Idris Elba: Realize Your True Potential

What does a busy A-list actor do in his downtime? If you’re Idris Elba, you spin beats in Ibiza with a side gig as Big Driis the Londoner, of course. The rumored future James Bond is instantly recognizable for two roles, one of them his career-making breakthrough as Stringer Bell on the HBO original series, The Wire. A show that GQ magazine half-jokingly called, “the best television show in human history.” Elba’s second career defining role was as Charles Miner, the sexy boss who briefly replaced Steve Carrell on the Office. Elba cemented his silver screen reputation with the title role in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. He currently stars in the gritty BBC crime-drama Luther, playing a tortured, self-destructive detective. This summer he will come out guns blazing as a mysterious gunslinger in, The Dark Tower. It may seem as if Idris Elba is on top of the world right now, and rightfully so, but it wasn’t always that way.

Born in London, England, Idris was a student of the National Youth Music theatre, thanks in part from a grant from the Prince’s Trust charity when his family couldn’t afford tuition to the prestigious drama school. He left his home and job as an autoworker for greater pastures in the United States. Upon arrival, he was just another struggling actor trying to find his way in New York City. Elba was homeless, living in his car, and about to head back home when he successfully auditioned for the HBO original series, The Wire. Had he packed his bags and left, he would have never realized his dream. Dreams coming true are the result of a few crucial decisions. Now, he is branching out as an actor, director and producer. Elba is currently the executive producer and director of the mini-series, Guerilla. His recent roles in films include, Beast of No Nations. Moreover, he is quite active in the New York hip hop scene as he co-produced Jay Z’s, American Gangster. Aside from that, he also broke a land speed record and piloted an airplane in his docuseries, Idris Elba: No Limits. He is a Golden Globe winner, one of People Magazine’s most beautiful people in the world, and one of Time magazine’s most influential people – the accolades are endless. However, Elba remains humbled by his roots as evident by a speech he delivered to the British Parliament on the importance of diversity. He keeps striving, and adding more to his impressive list of credits. Acting is a crowded field, one must find their big break thus enabling them to expand into bigger roles, and other areas like producing, writing, or directing. This takes an immense amount of patience and perseverance. The moment you are ready to give up, might be the time all your hard work pays off and your dreams are realized.

To get more into the headspace of the amazing Idris Elba, here are 12 of his most important and enlightening quotes to remind us to keep striving until we find the opportunities that allow us to reach our true potential.

  1. “I was just sitting with Oprah Winfrey, who has been a landmark, a pinnacle for success. If you sit with Oprah Winfrey, you’ve made it. My mum believes that. It’s been surreal to have this attention thrown at me. It’s a massive honor.” –Idris Elba


  1. “I was getting a lot of offers to play more gangsters. I didn’t want that. It would have been easy to have played Stringer roles forever. You’ve got to move out of your comfort zone, try something new all the time.”



  1. “To me, grime is the purest form of hip-hop in the world at the moment because it comes from a place of: ‘We are who we are and we aspire to be this.’ I feel close to that.”



  1. “A lot of people that come from nowhere, to me that’s really important. I’m not about the celebrity aspect of art. For me what’s interesting is: what is that moment where somebody like me, who doesn’t have anything, can see Michael Jackson, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes and go: ‘I want to be like that?’ And what is that moment where you know you can get there?”


  1. “There needs be to be a deeper analysis of how useful art is to society. How encouraging it is to a young mind. We’re a species that celebrates music, why can’t we learn that in school and get funding to encourage that? It’s massively disappointing to me.”


  1. “I believe that what you put out is what you get back.”


  1. “I really missed being out on the road, DJ’ing. So I started picking up gigs here and there, and what occurred to me really quickly was that I was going to water down my passion for DJ’ing, because the type of gigs I was getting were celebrity DJ work, and that just didn’t sit right. So I made a decision about five years ago to really do it properly, to do it at that level I had never done it, but take it seriously and not ride the coattails of being an actor. It took a while because I had to take my time to introduce myself into that world: doing remixes, being taken seriously.”


  1. “Fear nothing. Do what you want to do but be educated and intelligent and confident about it.”


  1. “Don’t be discouraged. It’s easy to complain but take that energy and use it and take that £17.50 you earned that week and spend it on seeing a play that will inspire you.”


  1. “I think the thing for talented people is that they can turn themselves in any direction. I’m one of those people who’ve been able to do anything.”



  1. “Change is coming, but it’s taking its sweet time. Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour – it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and – most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought. Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV & film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned. Anyway, on the whole, I don’t think of myself as just a ‘black actor.’ I’m an actor, not a number.”


  1. “From the day I decided I wanted to be an actor, which was probably when I was 13-and-a-half years old in a drama class, I’ve never, ever worried about if I’m going to get there – I’ve just got there.”

Author Bio: Tara Collum

Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the volunteer social media coordinator for the Death Row Support Project @COB_DRSP and co-writes a web serial at She is all about tea, books, mumblecore, music, long walks, and self-improvement. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun