13 Fascinating Facts About Idris Elba

Alexander Koerner, Getty Images
Alexander Koerner, Getty Images

Since first rising to fame as Stringer Bell on HBO's critically acclaimed series The Wire, Idris Elba has cemented a solid place for himself as one of Hollywood's most in-demand (and bankable) actors. The British star has dabbled in comedy (The Office), become a key part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, lent his voice to a few animated films (including Zootopia and Finding Dory), and won a Golden Globe for his role as a brilliant-but-headstrong London detective in Luther. And though it doesn't seem like Elba is even interested in becoming the next James Bond (he'd like to see the role go to a woman), that hasn’t stopped fans from rallying for it to happen. Here are some things you might not know about the acclaimed entertainer.

1. "Idris" is not Idris Elba's full name.

Like many actors before him, Elba made a slight tweak to his birth name when choosing his professional moniker. Which is how Idrissa Akuna Elba became known as Idris Elba.

2. Idris Elba is also a musician—and a very successful one.

Rich Fury, Getty Images for Coachella

Besides being an actor, Elba is a successful DJ who formerly went by the name DJ Big Driis. Elba became interested in music as a child and began to work as a DJ at weddings and other events as a teenager, then continued picking up gigs when he moved to New York City in the 1990s. Even when his acting career took off, Elba continued to make time for music.

"Once The Wire came in, I tried to DJ as much as I could," Elba told Rolling Stone in 2019. "My profile went up and the money went up along with it. It definitely fell second place to acting but then I got serious about it. I got myself an agent, a DJ manager, and it was like a second career, a side-hustle."

In 2018, Elba launched his own record label, 7Wallace Music, and he played a DJ set at this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. "Doesn’t matter how big my name is on the poster," he told Rolling Stone of making the Coachella lineup. "This is massive for me!"

3. Idris Elba is one of Hollywood's highest-grossing actors.

Though Elba has been choosy with his roles, and has regularly gravitated toward smaller, personal films, he currently holds the 20th spot on the list of actors whose films have grossed the most amount of cash. (He's wedged right in between fellow MCU stars Stanley Tucci at number 19 and Don Cheadle in the 21st spot.) Elba's role as the all-seeing Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is no doubt largely to thank for Elba's box office totals.

4. Idris Elba has appeared in several music videos.

Given Elba's love of music, it isn’t entirely surprising that he has acted in a few music videos, including projects for Fat Joe and Giggs. In 2012, Elba even co-directed and starred in the Mumford & Sons music video for "Lover of the Light."

5. Idris Elba earned a prestigious honor from QUeen Elizabeth II.

In 2016—the same year Elba earned both Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for his work in Beasts of No Nation—the actor landed a spot on Queen Elizabeth II's annual New Year's Honors List, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work as an actor.

"Awards and honors come in all shapes and sizes and all as significant as the other," Elba said at the time. "But this is beyond special as it comes from Queen and country, and I couldn’t be more proud for receiving this right now. What a year. On me head son."

Other stars who have received OBEs include Eddie Redmayne, Keira Knightley, Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, James Corden, and David Beckham.

6. IDris Elba is a major soccer fan, and has done promos for Arsenal Football Club.

Like many Brits, Elba is a devoted soccer (a.k.a. football) fan, and is very vocal about his support for the Arsenal Football Club in particular. The actor recently even starred in an advertisement for the team, making a cameo in a promo for Arsenal's collaboration with Adidas.

7. Idris Elba has a crush on Meryl Streep.

While some actors like to play coy on which fellow celebrity they might have a crush on, Elba has been quick to reveal his: Meryl Streep. In 2016 he told US Weekly how starstruck he was by the Oscar legend, saying, "When I met her, my tongue swelled up in my mouth!"

8. When Idris Elba lost the Golden Globe in 2012, his daughter handmade him one.

In 2012, Elba took home the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television for his role as DCI John Luther in Luther. It was Elba's second consecutive nomination in the category for the same role, yet he hadn't been so lucky the first time around; he lost the award to Al Pacino for You Don't Know Jack in 2011.

In 2012, Elba tweeted a photo of the Golden Globe his daughter made for him after that initial loss. Fortunately, he made good on his promise that he'd be bringing her home a real one that night.

9. In 2015, Idris Elba broke a nearly 90-year-old land speed record.

In 2015, Elba proved himself a real-life superhero yet again when he hopped into a brand-new, super-powered 626-hp Bentley Continental GT and broke a UK land speed record that had originally been set by Sir Malcolm Campbell in 1927 (back when George V was still king). Elba broke the "Flying Mile" record by reaching a speed of 180.361 mph while speeding along Wales's Pendine Sands beach. (The previous record, set by Campbell, was 174.8 mph.)

"I'm absolutely elated to have broken the 'Flying Mile' at Pendine Sands," Elba said in a statement at the time. "It’s an honor to have taken on the challenge, and to successfully follow in the footsteps of the illustrious Sir Malcolm Campbell." It was all captured on camera as part of Idris Elba: No Limits, a Discovery docuseries.

