At 51, Idris Elba is still humble. He’s starred in a host of television shows and films—The Wire, Luther, Beasts of No Nation, Concrete Cowboy, Molly’s Game, and Thor, to name a few—but that hasn’t changed who he is off-screen. So when he was tapped to be in Calvin Klein’s latest campaign, modeling the label’s modern and minimalist styles, “it was definitely a massive compliment,” the actor and musician recently told Vanity Fair.
In the campaign, photographed by Mert Alas, Elba is captured being himself on the streets of London, outfitted in Calvin Klein’s refined yet classic styles, including a sateen bomber jacket, a black suit with a white T-shirt, white jeans, and classic tops. It wasn’t the first time Elba and Alas had worked together, and it was a welcome reunion as Elba had an idea for how he wanted the images to look. “I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. I wanted to be in a classic [Calvin Klein]–looking ad and wanted to just be Idris, you know? Just to be me and not try to be a model or whatever, just be myself in these shots,” he explained.
While audiences have seen Elba play myriad characters, this campaign provided the opportunity to immortalize his true essence and energy, rather than what he’s used to: bringing someone else to life. “I just play a lot of characters and generally people are quite surprised when they actually meet me. They go, ‘Oh!’ I don’t know what they expected,” he shared. “I wanted the campaign to see me, see my energy. There’s lots of shots that are outside and in the real world, and ‘me walking down the street’ kinds of things, being part of our environment.”
As for the styling, Elba describes Calvin Klein’s designs as being similar to what he calls his “simple and classic” everyday style. “These are pieces that I would literally integrate into my wardrobe now. When I go places for my career or go to an event, I tend to dress it up. I don’t mind making a splash if I have to. But my day-to-day wear is pretty clean, simple, and functional,” he said.
And as he begins the third decade of his career—Elba made his debut in 1994 on British television—he takes a moment to reflect on what it all means to have a successful life in front of the camera, whether it be for a fashion campaign or film role. “More than anything, to just have a lifelong career, and to be celebrated, and [to be asked to] be in a campaign like that is all one and the same achievement. It’s a lovely achievement. It makes you feel good. It’s good for my ego, at least. But I hadn’t ever seen myself to be in one of these campaigns.”