“Taylor was great,” the English actor told Variety at a screening of “Turn Up Charlie,” his new Netflix series. “Her and I had a lot of work to do together, and she was amazing. She worked hard and was just happy to be there.”
Elba and the “Reputation” singer star as the nefarious Macavity and flirty Bombalurina in Universal’s upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical about a playful tribe of felines. Despite the show’s record runs on Broadway and London’s West End, Elba hadn’t seen the production prior to joining the film’s star-studded cast, which also includes James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Judi Dench and more.
“It was all really new to me, but I know the songs, of course, so I was sort of in new territory, but it was really liberating,” Elba said. “It was so much fun playing that big Macavity character.”
“Cats” is just one of multiple projects on the horizon for Elba that will showcase both his acting and musical talent. The performer is also set to take the stage at Coachella music festival as a DJ next month.
“Coachella is, for any DJ, like one of the biggest gigs you can do,” Elba said. “But every day I’m getting excited about doing it. There’s a lot of buzz around it. I’m like one of a million DJs there, but I feel really special to be there.”
Elba’s experiences as musician are what prompted him to co-create and executive produce “Turn Up Charlie,” which features him as a struggling DJ-turned-“manny” for a difficult celebrity child. During a panel discussion after a screening of the comedy series at the Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center, Elba recalled his pleasant surprise when Netflix executives bought the project in the first pitch meeting.
“We didn’t actually get to pitch it around,” he told Turner Classic Movies’ Dave Karger. “Netflix was the first pitch, and they bought it in the room, which is incredible because we didn’t have a story, a script, a bible. We had nothing but a bunch of anecdotes from me.”
Though he told Variety he’s been pushing his agent to look for comedic opportunities for a while, the world of comedy was new to the veteran drama actor. He had plenty of experience as a DJ and a parent, but his ingenuity in the laughs department humbled him in the writers’ room.
“I’m putting my best work in, and they’re like, ‘This is s—, Idris,'” he joked.
Luckily, he said Netflix was willing to help him along by any means necessary, even if it meant sharing their famously top secret audience analytics, “believe it or not.” The numbers “confirmed” that their efforts to make the show more inclusive, by casting Piper Perabo as a successful artist, was a step in the right direction toward appealing to a more diverse audience.
“The first thing was to make the hero DJ a woman,” Elba said. “It wasn’t like a ‘let’s do this to be cool’ — it just made the show much more interesting when we start to talk about parenting, and that the bigger of the two in this couple is a DJ, she’s female and she’s a mom. And those offered us way more drama and way more avenues to explore.”
“Turn Up Charlie” launches on Netflix March 15.