Most Americans think of Nelson Mandela as the Nobel Peace Prize winner who endured 27 years of prison before leading South Africa toward peace and racial equality as president. This biopic, based on Mandela’s best-selling 1995 autobiography, zeroes in on his young adulthood as a lawyer, womanizer, outlaw, and saboteur in the decades-long struggle against apartheid. At the film’s emotional core is the bond between Mandela (Pacific Rim‘s Idris Elba) and his second wife, Winnie (Skyfall‘s Naomie Harris). ”I wanted to capture the love he had for his wife and for what he was doing,” says director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl), who spent a month in South Africa interviewing those close to Mandela before taking on the project. ”I was very keen to show him as a man. I wanted to make it personal.”

Elba was Chadwick’s choice to play Mandela, but his producers were hoping for Denzel Washington or Will Smith. ”It was a battle,” Chadwick admits. ”But there was just something about Idris. He walks into the room, and you feel the magnetism.” Before the under-$30 million production began, Chadwick finally met the icon himself, over tea. ”The electricity that came off him was amazing,” he says of the 95-year-old statesman. ”That is an afternoon that I will never, ever forget.”

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  • Movie
  • 139 minutes