Idris Elba doesn’t want to play James Bond: A timeline
Tom Hanks is the latest star to suggest Idris Elba should be the next James Bond, despite the 50-year-old Luther star categorically rejecting the notion countless times.
"Understand this," Hanks said to the BBC in May 2023. "James Bond has a licence to kill. I would issue that licence to Idris Elba just based on the work that I've seen him do."
It’s been thirteen long years since the first recorded suggestion that Elba should play 007. Bizarrely, it can be tracked back to an obscure website poll, which asked users to suggest the best contenders for a black James Bond. The winner was Bonkers rapper Dizzee Rascal, which incensed The Guardian so much it wrote an article suggesting that (amongst others) Elba should do it. Which means this has been going on for almost a decade.
Read more: James Norton tipped for James Bond
Here’s how Big ‘Dris has been reacting to this same old question, right up until the most recent example.
Spring of 2010, a season that will live in infamy for Elba. It marks the first time a journalist put the Bond suggestion to Idris himself, and he said what he’s basically been saying ever since.
"There have been rumours, but nothing solid,” he told The Daily Mail. “Of course it would be a huge compliment to be asked. But I wouldn't be interested if it was simply a case of them deciding it was time for a black James Bond.”
Read more: Idris Elba and Daniel Craig troll Bond fans
"I can do without 'the black James Bond' label. I've been called the black George Clooney and the black Brad Pitt; they didn't call Daniel Craig the blond Will Smith. I just want to get up in the morning and get on with being Idris."
Over a year later, The Mirror picked up the scent of the story - and Elba said the same thing again. “I wouldn’t want to be the first black James Bond. If I didn’t do it well, what would people say? ‘It’s because he’s black.’ And that would be a tragedy.”
Elba’s starting to get annoyed now. When NPR asks about Bond, they describe his answer as being ‘flat’. "It's a rumour,” he said. Oof.
The actor clarified, expanding on his earlier answers. "I just don't want to be the black James Bond," he expanded. "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."
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But when the suggestion’s made that Sony might actually ask him to do it, he changes his tune. "I'd not only get in the cab," he says, "but I'd take the taxi driver out of the car, hostage. The taxi, jump out while it was moving, jump onto a pedal bike that was just past the door as I got on it, and then get onto a plane — on the wing — land on top of Sony Studios, slide through the air conditioning, and land in the office."
So, was this the start of a new era of enthusiasm for Elba, or was he just telling the interviewer what they wanted to hear so they’d shut up about it? Let’s continue our research, and find out.
It took a couple of years before the rumours started again, and Elba’s enthusiasm seems to have waned.
“Let’s talk Bond,” GQ said. “No, let's not,” Elba replied. “What's to talk about?”
“It's a rumour. And, I have to tell you, if the producers of Bond thought that I was self-campaigning, it would be such a turn-off.
“I'm flattered, obviously, but I've been advised to just pipe down about it. Apparently Daniel Craig said I'd be a great Bond. Daniel, why did you say that? Dropped me right in it! What an honour it would be, but also, what an indication of change. I know Ian Fleming lived in Jamaica for a long time, didn't he? I think it's interesting to think what he would have made of a black man playing Bond.”
The Independent newspaper was the next outlet to ask the question. "It's just a rumour. But what a compliment that my name has been attached to that role! Of course, it's not my job – it's very much Daniel Craig's – but I'm flattered by the notion of it," he said.
So, from rejecting the role to being flattered by it - evidence of more warming, or is he still trying to find the right answer that’ll finally shut everyone up?
Digital Spy tried to get to the bottom of the conflict coming from Elba, and just got more confusion.
"It's not something that I actually hope to come to fruition. It would be lovely if it did, but it's a rumour.
"It's actually like the will of a nation type-thing. I'm not a champion of myself to be James Bond, but there are so many people who say, 'Hey, you'd be a great one. We'd love to see that'. That's a great feeling for me. That's such a national treasure for us in England, we love James Bond. To be considered as one of those actors who could play him is great."
So, he’s flattered to be considered for a role he doesn’t want to do.
Got it, it’s as clear as Bond’s conscience.
Cut to 2014, and Elba’s back on more familiar ground. It’s a rumour, and he doesn’t want to do it because he doesn’t want to be ‘black Bond.’ "There's no truth in it whatsoever" he said on Lorraine Kelly’s ITV show, explaining he’s always "detested the phrase 'Black Bond.’"
