On the evening of the film’s London premiere, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom star Idris Elba remembered the iconic former South African president, who died at the age of 95 on Thursday, in a statement released by The Weinstein Company.
“What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world,” Elba said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
In preparation for the role, Elba insisted on spending a night in a cell on Robben Island, the prison in which Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years in which he was incarcerated.
The actor never met Mandela, but did conference with Mandela’s daughters Zindzi and Zenani at the London premiere on Thursday, as did Naomi Harris, who plays Winnie Mandela in the film. The news of the former president’s death was broken to the premiere’s attendees, including Prince William and wife, Duchess Kate Middleton, as the credits rolled on the film, according to a reporter on the scene. The two Mandela daughters were alerted to the passing of their father earlier, and asked that the show continue.
Morgan Freeman, who played Mandela in 2009’s Invictus, also released a statement, saying, “Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century. Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve — a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind. As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we’ve come, but on how far we have to go. Madiba may no longer be with us, but his journey continues on with me and with all of us.”
Harvey Weinstein, the Long Walk to Freedom distributor, added, “One of the privileges of making movies is having the opportunity to immortalize those who have made a profound impact on humanity. We count ourselves unspeakably fortunate to have been immersed in Nelson Mandela’s story and legacy. It’s been an honor to have been granted such proximity to a man who will go down as one of history’s greatest freedom fighters and advocates for justice. I have had the privilege of spending time with President Mandela and I can say his sense of humor was as great as his optimism. We are deeply saddened by his loss; our hearts go out to his family and the entire South African nation.”