Born in London on September 6, 1972, and raised in the Hackney borough, Elba pursued acting as a high school student at the behest of a drama teacher. Elba paid his dues with many supporting roles on British television, including such series as Bramwell, The Bill, Degrees of Error, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, and The Governor. The actor grew deeply frustrated, however, over the seemingly irrepressible tendency of British casting directors to peg him in supporting roles. "Back in London," he later recalled, "I was always just going to be the best friend, or the crook or the detective on the side." When Elba could take no more of this, he immigrated to the United States. Within a few years, Elba landed a starring role on what would come to be known as one of the best TV series of all time, The Wire.
Elba's performance as pusher "Stringer" Bell attained widespread popularity with viewers and helped put Elba on the map. Elba then transitioned into big-screen roles in movies like The Gospel, The Reaping, Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls, 28 Weeks Later, and the Alien prequel Prometheus. Elba also enjoyed more stateside TV success on shows like The Office and Luther.