TODAY   |  January 03, 2014

Idris Elba: Mandela role made me want to do more

Actor Idris Elba talks to TODAY’s Erica Hill about playing Nelson Mandela in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” He says that playing the role of the former South African president, who died last December, has made him want to do more with his own life.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> is nominated for not one but two awards at this year's golden globes including one for his portrayal of nelson mandela in "mandela, long walk to freedom ".

>> all live together in harmony we kwa with equal opportunities. it is an i deal which i hope to live for and achieve. but, if need be, it is an ideal for which i am prepared to die.

>> idris elba , good morning. nice to have you here.

>> good morning.

>> such a powerful performance. the last time i spoke to you, the first time was a year and a half ago and you were getting ready to play this role.

>> i know.

>> looking back on that now, has it changed things for you? having portrayed nelson mandela .

>> you know, the universal question as a career move it's been massive and put me on the map but it's also changed, just like playing someone so great, a world icon has kind of changed my perspective on idris a little bit which has been a interesting change for me.

>> in what way?

>> wanting to do more and be more of a beacon for people that don't have a voice. that's something that i have done some work with youth and kids and stuff. but to play nelson mandela made me want to do a lot more.

>> he gave his blessing to you.

>> he did.

>> which must have meant a lot.

>> yeah.

>> and he saw part of the film.

>> yeah. he saw some of the film. he gave his blessing. i don't look like nelson mandela and that wasn't in his interest. i think he wanted to find someone that could bring that spirit alive. which, like me? i was sort of taken aback by that. but it was great.

>> when the film premiered in london, he had passed. and you found out as i understand it right before the premiere started but went ahead anyway. was it difficult to watch the movie knowing?

>> actually, no. it happened during the premiere. so we didn't know that he had passed and he actually passed during the halfway part of the film and then, you know, at that point, there was a massive change and it's the royal premiere and the dutchess and prince william were there and there was a massive sadness in the room. at the same time, there was a bittersweet moment because the film is a beautiful film and it celebrates his life. and after the film i stood on stage with the producers and we made the announcement. you couldn't write that. that we would have to announce that nelson mandela passed today now. and it was very sad.

>> yeah. what a moment for you. boy, you're about to get very busy here as we launch into award season. we'll be watching on the golden globes . good luck to you.

>> thank you.

>> and the long walk to freedom is in theaters now.