Idris Elba: I've always been curious to know what if I pressed that button that says 'Don't push'?

(Image credit: Ray Burmiston)

Idris Elba is not a man to rest on his laurels. As well as being a hugely successful actor on both sides of the Atlantic, thanks to starring roles in The Wire, Luther and the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, he’s also found time for a range of fascinating personal projects.

Next week, we get to see the 42-year-old in two very different guises. He stars in his self-penned Sky Arts drama King For A Term (Thursday, July 9), while Monday sees him indulge his obsession with speed in Discovery’s Idris Elba: No Limits (Monday, July 6).

In the four-part series, Elba embarks on four speed challenges, beginning with rally driving when he competes in the prestigious Circuit of Ireland Race. Later in the run, he learns aerobatics for the Coventry Airbase Airshow, enters the world of drag-speed racing, and then, ambitiously, sets his sights on breaking the land-speed record.

TV & Satellite Week met up with the London-born actor while he was training for the aerobatics episode at an airfield, near Maidenhead in Berkshire…

What made you decide to do the show?

“From a boy I’ve just always been curious. What if I pressed that button when it says ‘don’t push’. What happens if I do? Will I survive? Will I be all right? I want to push myself to the limit.”

Were you a speed freak as a kid?

“Yes, I was. I started off with my BMX bike. That was the first thing I did and I loved it. Then I built go-karts and would shoot down massive hills near Finsbury Park in London where I used to live. I’ve actually got a scar on my elbow where I scraped all the skin off going around the corner with no brakes on a go-kart made out of pram wheels.“

Which was the scariest of the show’s four challenges?

“Flying planes and doing loops in them for the aerobatics episode. The effect on your body is unbelievable. I’m eating chocolate now because I’ve just been up in the plane and my body is a bit trembly.”

Are you going to get a pilot’s licence?

“I’ve thought about it because I like driving vehicles and I can drive a bike and boats. If I had the time, it would be nice to get a pilot’s licence. I could fly myself around. That would be useful.”

Are there any extreme challenges you haven’t tried that you would love to do?

“I haven’t jumped out of a plane. I’m thinking about that. We were going to try to do it for the aerobatics episode, but we ran out of time. I also wouldn’t mind doing rallycross, which is a cousin of rallying, and looks like a lot of fun.”

How do these speed challenges compare with tackling a difficult acting role?

“Playing Nelson Mandela was the biggest challenge for me because he was a real person who was so admired and I was so different from him. It seemed almost impossible that I could play him. Can I learn the laws of aerodynamics in a couple of days? Yes, I can. Can I pull off playing Nelson Mandela? That wasn’t so straightforward.”

Surely all these speed challenges are setting you up to be the next James Bond…

“Thank you very much. But that’s just a rumour. I’ve no idea.”

Are there any roles that you would like to play that you haven’t?

“There are loads of them. As an actor I am still growing. There’s loads of stuff that I haven’t done and, as long as audiences are happy to watch, I’m never going to stop acting.”