The filmmakers faced the daunting task of doing justice to iconic figures like Nelson and Winnie Mandela, and with the added challenge of capturing the spirit of the ‘Mandela Magic’ which has been experienced by every person that has ever met him.
“I am British and this is a South African film and it was important to me to have South Africans tell this story, and so I began my search in South Africa.” says Chadwick.
“Mandela is a once off in world history, but I didn’t want a reverential kind of portrayal. I wanted someone who could scratch underneath the surface of the story; make him human and let us see him as a flawed man, a man who’s under pressure, but also who has intelligence and that magnetism. I wasn’t looking for an actor who would try to impersonate Mandela” says Chadwick who paid special attention to the discussions he had with Mandela’s comrades and those who knew him as a young man. “They all talk about the electricity around him, about his astuteness and about how striking he was as a man who lit up any room he entered.”
Chadwick discusses his respect for Idris Elba’s talent: “I had an instinct about Idris. I loved his work in The Wire. He’s very truthful, and a very brave actor. I travelled to Toronto to meet him and as soon as I started talking to him I knew he was the one. He understood how I wanted to make the film, and he was respectful of the subject but not daunted. It was more important to me to cast somebody in that role who was true to what the film was about.”
Singh adds: “When Idris came up in our discussions, he was at a place in his career where this role was perfect for him. I thought his performance was so powerful in the Rwandan genocide movie, Sometimes in April, and it is one of the reasons that he’s doing this film. But equally he has a stature and a presence like Madiba. At the end of the day it’s about performance, and it’s about getting that ‘Madiba magic’ which Idris has got - that charisma and that charm that we all know of Madiba. There was no one else we felt who could actually pull that off.”