I read that you enjoyed playing your role in “No Good Deed” — this psychotic guy who tortures a family. Yeah, I have to be careful saying I enjoyed it. Here’s the thing: I just don’t get to play characters like that very often, so it was a nice change for me to play someone that twisted.
Last year, you portrayed Nelson Mandela in a movie based on his autobiography, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
I heard he gave the film and your portrayal his seal of approval.
He was very excited by it. He saw a little bit of it before he died. I mean, he’s seen himself in films played by different actors, but this film was entirely dedicated to his life story, and he was fascinated by the detail. He was quite close to the project even though he was very ill.
Did you ever meet him? No. I don’t regret much, but that’s one thing I do regret.
Since “The Wire” ended in 2008, have you made a conscious decision to avoid playing gangsters like Stringer Bell?
What kind of role do you play after someone like Stringer, you know what I mean? You play another gangster. What’s the point of that? I’ve played the gangster. I try to keep it really varied; it just makes for more of a fun and interesting career.
By now, there’s a whole younger generation that doesn’t know you as Stringer Bell. That must be satisfying. That’s true actually, yeah. The real young generation knows me from movies like “Pacific Rim.” They’ll tell me: “My dad says he knows you from ‘Stringer.’ I’ve never seen that show, but I think you’re awesome in it.”
You moved to New York early in your career because you thought there was a glass ceiling for black actors in Britain. Do you still think that’s the case?
Even when I went to America I didn’t work for four years. It wasn’t like I came to New York and it was the land of milk and honey. It was just as much of a hard graft. But there’s a lot more opportunity nowadays across the board for actors, no matter what color you are, with the Internet and small productions.
You and a group of British actors wrote an open letter to the BBC and other British broadcasters, arguing that they should better represent minorities. How have they reacted? Especially in the television industry, people know this is something of an issue. Television companies have responded in a way that seems positive. Look, you know, it’s not a law or anything — we just decided to stand up and say: “Hey, try to get more diversity on our screen in England because it’s important to the culture and the culture is very diverse. Let’s see it on TV.”
You worked the night shift at a Ford factory in Britain before you got your break in acting. Do you think it’s good for actors to have some gritty work experience to draw from? I find that a lot of actors who are good and open to challenges have lived a full life. When you walk into an audition, you have more to say for yourself because you come from the real world. It’s more enticing for directors, I think.
You also worked as a club D.J. Are you still doing that? I’m coming toward the end of another season in Ibiza. I’ve been recording my shows from Ibiza and putting them on Capital FM, which has been a massive thing for me. Capital is a big radio station in London. Next year I’m going to start putting out some music as a D.J., which is a natural step, and just have as much fun as I can with it.
Recently, a picture of your crotch went viral. What was that like? Initially it was on every entertainment channel in America. It was all over the Internet, it was trending, it was nuts. Really? Who cares? It was a mike wire.
Maybe you and Jon Hamm can form a support group.
Jon was pretty pissed that people stared at his crotch, and I can see his point, but it didn’t do me no harm. Let’s put it that way. It was kind of funny.
A lot of people say you’re their best hope for a black James Bond. Will that happen? Again, another flattering rumor.