Idris and I at the “No Good Deed” press junket earlier this year
It’s not unusual for Rush Limbaugh to say racist things. It is unusual for the right-wing commentator to admit that he’s being racist.
On Tuesday, Limbaugh brought up the idea of Idris Elba as James Bond on his syndicated radio show (a topic in one of the thousands of leaked Sony emails) and declared the 42-year-old London-born actor unfit for the role based on his skin color.
“James Bond is a total concept put together by Ian Fleming. He was white and Scottish. Period. That is who James Bond is,” Limbaugh said. “But now [they are] suggesting that the next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black Briton, rather than a white from Scotland. But that’s not who James Bond is…I know it’s racist to probably point this out.”
Limbaugh went one step further, and likened the idea to George Clooney and Kate Hudson being cast as Barack and Michelle Obama in a biopic, and Kelsey Grammar as Nelson Mandela.
For starters, Limbaugh’s notion of Bond as “a white from Scotland” is flawed. Although Sean Connery is in fact Scottish, the other actors who have famously embodied the role are not. Roger Moore was English, as is Daniel Craig, and Timothy Dalton. Pierce Brosnan is Irish, George Lazenby is Australian. And Barry Nelson, star of the first screen adaptation in 1954 of Ian Fleming’s novel, is American.
Secondly, Bond is a fictional character, not a real-life one, and as with any fictional character, there are creative liberties you can take.
Even though the rumors of Elba as a potential new Bond have been circulating for years, the British actor has his own reservations about the part. “I just don’t want to be the black James Bond,” he told NPR in 2011. “Sean Connery wasn’t the Scottish James Bond, and Daniel Craig wasn’t the blue-eyed James Bond, so if I played him, I don’t want to be called the black James Bond.”
But on a more recent AMA chat on Reddit, when asked if he would ever play Bond, he replied enthusiastically, “Yes, if it was offered to me, absolutely.”
Elba has repeatedly said he didn’t become an actor to play “black roles;” that what he is interested in are roles, period. Good ones. And he’s already portrayed his share of complex, memorable characters, from Detective John Luther in the British series of the same name (which earned him a Golden Globe), to Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell on “The Wire,” to Nelson Mandela in last year’s “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
True, he did lend star in the 2009 glorified Lifetime-style movie “Obsessed” with Beyoncé, and this year’s thriller “No Good Deed,” where he plays an escaped convict, but for the most part, Elba has an impressive and intriguing body of work. If anything, he doesn’t get the screen time he deserves in the big franchise films, like “Prometheus,” “Thor” and “Pacific Rim.” We’ll have to see how much love he gets in the upcoming “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as Heimdall.
“No Good Deed” was no Oscar contender but it was a box office smash, taking in $53 million domestically (and costing only $13 million to produce). Elba was an executive producer on the film, as was his co-star Taraji P. Henson — a testament to their business savvy.
Elba would be unlike any other agent 007 we’ve ever known, but not because he’s black, obviously. He’d be perfect for the part because he’s got skills and swagger all his own. As he puts it: he’s “never shaken or stirred.” He’s undeniably dapper. Ladies love him, guys want to be him. He’s fit, funny, smart, sophisticated, looks good in a suit, and as far as accents go, can’t you just hear it?
And I’ll give you another legitimate reason why Elba is a fine candidate for the next Bond: he would promote the movie like crazy on all his social media platforms. How else do you think “No Good Deed” did so well? It was Elba and Henson constantly talking about the project on their respective accounts. And what studio doesn’t love that these days? To have a prestige actor be so accessible is just rare.
[Side note: if you don’t already follow Idris on Twitter, do so immediately. You’ll thank me.]
But what it all comes down to is range, of which Elba has plenty. Aside from his career as an actor, there’s his whole musical side.
Elba said it himself in that same AMA chat, when asked about his long-term career ambitions. “I enjoy watching an actor transform themselves each time,” he wrote. “People like Daniel Day-Lewis, Fassbender, Denzel, they reinvent themselves, and I think what’s happened during my career in the last 3 years is that I’ve done so many types of roles, and I think directors are going “Hey man, this guy has range ...”