10. Idris Elba is a trained kickboxer and mixed martial arts fighter.

As if Elba didn’t have enough talents, he showed off that he could get physical in 2017, when he debuted his year-long journey of training in kickboxing and MMA with a documentary called Idris Elba: Fighter. The actor ended up winning his professional kickboxing match debut.

“It has been a lifelong ambition of mine to fight professionally,” Elba said when the documentary was first announced. “Entering the ring to further test myself as a human being is a challenge I have been looking to take on for quite some time.”

11. Idris Elba's feature directorial debut earned him a sundance Grand Jury Prize nomination.

In 2018, Elba directed Yardie, a British crime drama based on Victor Headley's 1992 book of the same name. The movie made its debut at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where it earned Elba a Grand Jury Prize nomination in the World Cinema - Dramatic category. The film was also named Best Drama by England's National Film Awards.

12. Idris Elba was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine.

In 2016, TIME Magazine included Elba on its TIME 100, an annual list of the world's most influential people. Elba was included in the "Artists" category, alongside such names as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Oscar Isaac, Kendrick Lamar, Ariana Grande, Ryan Coogler, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Yayoi Kusama.

13. Idris Elba was also named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive."

In 2018, two years after being honored by TIME, Elba earned an accolade of a different nature when he was named People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive, following in the footsteps of Chris Hemsworth, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and other Hollywood heartthrobs.

“I was like, ‘Come on, no way. Really?,'” Elba said when he was told the news. "Looked in the mirror, I checked myself out. I was like, ‘Yeah, you are kind of sexy today.’ But to be honest, it was just a nice feeling. It was a nice surprise—an ego boost for sure.”

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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12 Festive Facts About White Christmas

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Paramount Home Entertainment

In 1953, Paramount Pictures set out to make a musical built around and named after the most popular Christmas pop song of all time. At that point “White Christmas” had already become a holiday classic thanks in no small part to Bing Crosby’s hit recording of the song, but would it translate to the same success on the big screen?

With Crosby’s star power leading the way and Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, White Christmas overcame some early development struggles and even some anxiety from composer Irving Berlin to become one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time. Here are 12 facts about its production and reception.

1. The song "White Christmas" was already a hit.

Though the film didn’t come along until 1954, the story of White Christmas actually began more than a decade earlier, when Irving Berlin composed the future holiday classic that would become the title track. Berlin wrote the song in 1940, and the next year Bing Crosby—the singer still most identified with the song, despite many cover versions—sang it on his Christmas radio show.

By 1942, Crosby had recorded the song, and over that same year it made its first film appearance in Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The film helped earn “White Christmas” the Oscar for Best Song in 1943, and over the course of the 1940s the song climbed to #1 on the charts several times. It would go on to hold the title of bestselling single of all time for decades, until it was finally eclipsed by Elton John’s rewritten 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind.” Because of the song’s enduring popularity, particularly during the World War II years, it was only natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize, and by 1949 what would eventually become White Christmas began to take shape at Paramount Pictures.

2. White Christmas was originally set to co-star Fred Astaire.

By the late 1940s, Irving Berlin and executives at Paramount Pictures were working on piecing together White Christmas as a movie musical with the title song as its centerpiece, and they had big plans for the film’s stars. The project was originally envisioned as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy of buddy musicals starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The duo had already teamed up for Holiday Inn in 1942 (which also featured “White Christmas”) and Blue Skies in 1946, and White Christmas was supposed to mark a triumphant reunion. Unfortunately, Astaire ultimately turned the project down, reportedly due to lack of interest and a concern that he might be getting too old for such a film.

3. Bing Crosby almost passed on White Christmas.

While most of the casting drama surrounding the film was tied to the Phil Davis character, there was also a point during pre-production on White Christmas that the film almost had to go searching for a new Bob Wallace. In January of 1953, when Astaire decided to back out of the project, Crosby also decided he wasn’t sure the film was right for him, and initially planned to take time off to be with his son following the death of Crosby’s wife, actress Dixie Lee. Later that some month, though, Crosby decided to stick with the project, and White Christmas moved ahead.

4. Danny Kaye was cast at the last-minute.

Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

With Fred Astaire out of the picture, Paramount had to search for a new star to play Phil Davis to Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, and settled on Donald O’Connor, who was fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain. O’Connor was all set to play Davis in the film, but became ill shortly before production was set to begin. Now anxious to find a new co-star in time, the studio offered the role to Danny Kaye, who decided to go for broke and request a salary of $200,000 plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Kaye was apparently certain the studio would say no, but they agreed to his terms rather than attempting to wait it out for O’Connor’s health to improve. Kaye was cast as Phil Davis, and O’Connor would later go on to work with Crosby on Anything Goes.

