Fans of the moody crime thriller "Luther" likely will say goodbye to Det. John Luther on the small screen after this week.
With a "Luther" prequel movie in the works, both star
"I think both Neil and I would consider it if you could get David Bowie to come and score the next season," the British actor told me during a conference call with reporters last week. "If you can do that I think Neil and I would be writing straightaway."
Hopefully Bowie is reading this story, because the new season of "Luther," airing over four consecutive nights beginning at 9 p.m. Sept. 3 on BBC America, shows that "Luther" is getting better with age. (Read my review here.)
While hunting two ruthless killers, Luther faces an internal investigation determined to bring him down. Despite all this, he pursues a chance for happiness in the arms of Mary Day (Sienna Guillory).
Elba talked about Luther's new love interest versus his relationship with the killer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), who—mild spoiler alert!—pops back into Luther's life this season.
Elba, who can be seen on the big screen playing Nelson Mandela in "Long Walk to Freedom" later this year, answered questions about his other projects, "The Wire" and why the short seasons of "Luther" really work for him.
Alice is back this season and I was wondering if you could talk further about the bond that she and Luther share and why it's so strong.
I guess it's just the history of who they both are and the sort of journey that they've both taken along the seasons of the show. Alice and Luther I think share, you know, share an intellect that they both thrive on. And I think because of that, because of the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them, they end up sort of being attracted to each other. They're sort of opposites but they just end up being attracted to each other because ultimately, they each own sort of a big secret about each other.
And I think for Neil and I to explore that storyline, for us it just became a tantalizing way to explore a relationship that's non-sexual but has a sexual undertone to it. And it's, you know, it's dangerous because we know the parameters for each character.
I think that's why we enjoy it. It's something that we can explore on TV slowly as we like or as accelerated as we like.
Do you think that she's correct in saying that happiness is sort of what Luther thinks he wants but is not really what he wants?
Yes, definitely. She has a real understanding I think of what Luther aspires for but I don't think that Luther personally either wants particularly happiness but some sort of satisfaction.
MORE ON "LUTHER"
What's the theme of this season?
That's a good question. Internally, we wanted to get closer to Luther and not follow a route of "Oh, he's getting more and more depressed," or taking more and more drugs and wanting to shoot himself. We didn't want to do that. What we wanted to do is get to know him a bit closer and figure out what he would do under pressure.
And the theme we'd like to say, is understanding the legacy of everything he has lived with, how do we get into that—and having him investigated was the ultimate, sort of autopsy on him.
And we wanted to make that stretch over the season so that at the end when we say the last words, we wanted the audience to say, "Now what?" And literally look at Luther and go, "I don't know where you can go from here, pal."
So I think you're right in the idea that we wanted to really look at was the weight of his actions and how that has changed him or not changed him. But at the same time we really wanted to keep our audience thrilled. Our bad guys in Luther are always vivid and horrible, but we wanted to enhance that this season—elevate it, in a darker way.
Luther's walk seems different than any other walk of any other character you play. Was that on purpose and does that say something about him?
I want to be honest with you and tell you the truth, but I suspect it might be disappointing for you. Honestly, over the last three years, I've been dealing with a really bad injury on my ankle and it has gotten worse. I end up having to choose my shoes that I use for Luther very carefully because Season 1 it was the same pair of shoes that just were too tight and hurt me when I walked a certain way (not realizing that was my main issue).
And then this season I sort of changed it up suddenly. It's a lot more technical than you think. I mean it's a great compliment. I've heard that Luther has a crazy walk and it's great, but it's really not as intentional as I'd like to say.
This season ends with a sense of closure. Did you feel that at the end of these episodes or did the whole idea for this prequel movie come about because you just really got to feel like you'd like this character to go?
No, honestly I think it's part of the Bible of what Neil wanted for this character. It sees its roots in the book, and the TV show being what it is, I think we've always wanted to take it to a filmic character.
This season wasn't really designed to be a closure. … However, the time is really ripe for "Luther" to turn into a film, considering we've had a really interesting continuing following on the show. And, our intention was always to take it to a film, which I think is where we can really explore what makes this man tick and really understand Luther, or go on weirder and more experimental journeys with him by using the film medium.
Are you excited about the possibility of exploring his life before we had met him Season 1?
Yes, I think the origin story is a classic superhero-type set-up, and I've always likened Luther to a superhero just because, as television makers we bend the rules so much. And so, yes, it would be interesting to understand where that came from and how do we end up in that first episode of Season 1—that would be great and really exciting. But then, beyond that, to pick up after Season 3 and figure out what happens next.
What are the advantages of doing "Luther" in limited-run installments?
Well, one advantage is that I'm less depressed for most of the year, and that's good. I like not being depressed because it's a quiet dark show, and I take my work home with me a little bit.
And No. 2, what I think we have done and taken advantage of is studying the trends of our audience. Season 1 told us that they were up for a ride with the show, with six episodes, and they're up for this weird character. That gave us a little bit of foundation for us to then design Season 2 and then ultimately Season 3—knowing that the audience actually doesn't need 12. They're happy to go with this really crazy ride in short bursts.
And especially the gap between Season 2 and Season 3 being so far, we really understood, the way that new consumers or new audiences were coming to "Luther" was in box sets, and they were soaking up these episodes, and prepared to wait for the next.
That's been the advantage for me as an actor, sort of understanding what we do next, giving myself some space and building an arc over time. It's rare, definitely, for characters to be built that way on television. But I think it represents the new trends of how audiences are absorbing TV.
What do you think it is about Luther that makes everyone want to come after him?
