4The New York Times has delivered my favorite headline in a while: “Idris Elba, a Gamer, Was Keen on Joining Sonic the Hedgehog 2.” That’s how the article appears in search results, at least. On the Times website, it’s remixed into “Idris Elba, Gamer (That’s Why He Was So Keen on Sonic the Hedgehog 2).” The point is: Beloved actor Idris Elba? Yeah, he’s a gamer. (And that’s why he was so keen on playing Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.)
Elba told the paper that he’s owned “pretty much” every console since the Sega Genesis, and is into “FIFA and driving games” these days. He started gaming, however, on a Commodore 64 home computer, which makes him a PC gamer in my book (or it would if I kept some kind of PC gamer field identification book).
Elba would’ve been nine years old when the Commodore 64 came out in 1982. At the time, it cost $600, which is the equivalent of a very good gaming PC today when you account for inflation—around $1,740. For that, you got a CPU clocked at around 1 MHz and 64KB of RAM. Hell yeah.
There were tons of games available for the C64. Lucasfilm Games released several, including Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders and Maniac Mansion. Loads of arcade games were ported to it, as well. I played the crap out of Bubble Bobble, although I might be thinking of the Apple 2 version.
What Elba played on his Commodore 64 is a mystery, because the NYT conversation moved onto the ease with which C64 data cassettes could be copied and thus pirated.
“I remember you could take a blank tape and dub a game onto it,” said Elba. “And you had to take the tabs off the cassette so you didn’t record over it.”
He added in a mock serious voice that all of his games were “authorized purchases.” Very suspicious! How am I supposed to enjoy Elba’s performance as Knuckles if I’m wondering whether or not his copy of Bubble Bobble was obtained legitimately?
I’ll just have to have faith, I guess. Regarding Knuckles, Elba said that he “wanted to try to play him with a squeaky voice” because he “thought that might be funny.” The studio did not think it was funny and the idea was “nixed immediately.” I like to imagine Elba starts every job that way. Squeaky voice Heimdall. Squeaky voice Stringer Bell.
Elba did not comment on whether or not he’ll be the next James Bond, which everyone seems to want. I’m not sure Elba does, though. I’m not even sure he wants to play humans. Knuckles is an echidna, and Elba also played a Cape buffalo in Zootopia, a sea lion in Finding Dory, and a tiger in The Jungle Book. Regarding his role in the Cats movie, he told The New York Times: “…It is an incredible experience, being a feline.”
Maybe Elba will do Bond if they make Bond a Scottish wildcat?
Back to the original point of all this: Elba’s PC gaming background perhaps doesn’t go quite as deep as that of fellow 007 candidate Henry Cavill, who thinks about Warhammer while playing Geralt in Netflix’s Witcher series, but that’s not going to stop us from welcoming him into the club—even if he did probably copy a few Commodore 64 cassettes. (I, of course, have never copied a floppy in my life.)