5. Rosemary Clooney couldn’t dance.

Rosemary Clooney was one of the most acclaimed and beloved singers of her generation, and with White Christmas she became a co-star of one of the most acclaimed and beloved musical films of all time. Clooney was able to do this despite one particular shortcoming, which she was always honest about in both interviews and in her eventual autobiography: She was not a dancer. Clooney’s character, Betty Haynes, only has two real moments of dance in the film—in “Sisters” and in the “Minstrel Show” medley—and both times the choreography is rather simple and (in the case of “Sisters”) makes use of a prop to help make the scene visually interesting without too much actual dancing involved.

6. Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

To complete the duo of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was paired with Vera-Ellen, who was already an experienced and acclaimed movie musical performer considered by many to be one of the best dancers in Hollywood at the time. Clooney recalled feeling “inadequate” when paired with her new co-star in terms of learning her limited White Christmas choreography, but also noted that their dynamic was rather evened out by both Vera-Ellen’s patience and the fact that she couldn’t sing. Vera-Ellen’s vocals were dubbed in White Christmas, largely by an uncredited Trudy Stevens, but by Clooney herself for the song “Sisters.”

“If they could have dubbed my dancing, now, we would have had a perfect picture,” Clooney later joked.

7. Bing Crosby improvised a lot of his White Christmas dialogue.

By the time White Christmas came along, Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, a veteran singer and actor who could pack audiences in and commanded respect on the Paramount Pictures lot. This meant his job came with a lot of perks, including the opportunity to embellish and flat-out improvise much of his dialogue on the fly. As co-star Rosemary Clooney recalled later on a commentary track for the film, when Bob Wallace used phrases like “slam-bang finish,” it was often because the phrases were favorites of Crosby’s. Clooney also recalled that the little monologue Crosby’s character goes on when they meet in the Columbia Inn lounge for sandwiches and buttermilk was largely made up by Crosby on the spot, faux German accent and all.

8. Bing Crosby didn’t like shooting White Christmas's "Sisters" scene.

One of the most famous scenes in White Christmas involves Bob Wallace and Phil Davis rolling up their pant legs and lip-syncing to Judy and Betty Haynes’s song “Sisters” in an effort to cause a diversion so the sisters could escape a vengeful landlord and hop on a train to Vermont. It’s an instantly memorable, and very funny movie moment, but apparently Bing Crosby was actually somewhat uncomfortable about the scene. In an effort to liven the performance up and get a rise out of his co-star, Danny Kaye improvised the moment when he begins to slap Crosby with his feathered fan. If you watch the scene closely, you can see Crosby caught off guard by this, and by the end of the scene the two men are cracking up on camera for real. According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby was convinced that the take was unusable, but director Michael Curtiz liked the spontaneity of it, and used it in the finished film.

9. White Christmas features an Our Gang cameo.

Early in the film, as Bob and Phil get to know the Haynes sister, they discuss the sisters’ brother Benny, who Bob and Phil knew from the army and who ostensibly connected them for their meeting at the club. Judy Haynes then offers to share a recent photo of Benny, who Phil had already referred to as “Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy.” The photo appears only briefly, but fans of the Our Gang series of comedy shorts might recognize Benny Haynes. He’s played in the photo by Carl Switzer, who was Our Gang’s Alfalfa.

10. White Christmas was the first movie released in a new format.

A scene from White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

At the time White Christmas was produced, film was having to increasingly compete with television for the attention of the American public, and this meant numerous gimmicks were deployed to get people to go to the movies. This included even more prevalent use of color on the movie screen (at a time when television was still a black and white medium), as well as a more ambitious use of aspect ratios to emphasize the “big” in big-screen. White Christmas was envisioned as a Technicolor showcase, but it also became the first film to be released in Paramount’s new widescreen format, VistaVision.

The format featured special film magazines that were mounted to the side of the camera lens, which fed the film negative through the camera horizontally rather than vertically. This created a more detailed widescreen exposure that was then printed vertically just like any other film. The result was a format that could play on virtually any movie screen and offer an increase in quality, unlike other contemporary large format options like CinemaScope, which required an adapter.

11. Irving Berlin was nervous about White Christmas.

By the time White Christmas was in production, the title song was one of the bestselling and most beloved songs in the world, and had already been in heavy circulation for more than a decade. Still, that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from being nervous about how the film would be received. Though he wasn’t always on the soundstage during shooting, Rosemary Clooney later recalled that Berlin showed up every day at the cast’s recording sessions for the soundtrack, and as Crosby and company recorded the finale version of “White Christmas” the legendary composer couldn’t stop nervously pacing around the studio. Eventually, Berlin’s worried look proved so distracting that Crosby went over to him and said: “There’s nothing we can do to hurt this song, Irving. It’s already a hit!"

12. White Christmas was the biggest movie of 1954.

White Christmas was released in the fall of 1954 and, on the strength of Berlin’s songs and the Technicolor and VistaVision production values, quickly became a hit for Paramount. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1954 with a box office take of $12 million. It was also the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz’s career, which was impressive considering his resume already included classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca.

Additional Sources:
White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (2000)
White Christmas commentary track by Rosemary Clooney (2000)
Backstage Stories from White Christmas (2009)
Christmas in the Movies by Jeremy Arnold (2018)