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Idris Elba talks ‘The Dark Tower,’ Mayweather vs. McGregor, Usain Bolt — and Pelé

Even with a resume that includes ‘The Wire’ and playing Beyoncé‘s husband, an underdog mentality keeps him motivated

It’s media day for Idris Elba: 48 hours before the release of his newest film, an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Elba takes on the role of Roland Deschain (The Gunslinger) as he battles Matthew McConaughey as Walter O’Dim (The Man In Black) for the safety of the universe. Elba is genuinely excited, but admitted he knew very little about King’s eight-part, 4,250-page magnum opus when he first read the script. In fact, he hadn’t read a single page.

“It hadn’t piqued my interest,” he said. “But as soon as I got invited to the script, I was intrigued. I looked at all the iconography, thinking, ‘That ain’t me!’ ” He lets out a laugh from the pit of his stomach. “I’m reading the script like I’m the Man In Black, right? No, no, no. You’re The Gunslinger.”

Besides his title role in the BBC’s acclaimed series, Luther, for which he won a Golden Globe after being nominated five times for a variety of roles, Elba’s appeared in Prometheus, Finding Dory (2016), Beasts of No Nation (2015), Pacific Rim (2013), Thor (2011), and Takers (2010). He had a recurring role on the landmark series The Office, and starred with Beyoncé in 2009’s Obsessed. There were also many rumors about him becoming the next James Bond — Elba’s no stranger to diversity in his character portfolio.

But for many, the 45-year-old London-born superstar’s most lauded role will forever remain the shrewd, vindictive drug capo Stringer Bell in HBO’s Baltimore gospel The Wire.

He says that he works best when he feels a bit of an underdog.

“I grew up in a time where the complexion I have was not favored,” said Elba. “Lighter-skinned actors were favored in these roles. I’m used to being the underdog.” Could King’s character look like Elba? A black guy? The doubt was motivation for Elba. “I don’t really listen to it,” he said. “I’ll always go for the guy who has to work harder to get there. That’s pretty much been my journey.” (King has sung the praises of Elba’s work as The Gunslinger. He sees it as nothing short of incredible.)

In an ideal world for Elba, The Dark Tower is the beginning of what becomes a series — like The Lord of the Rings. There’s so much of King’s opus to be told that can’t be whittled down to a two-hour movie. But he’s also excited to talk about Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor’s upcoming fight, his fave athletes, and how certain streaming apps please the music nerd in him.

Favorite athlete of all time.

My favorite athlete was/is Pelé.

Exceptional choice. But why Pelé?

Phenomenal footballer. One of the greatest that’s ever did it.

“I’m a competitive person. I love to fight. I have a pain threshold.”

Favorite current athlete?

Usain Bolt, at this point.

I know you’re a big music fan. Are you #TeamTidal, #TeamSpotify or #TeamAppleMusic?

I use Tidal and Apple Music. I think they’re both great. I find Tidal interesting in terms of the accessibility to the footnotes and album credits. That’s something I like. I’m bit of a nerd. I like to see who wrote stuff and produced it. I find Tidal a lot more accessible in that sense. I think Apple Music is a great service all around. It works almost everywhere in the world. I like that.

To train for The Dark Tower, you trained in both boxing and mixed martial arts.

The best I’ve been in physical and mental health, the time my body works the best, is when I train. I’m a competitive person. I love to fight. I have a pain threshold. I consider myself alive as long as I’m able to go somewhere and hit a bag.

“I grew up in a time where the complexion I have was not favored.”

How do you think Mayweather-McGregor will play out later this month?

Floyd Mayweather has a challenge on his hands. He’s fighting someone at the peak of his career who’s a very agile mixed martial artist. I believe that there is a real chance of McGregor not penetrating the impenetrable Floyd Mayweather as a boxer. But penetrating his composure as a fighter.

So you’re giving McGregor a legit shot?

Listen, Floyd Mayweather’s camp is like, ‘Yo, man. How you gon’ say that?’ (Laughs.) But I never said he was gonna get beat. But there’s a chance that McGregor can lay one on him. And if he does that, he’s such a fast striker that he will continue to do it. Conor McGregor has nothing to lose. Floyd Mayweather has an impeccable 49-0 career to lose. So Conor McGregor’s coming in to fight and Floyd is gonna have to box because that’s what he knows. When you’re a mixed martial artist, you have certain agility that does a couple of things. One, boxers move slightly different when you’re being struck. And two, it gets annoying. Your composure goes in a different way because of the way kickboxers move. Now he’s not allowed to kick. He’s gonna have to box, but it’s about the agility. It’s about the striking, about how quickly they strike and the tempos. There are all sorts of things that I think Floyd needs to be very, very careful of. That’s just my opinion.

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.