Interview: Idris Elba on Sky One's In The Long Run

Created by and featuring Idris Elba – with an ensemble cast including Bill Bailey – Sky Original Production In the Long Run is a comedy about family, community and what home really means. London 1985. Amid the tower blocks and shellsuits, life for Walter (Elba) and Agnes Easmon (Madeline Appiah) is all about quiet routine. They arrived from Sierra Leone 13 years ago and are happy earning enough to pay the bills with a bit left over to send back home. Walter works hard alongside his friend and neighbour Bagpipes (Bailey) at a nearby factory while Agnes patrols the estate selling make-up door to door. Their British-born son Kobna (Sammy Kamara) and his best mate Dean (Mattie Boys) hang out on the estate playing football and doing their best to dodge the local thugs. But then Walter’s brother Valentine (Jimmy Akingbola) arrives and his exuberance and lust for life changes everything. Looking to make a life for himself in the UK, he crashes into their lives bringing laughter, music and chaos. He quickly finds work, falls in love and ignites a passion for music in Kobna. He may frustrate Agnes and test Walter’s patience but Kobna adores his uncle Valentine and, after all, he is family.

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Idris Elba tells us more...

How did In the Long Run come about?

It came from a 20-minute short that I did for Sky called King for a Term. And then the opportunity came to extend it and maybe tell some longer stories about the 80s – we discovered we loved looking at that period and that it might work as a comedy. Plus there were areas in my life that were interesting to me, that I thought could sustain a bit of a situation comedy.


Set the scene. What is In the Long Run about?

It follows two families that live in the same block of flats: their sons play together, and it’s about what it’s like to live in a community, where ‘in the long run’ we’re all the same. There’s no trickery, you like these people or you don’t. And it’s nice to have a multicultural cast, it’s nice to see an African family on screen alongside an English family. And my character, Walter, his younger brother Valentine comes over from Sierra Leone. He’s a bit of a ladies’ man, a bit of a chancer, a bit of a jack of all trades. The story is about him coming here, and how the characters adapt.


To what extent is it based on your childhood?

It’s a bit of a mish-mash, to be honest: it really is just a good look at the 80s, which was when I was turning from boy to teenager. It’s looking at what London was like then, especially east London, where I came from.


Was it always going to be a comedy, because you could easily look back at that time and say there was a darker side to it?

I think it has drama, too, to be honest: as the title suggests it’s really just a slice of life, IDRIS ELBA Walter Easmon and why we’re all the same, to some degree.

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Tell us more about who are you playing…

I play Walter Easmon, who is based on my dad. He’s an immigrant who comes from Sierra Leone with his wife and sets up shop in London. He’s not particularly a comedic character, but my dad was the sort of life-of-the-party type of guy. Walter works as a shop steward in a car factory, as my dad did.


What’s Walter’s connection to Bagpipes?

Bill Bailey’s character Bagpipes is a guy that works with Walter in the factory, and he lives upstairs from where the Easmons live. They’re friends, they’re neighbours, they work together and their children play with each other.


What’s it been like for you to play a character based on your own father?

It’s been all right, but it’s a bit sad: my old man passed a few years ago, so it’s bittersweet in places. But this character’s taken on a life of its own, you know. I’m not really doing an impression of my old man.


Is it strange revisiting your youth in the forms of the sets and the costumes?

Well, I think the art direction, actually, is the most compelling thing. Because they’ve obviously taken notes from the show we did before and stuff that I’ve said in the press, and they’ve really made a museum. There are so many artefacts that my parents had at the time that have shown up on the set – those are the moments when I really go, “That’s so crazy!” Like there’s a big fish on the mantelpiece – my mum and dad actually had one of those! And the pictures in the frames all look like pictures that I grew up around and was looking at.


What’s been your role as producer on In the Long Run?

As a producer of television, which I have done for a little bit now, this is a really interesting show to make, because I’ve never done comedy, never produced comedy. It’s not up to me to be the fact checker, because it isn’t all based on my life, it’s more about just making sure that we make a truthful snapshot of the 80s, which I do hold close to me. And actually it’s just nice to see something go from an idea into fruition and then end up on the TV – that’s a great accomplishment.


You’re a major league Hollywood star. Why make a TV comedy?

I don’t think about the why, because I think that’s for others to think about. But from my perspective, I get to create a piece of art that sits in the guise of what art should be, which is take it or leave it, however it comes. Never in my career have I categorised myself, if it’s theatre or films, I’m just an actor. But the opportunity to now produce something, to be the author of it, to really push that out there, that’s different for me. I might have movies coming out, but I’m not really the producer of them. This one is starting from grass roots, and I love that!


All episodes of the Sky Original Production In the Long Run will be available Thursday 29 March on Sky One and TV streaming service NOW TV.