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British actor says playing Mandela was a gift

Monday - 11/4/2013, 12:17pm  ET

British Actor Idris Elba, left, who stars as Nelson Mandela, with Graca Machel, wife of former president Nelson Mandela, at the South African premier of the film Mandela - Long Walk To Freedom, in Johannesburg, Sunday Nov. 3, 2013. The biographical film directed by Justin Chadwick, is based on South African President Nelson Mandela's autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming President and working to rebuild the country’s once segregated society. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- British actor Idris Elba says he wanted to capture the spirit of Nelson Mandela, not impersonate him, while playing the role of the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader in a film.

Elba said Monday that acting as Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" was a gift and that he read a lot to understand the man who spent 27 years in jail under white minority rule and guided South Africa to all-race elections in 1994 that propelled Mandela to the presidency.

Elba spoke at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. The film, based on Mandela's autobiography, will be released in South Africa in late November before opening in the U.S. and other markets.

Mandela, 95, is critically ill and being treated by doctors at his Johannesburg home.


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