How a writers first film script inspired Idris Elba to become its star

Leon Butler asked a friend for help and ended up meeting the Wire actor

Even in his wildest dreams, Leon Butler never imagined that he would make a film with Idris Elba one of Britains biggest stars of film and TV.

As a quantity surveyor and property developer, Butler had no connections with that world, let alone with an actor on the wishlist of most casting directors. Yet Butlers first screenplay inspired the star of crime series Luther and The Wire to waive his usual fee to both star in it and produce it.

The film, 100 Streets, is a drama about modern city life. It is set in London, on the streets around the Albert Bridge, Chelsea and Battersea.

Elba plays a former rugby superstar who has lost his way since his glory days and is on a downward spiral with a disintegrating marriage. Other characters include a small-time drug dealer who strikes up an unlikely friendship with an ageing actor, and a cab driver torn apart by an accident. Relationships and loyalties are pushed to the limit.

Butler, 42, told the Observer that watching Elba bring to life his character was just surreal. He recalled: There were many times on the set where I would pinch myself. He will be walking up the red carpet at the films charity premiere in London on 8 November, three days before its release in UK cinemas.

Leon
Leon Butler. Photograph: Getty

It was Elbas compelling portrayal of the complex but deadly lieutenant of a Baltimore drug empire in The Wire that propelled the actor to international fame. His depiction of the complex anti-hero Detective Chief Inspector John Luther in the crime series Luther earned him Golden Globe recognition, among other awards. His films include Mandela: the Long Walk to Freedom.

But he was drawn to the novice scriptwriters work, helping to shape it, advising on the musical score and producing videos expressing his enthusiasm for the project, to entice investors. His involvement immediately opened doors. He introduced Butler to sales agents, distributors and other key players.

Butler said: Its a very difficult world out there for independent drama. Without Idris, [the film] would be nowhere with Idris, of course thats how we got Sony to buy worldwide distribution. I owe him everything.

In the films production notes, Elba says: I respected Leons drive and wanted to try to help make the project happen. Its so important that smaller-scale British films still get made and I was keen to do my bit.

He also brought in other A-list actors, including Gemma Arterton, who starred alongside Daniel Craigs 007 in Quantum of Solace and was Elbas co-star in Guy Ritchies gangster film RocknRolla. In 100 Streets, she plays Elbas estranged wife. Butler said: She worked with us for a couple of weeks. You couldnt have found a more professional young woman.

The son of a builder and architect, Butler grew up in Bedfordshire before studying quantity surveying and commercial management at Manchester University. He then moved to London, working on high-end refurbishments.

A sports injury led indirectly to his change of career. While he was convalescing, and unable to do anything else, he was urged by a friend to occupy himself with a screenwriting course. He had always loved watching films, but he never had a burning desire to write one until then.

When he later started to raise money for his film, he approached friends from school and the City. Their initial reaction was one of disbelief. But he inspired them with his enthusiasm.

One friend, a financial adviser, introduced him to a leading casting director, Ros Hubbard, after he happened to organise her mortgage. She has cast about 140 films and TV productions, including The Da Vinci Code.

She read the script, and loved it so much that she became one of its producers and showed it to Elba. Butler recalled: She said that Idris would love to meet you. That was a real buzz.

He added: Its difficult to walk into an industry armed with a first draft of a script. Idris does these huge movies in Hollywood now, but hes very keen to show real stories about real people.

100 Streets conveys the loneliness of life in a big city. Even when living cheek by jowl with other people, we can all be lost, Butler said.

Elba believes that the film will appeal to a worldwide audience as the characters are familiar to all city life. If theres a message, its mainly that, although city life can be lonely, we can all be part of something. People are always willing to help you in your hour of need. Its a complex, but ultimately a positive film.

DEBUT CLASSICS


Citizen Kane (1941)

Orson Welles produced, co-authored, directed and performed the lead role. It won an Academy Award for best writing.

Rocky (1976)

Sylvester Stallones first screenplay became the highest-grossing film of 1976 and won three Oscars.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed the cult classic, his first feature-length film, later named the greatest independent film of all time by Empire.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

First-time writer Michael Arndt won the Academy Award for best original screenplay. It was also the joint feature film debut of husband-and-wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Juno (2007)

Diablo Codys debut script won an Academy Award and a Bafta for best original screenplay.

Rebecca Ratcliffe

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/29/film-script-idris-elba-premiere

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