I think Luther is just a target, you know. He's a big target, someone to blame. He's a big, burly man, not afraid to have an opinion and go in and solve cases in 10 minutes.
With that comes a responsibility. If you drive a motorcycle without a helmet, the likelihood is that you're going to get flies stuck to your face. And I think that's part of what happens with Luther in the way he goes about his work.
I think going into Season 3, that was the idea—that although Luther has made this attempt to clean up his act, he wasn't surprised that someone was sniffing about ... And that was very exciting for me to read when Neil was writing that—that Luther might have to justify himself at some point. That was really thrilling for us to sort of explore.
After watching Season 3, many fans said they have been afraid to sleep without a chair up against the door or things like that. What sort of horror stories have you heard from fans about how the series has frightened them?
I've heard a lot of people this season didn't go to bed until they were able to look underneath it. I heard a lot of people stayed in their living rooms. And a couple was huddled up on a sofa—a true story—and I was like, "You've got to be joking!"… That's hilarious.
Did you find yourself doing anything strange at all or is that not what you mean when you say you take it home with you?
No, no, I wouldn't do anything strange. Honestly, we try to be as graphic as we can, as we're allowed to be on TV. And it's really harsh stuff. I will see a man has been murdered and stabbed multiple times and a man hanging from a tree—those images stick with me for some reason. I absorb them and it's hard to shake.
Luther has a romance with Mary in the new season. Can you talk about what her attraction would be for Luther or is her function in the story just to show his softer side to us while he is being investigated?
I think Luther's attraction to Mary is based on just how completely different and untouched she is. She's the furthest thing away from a murder scene and I think she's bizarrely, sort of isolated in her own world and own bubble. I think Luther is so attracted to that—it's kind of like a grizzly bear being fascinated by a goldfish—just like, wow. And I think that's the attraction.
When we're going to discover whether Luther is a bad guy or not—by investigating him—we certainly wanted to parallel that with him having some real feelings for someone for a change and, you know, go in for that.
And obviously Neil, being such a creative writer, managed to sew the two storylines in a way that it was one or the other for Luther eventually. So, yes, it definitely was a mechanism for that. But Luther just wanted to fall in love with someone that just took him away from what he does for a living and who he has been for the world, you know?
Alice said that she would have bored him eventually.
She did say that. One of my more favorite lines in the season when she said, "Oh, you'd be bored in a week." It's so funny how Ruth delivered that, very funny. The point is, yes, I think, that speaks of him. One of the first questions was, "Does Alice know what he really wants?" And she said, you know, "He's saying he wants happiness. He doesn't really want happiness," and that's why she said that about him and her and Mary.
Can you say how you think Luther has changed between Season 1 and Season 3? Would the Season 1 Luther have been prepared to handle an investigation like this?
No. Season 1 Luther was definitely just coming out of the end of a very odd, weird, dark time. It was stuff that we didn't really explore, but post-traumatic stuff that happened. He was willing to kill someone, practically, in the first season, in order to get to the truth.
And by Season 3 I think he stabilized himself somewhat, even though he's gone through such trauma. He's managed to stabilize himself so that he doesn't get to that place as quickly and as recklessly.
So it has been a massive change for him, you know. I wouldn't say he's grown up but he has definitely started to grasp onto the idea that he just can't get away with the way he has been living. So there is a big massive arc. And In Season 3 we see Luther smiling—not from irony but from actual happiness—a couple of times. In Season 1 a lot of it was very dark.
ON POSSIBLY PLAYING JAMES BOND
There have been rumblings of maybe you taking over as James Bond when Daniel Craig quits, and I was wondering first if you'd be interested in that and if you think you have what it takes to be 007?
Honestly, you know, it's a rumor that's kind of decided to eat itself. It's interesting. It's a very kind rumor as well because it's an iconic role. I guess you have to have certain attributes to play Bond.
And I don't know, do I have the attributes? Considering that my favorite Bonds are
ON PLAYING NELSON MANDELA
Did any of your movie characters sort of bite into you as much as John Luther?
Mandela (in "Long Walk to Freedom") was definitely a very, very challenging role for me in a way that Luther is. It's very absorbing and doing Mandela probably 15 months ago now—no, a year ago now, and then doing "Luther," you know, they're both very, very complex characters and demanding of my time. But I guess this is what I do for a living, you know, and I enjoy the process of jumping from one person to another.
How does playing Mandela compare to other characters?
For me that is a piece of history, told by film. And, honestly, my performance in it—I was just a vessel. I don't know how to say that without making it sound corny but, it's a great, massive opportunity, massive responsibility to play Mr. Mandela. But I didn't write that. None of us wrote that. That's the truth. So, you know, for me, I'm just sort of like a tool in a toolbox to make that story come out.
ON "THE WIRE"
In comparing Luther and Stringer Bell, is Stringer a lot more cerebral and Luther more visceral or instinctual? They're both brilliant in their own way but are they different or are they both just really brilliant guys?
Yes, I think you're right. I think both of them have instincts that they try to follow. But I think definitely Stringer is more cerebral in the sense that he's a planner. He really is strategic in his thinking and Luther is much more sort of like, let me just grasp a straw here and I think I might be right-type guy and is willing to take the risk of being wrong dramatically. Luther, I don't think he's that, was that.
What kind of impact did "The Wire" have on you?
"The Wire" was my opening in America, so it's very significant to my career. It completely put me on the map and is some of my best work. As a young actor doing that show, for three years—I really got to build a character slowly and hone in. So it was very significant working on the Wire for my career.
Fans of the moody crime thriller "Luther" likely will say goodbye to Det. John Luther on the small screen after this week.