TORONTO - The Nelson Mandela biopic "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival with a heavy dose of reverence for its subject, and a few extra pounds of muscle, too.
Idris Elba stars as the South African leader in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," which the Weinstein Co. will release in late November. The film, directed by Justin Chadwick, takes a classical, inspirational biopic approach to telling the epic tale of Mandela's life story.
While the brawny Elba, famed for his gangster Stringer Bell on "The Wire," has a much larger frame than Mandela, Chadwick said he was "the brave choice" for the role.
"We're not going for a looky-likey, soundy-likey version of Mandela," Chadwick told reports Sunday, after a Saturday evening premiere that drew a standing ovation but mixed reviews. "We're trying to catch the spirit."
"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" will thus surprise many moviegoers accustomed to the more elderly, white-haired Mandela. While Elba plays him through old age, with the help of make-up and aging effects, he makes a particular impression as a young firebrand revolutionary.
"I certainly just plugged into the energy of Mandela and the way people respect him," said Elba. He added: "There was no messing about with this character and this story."
The film has been in development for many years, during which several other big screen depictions of Mandela have been released. Others to tackle the role include Morgan Freeman ("Invictus") and Terrence Howard ("Winnie Mandela"). Producer Anant Singh long ago secured Mandela's approval.
The 95-year-old Mandela has been ailing, so he wasn't involved in the production or able to meet with Elba. Singh, though, said he showed scenes last year to Mandela on an iPad. When he saw Elba in character, Mandela asked: "Is that me?"