TODAY   |  January 04, 2014

Idris Elba 'honored' to play Mandela

Actor Idris Elba has been nominated for a “best actor” Golden Globe award for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in “Long Walk to Freedom.” TODAY’s Lester Holt interviews Elba.

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

>> the golden globes are next weekend and could be a busy night for this guy, idris elba . nominated for two best actor awards including the portrayal of nelson mandela in "long walk to freedom."

>> rule by the god. there comes a time in the life of every nation when a man has two choices. submit. or fight!

>> reporter: idris elba , good morning. great to have you on.

>> good morning.

>> reporter: i mentioned two awards. you're up also for "luther" the bbc america series. how do you come down in the whole works thing?

>> it's a massive compliment, you know for our industry to have your peers sort of vote for you and tell you how good you're showing, it's a good moment for any actor to get that. the gold globes are especially very fun.

>> let's talk about "long walk." if this part, though, was cast on whether you looked like nelson mandela .

>> i wouldn't get it.

>> you wouldn't have got it.

>> i wouldn't have got it.

>> i even raise that.

>> it is one of the first concerns i had when i got offered the part. i was like, listen, guys, i don't look like nelson mandela , like what is going on here? but the director justin chadwick was like, listen, i'm not making a look like him version but we want the story to prevail.

>> had you to get inside his being.

>> yeah.

>> i know one of the things you did for value, you went to on robben island and said i want to spend a night in a cell there.

>> i spent a night on robben island and they locked me at 7:00 this evening and got me at 7:00 in the morning. the place carries such history and spirit and presence there and it put it in perspective for me what nelson mandela must have been going through for the whole 19 years in that cell.

>> like me you had been there as a tourist before and seen the cells but to be there puts the story in a different perspective.

>> i left the cell in the morning after one night with so much rage and, you know, just at the injustice of what happened to mr. manmandela. he is fighting for his liberty, his country's liberty and he gets put in a cell like an animal for 19 years. the determination i got when i walked out of that cell was like i really want to make a great movie. i also want to bring this character, this person's life to legacy to keep him alive.

>> i understand that nelson mandela was able to see a few snippets from the film. did you know any of his reactions?

>> i said him walking to me and walking up the veil. he said, is that me? he is like, how did you guys do that? i don't remember doing that. that was a compliment. i must have got his walk right.

>> forgive me for saying that is a better compliment than a golden globe . i think that is pretty cool. you were down there for the funeral of nelson mandela . to have lived his life on this film role and then to see how people celebrated his life, what was that like for you?

>> yeah. you know, it's quite surreal. even though i never met mr. mandela himself, i got very close to him, got close to his being and his family as well. it was such a honor. i was so honored to actually be a part of that moment of his passing and, you know, his life being celebrated.

>> i think any actor would have been honored to play that role and you did him justice. nice to see you. "long walk to freedom" is in theaterses now. you