemma.' Abraham’s character went through a horrible loss, only to turn around and be hugged by horrible people—the wrong people. We pose the question: 'When you lose your family, who is your dad?' So, even though my character's a bad guy, I wanted to humanize him. I hated him, but I want to make him alive."
Elba also came on board for the project because he feels it's important to shed light on the issues in war-torn countries. "My parents come from Sierra Leone, a country that was ravaged by war, and child soldiers were a big part of that," said Elba. "I wanted to help make this movie because the perspective is told from the child, which is so unique. It shows that you can live with your family one day and then be snatched out of that the next." Elba's quick to point out that it's a relevant topic even more so currently. "Children are going through a lot at the moment," he said. "There’s a lot of young kids that just have nothing, like in Syria and Africa. The young community has gone through a lot of turmoil. As adults, what are we doing? There is a crisis, because children are in need."
The film has shown at the biggest festivals, including Telluride, Toronto, and Venice, and has tugged at a lot of heartstrings, particularly thanks to the acting of the young Abraham Attah, the child soldier at the center of the film. In fact, Attah actually took home the lauded Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice Film Festival for his role, which celebrates emerging actors, an honor that has been bestowed upon Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis, and Gael Garcia Bernal in the past. "I’m so happy for Abraham," Elba added. "He's such a special little kid and lovely boy. He’s very talented and very pure on screen. To be recognized for it is amazing."
Beasts of No Nation is in select theaters and on Netflix Oct. 16. Watch the trailer here: