Elba sizes up role as Mandela

South African actors are disgruntled after being told that they don’t measure up to playing the role of the former President Nelson Mandela. British actor Idris Elba is the latest foreigner to be cast as Mandela, in a forthcoming adaptation of Mandela’s memoir Long Walk To Freedom.

Mandela is 6 feet 4 inches tall, and, casting agent Moonyeenn Lee explained in the South African City Press, that stature is the main obstacle to casting a South African.

I auditioned some extraordinary local actors," Lee explained. "But the main problem is the height. Mandela is a particularly tall man. On average, South African actors are not 1.9 metres."

Lee also felt that local actors lacked the experience required for the main role in a high-profile production. Ironically, he blamed the apartheid system for denying opportunities to black acting talent in South Africa. "The older actors, growing up during apartheid, had to deal with the cultural boycott, which meant there were very few roles on television and almost none in film. There simply aren't enough actors to choose from."

In the past Mandela has been played by notable actors including Morgan Freeman, Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert, Sidney Poitier and Elba’s fellow cast member from The Wire, Clarke Peters, none of them South African.

One potential South African candidate Sello Maake Ka-Ncube won a theatre award for his portrayal of Mandela in the play Rivonia Trial and is only a couple of inches shorter than Mandela. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "I don't think we are too short for anything. But I respect the director's vision."

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