Idris Elba Spent A Night In Nelson Mandela’s Jail

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September 13, 2013 | 7:26am EST

British actor Idris Elba spent a night in the jail where Nelson Mandela was locked up for 18 years to prepare for his role as the former South African leader in a new biopic.
The Wire star plays the civil rights icon in new movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, adapted from the autobiography of the same name, and he decided to visit the Robben Island prison in South Africa as part of his preparations.
Mandela spent nearly two decades behind bars at the facility, and Elba was given a glimpse into his ordeal by spending a night in a cell there.
He tells Britain’s Daily Mail, “It was a s**t hole. I had a thin blanket for a mattress and that’s all there was between me and the concrete floor. They gave me a bowl. I had no water, nothing to drink at all. I was wearing my sweats and whatnot. I had two iPads to document myself and a cell phone. Mr Mandela spent 18 years in the cell next to mine. It was a tiny room; the man turned the key and as I saw him walk away, it was plunged into darkness.
“Before he went, he gave me a number to call if I wanted to be released. Later I checked my phone, but there was no signal. I was there for the whole night, whether I liked it or not. I slept for about an hour in total.”
Elba believes he was visited by spirits during his night in the cell: “There were ghosts there – of course there were! – because people had died there. I woke in the night and a massive cold thing hit my face, almost like cold water… it was obviously a spirit.
“The wind made the cell bars make this ringing sound that echoed throughout the building. They clanged all night. I was on my own, but I wasn’t alone.”
However, the actor is convinced the spooky experience helped him portray the horror of Mandela’s ordeal, adding, “Every time I did the cell scenes in the film, I thought of that night. It wasn’t pretend for me.”
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom will be released in the U.S. in November and in the U.K. in January.