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ESQUIRE KING: Idris Elba Says Depression Set In Amid COVID Backlash From Fans While Fighting For His Life

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Folks were stunned when Idris Elba revealed he had contracted the COVID-19 virus early on in the pandemic. Now, he's opening up on what it was like battling the deadly virus and how hard it was to do so in the public eye.



Just as the nation was placed on lockdown in March 2020, famed actor Idris Elba revealed to the world he and his wife had contracted COVID-19. He was one of the first big names to do so. And it was rattling. He was in New Mexico preparing to start shooting Jay-Z's all-Black Western, The Harder They Fall, alongside Jonathan Majors, Regina King, and LaKeith Stanfield. The Harder They Fall shut down the day before it was due to begin shooting; no date was given for a return.

There weren't many confirmed facts about the deadly virus, so folks were freaking out...in several ways.


While tons of fans sent the 49-year-old actor prayers for a speedy recovery, there were also tons of people who just didn't believe him. And that really got to him. He prides himself on being authentic and transparent, so when he shared with the world that he was battling the virus and they didn't believe him, saying he was being paid to say Covid was real, he was crushed.

In the October/November 2021 issue of ESQUIRE magazine, the British hottie explained how the backlash (and fake love) affected him.

“The good favor that some people in the public eye get—which I definitely benefit from—was gone in an instant. In an instant,” he said. “People that loved me one moment absolutely f*cking hated me the next.” A wry laugh: “It was like, ‘You’re fake; you’re being paid.’ No one really believed. It was really a tough time."



He continued, "So where I am now, you’re looking at a man that’s very thankful. You’re looking at a man that’s very reflective of what’s happened over the last eighteen months. You’re looking at a man that doesn’t really have time to waste on pretending to be anything but what I am. Who I am and what I am.”

When he first contracted the virus, he thought his life was over. Lights out.

“Having Covid at the time I got it, it was very, very early in its cycle,” he explained. “So it was like, ‘Oh, shit, I’m going to die.’ I could have easily been a statistic: went to a hospital and lungs failed and that’s the end of it. Very easily. I’ve had friends whose families have died”—he snaps his fingers—“like that.”

It was a rough year for EMMY nominated actor and depression started to set in.

“The last year for me was very, very difficult,” he shared. “I wouldn’t put it down to a lack of work or anything like that. I’d put it down to a real mental strain that I couldn’t put my finger on, and where it came from. It manifests in waves of anger and, perhaps, depression. A little bit of a lack of, I wouldn’t say optimism, but just a lack of joy, sometimes. And I haven’t sat down and spoken to a therapist or anyone about it, but I suspect it’s very linked to that time period.”

Totally understandable.


Before COVID, Idris seemed to be living on top of the world. He signed on for a documentary that would follow him from kickboxing novice to his professional debut in one year - which he won. Then he met Sabrina Dhowre, a Canadian model and activist of Somali descent, at a jazz bar in Vancouver. While the actor said he would never marry again, Sabrina changed his mind after two divorces.

“It looks amazing from the outside, but there’s a lot of stuff that happens in the public eye that’s not fun,” he shared. “I’m not allowed to just go out and get drunk and have a rant and get kicked out of a pub and then feel bad the next day. Part of your duty is to be an example. So what happens is there’s a suppression of stuff coupled with grief. People might think, You’re all right; you got loads of money. But it doesn’t work that way. You’re still human. I can’t spend my money in my mind. I can’t spend my money in my grief.”

He's right about that.



Over the summer, three Black soccer players (Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka) shared how they were subjected to racial abuse online after they missed penalties during England's loss to Italy. The emotion Idris felt: devastation.

“I was devastated. Devastated for football. Devastated for my country. Devastated. England has this one shining moment where we nearly get there. And the moment we don’t get there, it boils down to that. Broke my heart, man. But at the same time, coming from where I come from in Canning Town, that was every day.”

The Beasts of No Nation star shared how he had to overcome similar racial abuse when he lands roles that some people think Black people shouldn't play.

Elba feels an affinity with Rashford, Sancho, and Saka. “A moment like that does not define you,” he says. “And being called a ‘monkey’ or a ‘coon’ does not define who you are. But fuck that, I’ve had it in many different shapes and forms. When I got the role as Heimdall in the Marvel universe, there was a real outcry from a sect of the fans.” Elba first played the watchman of the gods—also known as “Shining God” because of his pearly skin—in 2011’s Thor and has now reprised the character four times. “From one perspective, hey, there’s a logic: He’s Norse; he shouldn’t be played by a Black man. But from another sect, there was like ‘Idris Elba’s a cunt, he’s disgusting, he’s not f*cking James Bond, he’s never going to be James Bond.’ It was hatred.”

Speaking of James Bond, he doesn't seem too keen about playing the character despite the constant rumors about him being the first Black Bond.

“I say this in jest, but this is my answer to Bond,” said Idris. “[Luther] is my big character that lives in the same space as the Bournes, as the Bonds in the world. Not in terms of spy works or spying, but this is a character that fights evil and then will stop at nothing to do it. And we created him from scratch. Me and [showrunner] Neil Cross really plowed our hearts into making John Luther. And I’ve never been more thankful for a character that keeps going. I love him. And it’s a hard character to play. It’s very absorbing, but I’ve liked bringing him to life every time. I’ve loved it.”

And there you have it.

You can read his full interview here.

The Harder They Fall premieres in select theaters October 22nd and on Netflix November 3rd.


Photo: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock

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