Idris Elba Kicks Off Emmy FYC Season With 'Turn Up Charlie' Panel

The actor and DJ discussed his Netflix series and told The Hollywood Reporter whether his 'Cats' co-star Taylor Swift could join him at Coachella next month.
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Idris Elba

Idris Elba insists that his new Netflix comedy series Turn Up Charlie — which he created, executive produces and stars in — coming out a month before the actor/DJ makes his Coachella debut is purely coincidental.

"It wasn't planned that way, but you couldn't write a better marketing setup," he told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet Saturday at the very first FYC event of Emmy season, an event held at the Pacific Design Center's SilverScreen Theater less than a week after the Oscars.

Elba has been DJing since he was 13, and he has continued to keep up with his other career as his Hollywood star rises. "The last couple of years my DJing has seen a lot more exposure," in Europe particularly and now, with Turn Up Charlie and Coachella, in the U.S., as well, he said. "Doing a show about a DJ, that started about four years ago. And now we're here, so it's all come together in a nice little bow."

Elba co-created the series, which Netflix bought in the room after he and Gary Reich pitched it based on a series of anecdotes about Elba's life as a DJ and a father. The project evolved into an eight-episode comedy about a one-hit wonder who gets a job as a manny for the daughter of his childhood BFF, now a famous actor and married to a successful DJ that he hopes will help him kick-start a music comeback.

"The best part was nurturing the idea from this one-liner to a story," Elba told THR. "And then, you know, being able to influence it. Charlie isn't a dad, but I am. And so my daughter and I, some of that’s in the show, and just bringing that into the writing room was wicked."

Turn Up Charlie is a comedy very much in the vein of Elba's own sense of humor, he said.

"I like cringe humor — towards the dry side, if I can," he said, "but [there's] a lot of goofiness going on in the [series] and that's a bit of me."

On the red carpet beforehand, Elba also gave THR an update on the Tom Hooper-directed live-action adaptation of the musical Cats, in which he plays Macavity alongside a cast that includes Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. While he did not reveal much about the film, he did confirm that he and his castmates, including Dench, will not be clad in head-to-toe leotards, a la many a Cats live production.

"Leggings? No," Elba said with a laugh. "I think it's going to be incredible to see. I don't want to give too much away, but I think that the way that they're visually making the cats into humans is going to be not seen before."

He was especially impressed by three of his co-stars in particular.

"I love Judi Dench. I got to work with her," Elba said. "And Taylor and I really got on as well. She was really great. James Corden was funny. He's very, very funny."

They evidently got along well enough that it's not entirely out of the question that one of them could pop up as a surprise guest during Elba's Coachella set.

"James could," he said. "Maybe Taylor."

Those hoping for a Dench feature will have to wait until next year.

The Turn Up Charlie event was the first FYC of the season — and also the first event held after the implementation of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' new screening rules. The small theater was still packed, however, with a few dozen people still hoping to get in after the 7 p.m. start time.

After a screening of the first two episodes, Elba discussed how Netflix's analytics helped him and the writers perfect the story arc of the first season.

"They were very open about the analytics, believe it or not," he said, "and we managed to understand what makes the average Netflix user really tick. So we had this really interesting insight into how to make this story work."

While the metrics didn't dictate the story, Elba later clarified, it did help him and the writers understand "the paradigm of how female viewers watch Netflix versus male viewers. ... It confirmed that we were making [correct] choices about things that we felt were important, like the gender dynamic [in the series]. That metric system really made sense to us. We felt like we were making a balanced show that we felt males and females could watch."

Following the screening, Elba did not DJ the reception, but he did stick around to chat up guests and take selfies while the rest of the crowd filled up on passed hors d'oeuvres and a buffet of salads, roasted veggies, potatoes and chicken.