The Reaping's Idris Elba (The Wire, Daddy's Little Girls) joined Hilary Swank, director Stephen Hopkins and producer Joel Silver in San Francisco for the 2007 Wonder Con. Paradise for comic book fans, Wonder Con is like the little brother to the gigantic San Diego Comic Con which takes place each summer. Although Hopkins, Silver and Swank were in attendance at the 2006 San Diego event, Elba missed out on that fun. But 'Con' newcomer Elba appeared to be totally at ease while participating in the San Francisco panel for The Reaping.
Before taking the stage to discuss The Reaping with Wonder Con attendees, Elba sat down to talk about his character and the film's subject matter.
So who is this guy, Ben, that you’re playing?
“Ben is a professor at LSU and Hilary [Swank’s] partner. We travel around debunking miracles. He’s a guy that’s had a really shady background, educated himself, and so he has a fresh outlook on life. He’s has a huge faith-based personality.”
He has a faith-based personality yet he debunks miracles?
“Yes, because his feeling is if he can prove that God exists, scientifically, then there is no argument. There’s no argument.”
So he’s looking at it from a totally different perspective than Hilary Swank's character?
"Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting because they have an interesting dynamic as friends. Ben and Katherine, you know, we, Hilary and I, I think you know we got on as actors on the set but then when we brought that to life, really made for some really good scenes and interesting debates."
What was the set like to work on? Were you involved in working with a lot of green screens and special effects?
"Well in actuality, I didn’t see that much of that, honestly, because they did it afterwards, but they shot it in the real location. So when we’re in the bayous, we’re in the bayou. When we’re in the swamp, we’re in the swamp. That river? We were swimming in that river."
So at least in the case of the swamp a green screen would have been better?
"Yeah (laughing). One time, it was during the swamp scene, I - and they have it on film, mind you, - I’m literally walking this thing and I go, 'Whoo-aaahhh,' and I fall in. And mind you, there’s crocodiles in there and the water’s cold. 'Ahhhhhhh!'"
And we can look forward to seeing that on the DVD?
"I’m trying to make sure they don’t put it on (laughing)."
How was working with director Stephen Hopkins?
"Stephen’s great. Great guy. He’s very smart. He really understands the material that he wants so that when he knows what he wants and when he’s trying to explain something to you, he has depth. He has lots of stories about things he’s researched. He was a walking reference library the whole time. He really does know what he wants. He has a really great eye."
How much research did you do?
"I read a lot of books. I read some books about the real life miracle debunkers, you know what I’m saying?"
Did you know about those people before working on The Reaping?
"Yeah, I did. Actually I did because I watch so many documentaries. My dad’s a documentary buff so I’ve seen all these documentaries about the weeping Madonna and all that sort of stuff. I knew there were people out there. One of the books that was really intriguing, I think it was called Invisible Evidence, something like that. But it was a really, really smart book about this woman that does this for a living. Books are very boring, however, because they’re very science-based, but it really does go into detail about some of this stuff and the history. Miracle hoaxes have been something that people have done for years. So it’s kind of fascinating."
Were you able to talk to any of the people who are involved in debunking miracles?
"I actually spoke to scientists. I was playing a professor at LSU so I spent a day with those people. They would really explain what it is to... How you collect samples, what would you look for, what were the clues you’d look for. How much you really have to know about nature and some of the elements that can create something to look like it’s crying out of nowhere. It’s really deep, actually. It’s really, really deep."
Did the research make you more interested in the subject matter of the film?
"A little bit. I sort of got into that there are so many plants that hold all sorts of information and not only information, but just like vaccines and stuff. It touches on that. In my research, some of the books they touch on that. So they got me opened to that. I’m a technology dude, though. I love mechanics and so does Ben, the character I play. He’s a bit of a gadget freak, too. Brings a sort of mini-lab around with him so he can test things."
How do you think audiences will react to The Reaping? Do you think the fact the release date was delayed will affect it at all?
"I think that it’s going to open up curiosity, actually. I think that with films like that you hear about that, especially of this nature, I think that people will be like, 'Hmmmm, I bet they wanted to get it absolutely right.' Something like this, you’re dealing with a skeptical audience anyway. Anyone who’s interested in sort miracle debunking or anything is going to be skeptical. So going to a film about it, they’re going to be like, 'It needs to be really real.' When you say, 'And the plagues came down, and they came to earth,' it needs to be really real."
How would you describe the film's tone?
"I would say it’s a psychological thriller."
Is it a horror movie?
"There are moments which are very, very sort of hairy and scary, but it’s not horror - not in that traditional sense. But it really psychologically gets you like, 'Whoa, what’s going to happen next?'"