"I just don't understand it, we don't say 'White Bond', we just say 'Bond', so it suddenly becomes a black man and he's a 'Black Bond'. So I hate that phrase. And it's a rumour that's gotten out of control, basically. But that's all it is."
It’s now the fifth anniversary of the start of the rumours, and Elba’s clearly developed two interchangeable answers to the question (one, ‘I don’t want to be the first black person to play Bond’ and two, ‘I’d be flattered to be asked’). He also seems a bit baffled by the fact he’s still being asked about it.
"The whole thing sits in the press quite a bit, but I'm not sure why. Apparently the idea of a black James Bond is controversial. I really haven't been paying attention," he claimed to Shortlist.
"But it's an amazing part – I don't think there's any actor who wouldn't like to play Bond."
By November, Elba’s back to being done with the discussion. Telling The Telegraph, "at first it was harmless – oh, I know, wouldn't it be great? – and now it's started off racial debates.”
"I'm probably the most famous Bond actor in the world, and I've not even played the role. Enough is enough. I can't talk about it anymore."
Okay, cool. We’re sure everyone will get the message and stop asking him about it.
Elba was in a better mood when speaking to Hello! US a year later — pivoting to his other stock answer.
"The one thing I've heard around the world universally is, 'You'll be great as James Bond'. So if it was to happen, there you go, the will of the nation," he said, adding, "It's all rumour-ville. I'm not speaking to the James Bond people, and they're not speaking to me."
Four months later, Elba comes up with a new tactic, trying to age himself out of the role, telling Good Morning America, “If I'm really honest, man, I think I'm too old for that, man, running around in cars and ladies and martinis – who wants to do that? Sounds terrible."
He’s probably being sarcastic, but by this point it’s hard to tell.
Read more: Idris Elba and Daniel Craig troll James Bond fans
Will you play Bond? “I think not,” Elba told Buzzfeed.
He then passed the buck to the Bond producers. “But you really need to ask the producers. Like I can just,” he mimed picking up a telephone, “'Hey, I’m gonna play Bond next! No, it’s Idris. Hello?’ No one wants it.”
So, to be clear - he’s saying ‘No, I don’t want to do it, it’s not my decision anyway, and if it was going to happen, it would have happened by now.’
Topic over. Well, for a month anyway.
Back to the tried and tested routine. "It's interesting that the James Bond thing continues to go. I think it's more about, we just want to have a black guy play James Bond rather than Idris Elba, the actor, play James Bond. That's the part that I'm like, 'Ugh, come on'," he told The New York Times.
When the ‘I’m too old for the role’ approach didn’t work, Elba tried a different tactic to recast himself out of the role. "Could be a woman – could be a black woman, could be a white woman – but I think, that character, everybody would like to see it do something different. "Why not?" he said at the Sundance Film Festival.
“Am I looking at the next James Bond?” Good Morning Britain asked. “No!” Idris Elba replied.
Elba posted an image of him and Daniel Craig together at the Golden Globes, with the caption ‘awks.’ When his fiancée, Sabrina Dhowre posted a screengrab to her Instagram account, with the caption: ‘Not to add fuel to the fire, but... play nice guys,’ Elba commented ‘Er..?’ The post has since been deleted.
Read more: Lumley: “Idris is not right for 007”
Which brings us up to date, going full circle to a response that reminds us of Elba’s first ever answer (and basically every answer since).
“James Bond is a hugely coveted, iconic, beloved character, that takes audiences on this massive escapism journey,” he says. “Of course, if someone said to me ‘Do you want to play James Bond?,’ I’d be like, Yeah! That’s fascinating to me. But it’s not something I’ve expressed, like, Yeah, I wanna be the black James Bond.”
Talking to the Wall Street Journal while promoting his survival movie Beast, Elba said “When I look in the mirror, I don’t see James Bond.”
In a later interview with Variety, Bond producer Michael G Wilson responded to this latest ruling out, saying: “He’s great.” Barbara Broccoli quickly added, “We love Idris.”
Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Elba ruled himself out of the running for 007 one final time, citing his commitment to his character John Luther as the reason.
Guys, Idris Elba does not want to talk about being James Bond any more. Let's call it a day.