“If I’m honest I didn’t know The Dark Tower books when I was first approached,” he says.
“I had made a few films with Sony Screen Gems and when Sony came to me I was like ‘wow’, because many, many talented, good actors could have gotten this role. Obviously I was very pleased that I landed it,” he laughs.
Based on the novels by master storyteller Stephen King, The Dark Tower is an epic tale of good versus evil.
Roland Deschain is the last Knight Warrior who has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), to try and prevent him from destroying The Dark Tower, which holds the universe together.
If the tower crashes, millions of lives will be lost, but for Roland it’s personal too. The Man in Black has killed his own family.
When we meet him he’s weary, disillusioned and losing his will to fight until he meets 14-year-old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who crosses over from contemporary New York City into Mid-World, a parallel earth.
Elba was born in London and after appearing in several British TV series he played the charismatic drug dealer Stringer Bell in the highly acclaimed HBO series The Wire
He won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of a troubled London cop in the BBC TV series Luther and in 2016 became the only actor to win two SAG awards the same year (Supporting Actor in a Film for Beasts of No Nation and Best Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries for Luther).
His films include Beasts of No Nation, Pacific Rim, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Thor: Dark World, Zootopia, Jungle Book and the upcoming films Mountains Between Us and Molly’s Game. He is currently directing his first feature film Yardie.
Could you sum up what it was like making The Dark Tower and is a tough challenge part of the appeal for you?
Playing a super-hero is like nothing I’ve ever done before. The character has a lot of depth, but he also gets to do a lot of action sequences, which was fun to do.
I got to learn new skills like gun handling. And the challenge in that is to do something pretty cool with the guns and to make it look good. It was also great working with Tom Taylor, who plays Jake Chambers. He’s fantastic.
These books have millions of devoted fans. Do you think about that or do you just try and isolate yourself and concentrate on the film and making it?
I think you have to isolate yourself because the books are read by millions of different people and each person reads the same book, but perhaps has a slightly different interpretation.
But our job was to concentrate on the film we were making and we certainly paid attention to what the book is, but this is not the book - this is the film.
Did you meet Stephen King?
It was really cool when Stephen came to set. He’s a laid-back guy and really nice. I think he was proud and happy to see the film being made. You know, suddenly there was The Dark Tower and the characters he created right there in front of him. We didn’t speak much because we were on set, but he was very complimentary about what we were doing and wished us luck.
Essentially it’s a story about good and evil and that’s often the crux of many great stories. I think Stephen has encased this good versus evil story in an amazing and really interesting world.
I’ve seen your character described as ‘the biggest bad-ass of the day’. But you can’t just play an image; you have to make him real. How do you do that?
To say that Roland is haunted, or the biggest bad-ass is a bit of a cliché, but he is. He has a past that he can’t shake off, he can’t let go until he meets Tom Taylor’s character Jake, and then he finds a way to confront his past - really confront it.
I felt that the part had a lot of depth.
I feel that as an actor you get some roles that are challenging in a way that means you have to reinvent yourself. And with Roland I worked on him from the inside out. I tried to compare who I was and who he was and started building him.
And he’s a man who has lost everyone in his life and that informs his loneliness and his fight with Matthew McConaughey’s character, The Man in Black.
That’s right. Everything has been taken away from him and he is on a quest for vengeance - it’s become part of him and his consciousness.
The story has a lot of layers and you are creating worlds here but, in essence, how would you sum it up?
Essentially it’s a story about good and evil which is often the crux of many great stories. In this case, I think Stephen has encased this good versus evil story in an amazing and really interesting world.
And you’ve been on a lot of big productions before
I’ve been in big productions before, but as a lead and not like this.
Does that make it feel different?
As a lead, yes, it’s a big blockbuster film and it’s a different energy when you are at the front of that train. It’s really interesting. When you have a smaller role you can come in and go out, you do your bit, but when you are in a leading role it’s full on.
You mentioned that it was a physically demanding role and we are looking forward to seeing some spectacular action in The Dark Tower. Do you enjoy that side of the job?
Yes, I do like the action and I do get into that. I’m really into the fight sequences.
I love the choreography of it. Being able to work out these really complicated moves and then learning it and doing it again and again. I really love that. It was a tough film to make but, after all is said and done, I’m very glad that I made it.