'Long Walk to Freedom' Premiere: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris Celebrate Nelson Mandela in Style
THR learns what Mandela said when he saw a clip of Elba in prosthetics ("is that me?"), while director Justin Chadwick shares why he wanted to show "not just the saintly side, but the flesh and blood side" of the anti-Apartheid leader.
South Africa descended upon Hollywood Monday to celebrate the premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Among those at the ArcLight Hollywood Cinerama were stars Idris Elba, Naomie Harris and director Justin Chadwick, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the responsibilities of capturing the journey of renowned anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.
Chadwick said he wanted show “not just the saintly side, but the flesh and blood side” of Mandela (Elba) and his wife, Winnie Mandela (Harris).
“The heart of the film is a love story; him as a father, as a husband and as a man,” said Chadwick.
The film tackled many key moments in Mandela's life, including his rural upbringing in the Xhosa tribe, his imprisonment and eventual inauguration as president.
“It inspired me not only as a daughter, but as a South African,” said Zindzi Mandela, one of Mandela's daughters. “Everyone involved did just justice to the story."
When THR asked what her father thought of the biopic, she said that after seeing a small clip of Elba in prosthetics, he jokingly asked “is that me?”
On inhabiting the role of a man whom he dubbed a “living legend,” Elba described his experience as difficult, but also called it educational and inspiring.
“I’m an honorary Mandela now,” he joked. “Zindzi calls me dad.”
Later, Mandela's daughter proved Elba right when she made brief remarks ahead of the screening. She got a big laugh from the audience by addressing the actor as someone “who I don’t mind calling ‘big Daddy,’ anytime."
Chadwick noted a similarity between both men, as well.
“Mandela radiates electricity,” said the director. “Idris has that same quality. The Madiba effect. He’s the man to fill those shoes.”
Harris discussed her feelings on having her own big shoes to fill.
“I felt pulled in so many different directions, because everybody had such strong opinions of how she should be played,” Harris said. “But after sitting down with Winnie herself, she gave me ownership of the part.”
The actress recalled Winnie Mandela telling her "you are the right person for this role. You can do it. All I ask is that you portray me faithfully.”
Producer (and South Africa native) Anant Singh, who started corresponding with Mandela about the movie’s rights while the latter was still behind bars, said Mandela chose him personally "to be the custodian for the rights and to bring it to the big screen."
“I am honored, and hope that people get inspired by it, and introspect themselves the way Mandela does," Singh said.
An after-party at Warwick LA immediately followed the screening, where stars showed off a few dance moves and shared laughs over celebratory cocktails.
Others who lent their support to the premiere included Angela Bassett, Quincy Jones, Castle's Stana Katic, Entourage alum Emmanuelle Chriqui, Long Walk to Freedom composer Alex Heffes, South African artist Nomfusi Gotyana, Joshua Jackson, Alfre Woodard and The Deer Hunter’s John Savage.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, from the Weinstein Co., is set to be released on Nov. 29.
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