I was watching a few of my favorite movies recently, and realized that they both had supporting actors that just freaking owned the screen whenever they were on camera. The first was Chewitel Ejiofor, who played The Operative in Serenity; the second was Idris Elba, who played Heimdall in Thor. Maybe it was because I watched the two in such close proximity, but a couple of things occurred to me.
The first was, both are powerfully built black men with British accents. The second was, I couldn’t think of a single white actor who conveys the strength and resolve and… well, dammit, presence that these two men bring to the screen.
A little trivia about the role of Heimdall: when Elba’s casting was first announced, there were some rumbles about casting a black man as a Viking god, portrayed as a white man in the comics. There are few times when race is that relevant in storytelling, but as a possessor of some Nordic blood, not that many Vikings were black.
But then I remembered another character from the Thor Comics, Hogun the Grim of the Warriors Three. Originally, the three were patterned after others; Fandral the Dashing was Errol Flynn, Volstagg the Voluminous was Shakespeare’s Falstaff, and Hogun was Charles Bronson. But over the years (and under different artists), Hogun “evolved” from Bronson to a Mongol warrior. So, if a Mongol could be a Viking god, why couldn’t a black man?
And then I saw the movie, and totally lost any doubts I had left. Elba was easily the most commanding character — and he shared screen time with Hannibal Lecter, for god’s sake. (Pun half intended.)
I’m now really wracking my brain for white actors who can totally dominate a screen like Ejiofor and Elba did in these two movies, and it’s tough. Tommy Noonan as Francis Dolarhyde in “Manhunter.” Michael Chiklis in “The Shield” (small screen, I admit.) Zachary Quinto (Sylar from “Heroes” and Spock from the “Star Trek” reboot”) has potential.
But none of them leave me as impressed (and, yeah, maybe a little intimidated) like those two big black British men.