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Idris Elba knows how to spend his downtime

The actor, director, producer, and DJ admits that whenever he has 15 minutes free, he’ll “just sit in the dark, stare, and try not to do anything.”

Idris Elba knows how to spend his downtime
[Photo: Matt Holyoak/Camera Press/Redux]

I’m an only child, and growing up it was a constant challenge to entertain myself. I’ve been keeping busy my whole life: I’m primarily an actor, but I’ve been DJing since I was a teenager. I’m a producer and a director. I’ve done fashion collaborations, and I have a music label.

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Imagine you’re a farmer with a piece of land, and you’re growing crops. Some vegetables need a full cycle to grow, others grow quicker. You realize you have to juggle each one’s seasonal pattern. That’s how I think of my projects. I like having some variety, so I could be in a few episodes of something funny [like The Office] and then do something more serious [such as Luther or 2021’s The Suicide Squad]. Or I could act [Hobbs & Shaw], and direct [Yardie], and DJ. I have an incredible assistant, Marsha, who keeps everything on track. Every night, she texts me the plan for the next day. It took us a while to find our system, but it’s bulletproof now. We used to do a phone call, but that didn’t work as well. WhatsApp is easier.

I don’t think in terms of minutes or hours or days or dates, especially because I’m traveling between time zones. My home base is London, but I could be working anywhere around the world. I pretty much know my schedule for the whole year, and I think of it in terms of blocks of time, where each project is a block.

Clubs and festivals are busier in the summer, and this season was a really busy one for me. I played Coachella for the first time. I’m part of a wave of producers and DJs who adopted a smaller, more nimble studio model. Instead of producing in a big room, I’ve adopted a series of laptops, phones, apps, iPads, headphones that I can take anywhere. I’m a real tech head.

Time he gets up: Between 6 and 8 a.m.

First thing he does in the morning: “I pick up my phone and check my messages. Then I’ll get up, sit on the edge of the bed for a little bit, take the day in, and take a shower.”

How he handles social media: “I’ve been trying to wean myself off. I used to post a lot more, but it’s been putting me off lately. And Twitter’s just not how I want to receive my news. I read the news aggregated on my iPad, but I can’t check it constantly—I’m not proud of it, but it’s true—because it makes me feel depressed.”

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What he does with 15 minutes of free time: “I’ll just sit in the dark, stare, and try not to do anything—just clear my mind and decompress.”

Time he goes to bed: “When I get in bed at 9 or 10, I feel great the next day. But it really depends. I typically get four to five hours of sleep a night.”

A version of this article appeared in the Winter 2019/2020 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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