Idris Elba did that “Cancelling the Apocalypse” speech a million times

If you've seen the trailers for Pacific Rim, then you already know that Idris Elba plays an inspirational leader. But he's also the movie's emotional core. We talked to Elba about the cost of fighting monsters, and just why he always ends up playing the only level-headed person in films like Pacific Rim and Prometheus.

Spoilers ahead...

In Pacific Rim, Elba plays Stacker Pentecost, who's in charge of the Jaegers, the giant human-piloted robots that battle the rampaging monsters from beneath the sea. Rinko Kikuchi plays Mako Mori, a young cadet who shares a complicated past with Stacker Pentecost. And meanwhile, Stacker recruits Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a veteran Jaeger pilot who has some major trauma to get over.

We were lucky enough to have an exclusive interview with Elba this week, and here's what he told us. Plus check out some new art from concept artist Hugo Martin.

That scene where you shout, "We are cancelling the Apocalypse." How many takes did you have to do of it, and did you try it a bunch of different ways?

Yeah, yeah. I did it a million times: different takes, different ways. More passionate, less passionate. More matter of fact, more "hero moment." Guillermo always saw that particular line about "canceling the apocalypse" as, you know, the tagline of the film. And that was great, but you know, that presents challenges, when you get lines like that. You know, you want them to feel and sound real. Even though you know they're going to be in the trailer, you just want them to be real.

And so how do you go about making that sound real, when you know it's the tagline?

Oh, you know, it's about the emotion in that particular time. With about 400 or 500 people staring at me. Stacker, at this point, is about to fight, and [he knows he's probably] going to die if he gets back in that ring. So "cancelling the apocalypse" is like a proclamation of, "Listen, man. If I'm going to fucking die, hey, here it is."

Idris Elba did that “Cancelling the Apocalypse” speech a million times

Your character is in charge of this whole crew of monster fighters, and constantly has to keep them in check. Is he a master manipulator, or just kind of a control freak?

He's neither, I think. He's sort of like in the middle of this big old world which is falling apart, and you know, the only agenda for him is to try and figure out a way to fight these monsters, this enemy. He's sort of a soldier's soldier. He has no real agenda, apart from getting the job done.

I feel like the relationship between Stacker and Mako is like the emotional backbone of the film. How much more was there to that backstory than what we saw on screen? Did you talk to Rinko Kikuchi about what your characters had been through together?

Yeah, you know... That was one of Guillermo's focuses: making sure the human story within this film is very strong. So we dicussed elements of how they [developed] in that relationship — you see it play out in the film, but it was very much a part of what Guillermo wanted to see. It was very much underlined, that there's a good relationship between the two of them. And he's very protective of her. You see that at the beginning of the film.

Right. In fact, Stacker doesn't want to let Mako become a pilot for one of the giant Jaeger robots, at first. Why do you think he changes his mind about that?

I think because... Like, Raleigh [Becket] is one of the best soldiers he's ever fought alongside. They're the only two soldiers who have ever fought a solo run [inside a Jaeger, which usually requires two pilots working together. So when Raleigh wants Mako as his co-pilot], to me it was about him saying to Raleigh, "Okay, okay, you think you've got it right? Here. Go ahead and give it a shot. I taught her well, she's very, very good. But I don't want her to fight." [It's like I'm saying to Raleigh], "Oh, you want to challenge me? Well, here's a challenge for you."

Idris Elba did that “Cancelling the Apocalypse” speech a million times

When Jaeger pilots mentally connect with each other to control the giant robots, they face their past traumas. Your character has been through more than anybody, but then he says that he doesn't bring any trauma, or anything else, to this neural link. Why is that?

I think that's just experience, from a soldier's perspective, of having a clear mind. It's like being a boxer: If you go into the ring angry and frustrated with your personal life, it's likely you're not going to win. It's having that sort of clear-headed mind. But also, you know, Stacker just wants to forget. [Laughs] He's seen a lot and just wants to forget.

And so he has the mental discipline to just block all his pain out?

Exactly. He has that, and it's really important to him that he maintains it. It's important to his survival and his health.

So when this movie begins, you're losing Jaeger robots constantly, and you're down to just four robots left. Why is your character not just clawing his face off at how hopeless everything is?

I think because he is that last man standing. You know, he's just that guy that has no choice at this time. He has no time for sentiment. He has no choice. The kind of man he is, he just doesn't want his emotions to show. You know? That's all.

Idris Elba did that “Cancelling the Apocalypse” speech a million times

So what's the appeal of doing these big science fiction movie projects? Like this movie, Thor, Prometheus, Ghost Rider 2, and so on?
In each case, it was all the director. Kenneth Branagh, Ridley Scott, Guillermo del Toro... they're all very big directors, that I certainly want to work with. They all happen to be in the fantasy world, but that was definitely my focus, is to be working with really really good visionary directors. Moving forward, I'm not really bound to be doing more scifi, but if a great director comes along, and that's what he wants to do, I'm going with it. You know?

In both Pacific Rim and Prometheus, you're playing the only sensible person in the film. You're the only one who actually has a head on his shoulders. Do you feel like there's a reason you get cast as these people who are like the voice of reason in these films?

I have no clue, because I am honestly stupid. So I don't know why they think I'm the guy [for those parts]. I don't know, it's interesting. I think it's something to do with stature or presence [in] these roles. Although they are very much similar in that sense, [in that] they both are captains, if you like. The ones who are commanding, at the center of it all, and the ones who have to keep a straight head. They are very different — from my perspective, they're different in the way I approach the performance of each of them. With Stacker, you know, I wasn't allowed to move anything but my eyes and my eyebrows and my mustache. And in Prometheus, even though I had a mustache, I was a little bit looser. It's just a different approach. But Idris is definitely not the common denominator. I don't think I'm the most solid fella that everyone meets.

Pacific Rim opens tomorrow at 7 PM. Concept art by Hugo Martin, via Flicks and Bits.