Before he made a name for himself on HBO's hit series The Wire, Idris Elba was just another actor struggling to pay the bills in New York City. In fact, the London-born actor, 41, even turned to dealing drugs to make ends meet, he tells the October issue of GQ.
"I was running with cats. I mean, I was DJ'ing, but I was also pushing bags of weed; I was doing my work. I had to," he says of hustling to survive in the city after leaving England nearly two decades ago. "I know that sounds corny, but this is the truth."
The Luther actor admits that he was even making transactions at Carolines, a comedy club where he worked as a doorman, ushering in the likes of D.L. Hughley and Dave Chappelle. "All those black comedians, they knew me as a doorman," he says.
For a period of time in his twenties, Elba tells the magazine that he was hopping between New York and London just trying to make a living, and when his short-lived marriage to a London gal fell apart, he was forced to live out of his Astro van.
"The apartment we had lived in together was in Jersey City," he recalls. "So when I left, I was sofa-hopping here and there and got to a place where I was parking it in Jersey somewhere and just camping down for the night."
Elba's big break came when he caught wind of a new show HBO was casting for called The Wire, about drug dealers in Baltimore. He initially auditioned for the part of Avon Barksdale, the leader of the crew ("I was studying in my van for the auditions," he says) but ultimately landed the now-iconic role of Stringer Bell, who helped Avon run a drug ring.
Even with his current success, however -- Elba currently plays the title character on Luther, and will play historical leader Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom -- the actor is still humble about his part in the success of The Wire, one of the most critically beloved TV series of all time.
"That really is more about the writing of The Wire than it is the performance," he said of the legacy of Stringer on the show. "You know, Stringer Bell is a great character that was written. I happened to play him, but it could've been anyone playing that role."
"Listen, I think I brought Stringer to life my way, but The Wire isn't a classic because of Stringer Bell," he clarifies. "The Sopranos was a classic because of Tony Soprano."
In 2010, the actor was hit with a bit of unsettling news. Though he initially proudly told the press that he was going to be a father a second time (he and his ex-wife had welcomed a daughter in 2002), he later refused to comment on his second child.
What happened, he explains to GQ, is that a woman he had been dating in Florida had a child that turned out not to be his. But the actor, who was by this point used to life's tough knocks, got back on his feet.
"You know, the truth is —- like, even admitting it, I'll probably get laughed at for the rest of my life," he says. "But I wasn't knocked out. I stood right the f--k back up, and I ain't aiming to take another punch in the face ever again. Do you understand what I'm saying? It happened to me. I moved on."