Mandela writer admits to doubts over Idris Elba casting
Story by Jack Foley
WILLIAM Nicholson, the writer of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, has confessed that he initially had doubts over the casting of Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela.
The acclaimed scribe, whose previous work includes Shadowlands, has revealed that “every famous black actor” – from Morgan Freeman to Denzel Washington – had been in the frame at one point during the film’s lengthy development process.
But when the decision was finally taken to look away from the A-list and the film’s director, Justin Chadwick, came back with the idea of Elba, Nicholson was reluctant.
Speaking at a Q&A in front of regional and online journalists last year, Nicholson explained: “I didn’t get how Idris could do this. [But] Justin went out to New York before we started shooting and came back and said: “The guy is amazing. He can absolutely do this.”
“Now, I don’t know if you know but the real Mandela was 6ft 3ins, he was a boxer and a big, strong, charismatic guy. We think of him as this little shrunken old man – but not at all. So, Idris actually fits him physically even though he doesn’t look like him.”
He contined: “When I saw Idris start work I was completely bowled over… completely. I was incredibly happy that we had Idris. I think he’s an astonishing actor and I think he’s delivered something amazing. He’s under 3ft of make-up for most of the movie as he’s aged. And yet still the humanity is there.
“I mean just that last shot in the movie, looking into his eyes, you’re not thinking about Idris Elba, you’re thinking about what that man [Mandela] has gone through. It’s an astonishing performance, as is Naomie Harris’s [as Winnie Mandela].
“I’ve written films that have been completely crucified by bad casting. You can ruin a movie with casting. But I think this one has been made by its casting.”
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