JOHANNESBURG - Nelson Mandela was amused by the elaborate makeup process a British actor went through to play him in a film based on his autobiography, the movie's producer said Saturday of a special screening for the former South African president last year.
"Is that me?" Anant Singh, the South African producer of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," recalled a smiling Mandela as saying when he saw a picture of actor Idris Elba as an elderly version of the man who spent 27 years in jail under white minority rule. After he was freed, Mandela led South Africa through a difficult transition to its first racially inclusive elections in 1994, a historic event that propelled him to the presidency and inspired many around the world.
"I said, `Madiba, you really think it's you?'" Singh replied, using Mandela's clan name. He then explained that Elba sat through more than five hours of makeup before filming even began. Singh had visited Mandela at his home in Qunu, in South Africa's Eastern Cape province. Mandela, 95, has stayed in a hospital in Pretoria, the capital, several times since December and remains critically ill at his Johannesburg home.
Singh and members of the cast spoke at a news conference in Johannesburg Saturday hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation for the film, which is based on Mandela's autobiography and will be released in South Africa in late November before opening in the U.S. and other markets.
Naomie Harris, who starred in the James Bond movie "Skyfall," plays the role of Winnie Mandela, Mandela's second wife and a powerful figure in the anti-apartheid movement in her own right. The couple later divorced.
Zindzi Mandela, one of the couple's children, said she had seen the movie with her mother and that it was an emotional experience. Mandela, she said, is often defined by his prison experiences and his fight against apartheid, but she was pleased to see that the movie also focuses on the traditional values of hierarchy, structure and discipline that shaped him in his early years in the rural Eastern Cape.
"Those values are what made him better able to face challenges ahead of him," she said.
Zindzi Mandela said she was particularly moved by a film scene in which she and her sister are left alone, with both their parents in detention. She said the sequence evoked "the absence of a father and the absence of a mother and the absence of a normal family life."
Singh said Winnie, whose last name is now Madikizela-Mandela, turned to him after seeing the movie and said:
"It's beautiful. Don't change anything. I love it."
The $35 million film was directed by Justin Chadwick. It also features actor Tony Kgoroge, who played the role of a presidential security chief in "Invictus," the 2009 movie directed by Clint Eastwood that starred Morgan Freeman as Mandela in the period leading up to South Africa's World Cup rugby title in 1995. This time, Kgoroge plays Walter Sisulu, a longtime associate of Mandela.
Elba did not attend the news conference because he was ill. Kgoroge praised Elba's performance as Mandela, describing him as "very hungry" and "looking forward to going into the depth of his character.”