But this time he is behind the camera, directing his first film.
It’s an adaptation of a cult novel about a young Jamaican wannabe gangster – or Yardie – called D who comes to London and gets into the culture of music, parties, cars and clothes.
But, after witnessing his older brother being shot dead, he is also after revenge.
“I don’t like reading books very often and this is one I read cover to cover and was like: ‘Wow’,” explains Elba.
“It was a descriptive, very violent, novel about a person that I don’t know but could’ve known.”
The setting spoke to Elba who grew up in Hackney, east London, before moving six miles further east to Canning Town.
And the “sound clash” music culture of the time – where rival gangs put their sound systems and DJ skills against each other – was also important growing up for Idris, who’s a talented DJ himself.
“The West Indians, Jamaicans, were bad men, they were getting into trouble, going to jail,” says Elba.
“My entry point was the music, the sound systems. DJ-ing in parties where Yardies, rudeboys, would come and that’s how they partied – bottle of Champagne and bottle of Hennessy at your feet”
“They were gangsters, flamboyant. They were like Goodfellas.
They had the girls, the BMWs, the rings and you just looked up in awe of them.
“My entry point was the music, the sound systems. DJ-ing in parties where Yardies, rudeboys, would come and that’s how they partied – bottle of Champagne and bottle of Hennessy at your feet. Two girls standing by you. That is a lad. And you’re going: ‘Wow’.
And here was a book that was describing what I was seeing.” The only child of dad Winston, who came from Sierra Leone and worked at Ford Dagenham, and mum Eve, who came from Ghana, the young Elba lived on a council estate.
And growing up in 1970s and 80s London, he had to deal with racism, something reflected in his recent Sky One sitcom, In The Long Run.
He says: “I came from a multicultural borough, Hackney, where blacks, whites, everyone got on with each other.
“Get to Canning Town and it was very much white working class lads.
Racism, as blatantly as I faced it there, was new for me.
It was a very different mentality.
“I went to a boys’ school and they all thought I was cocky.
But I just didn’t come from an area where we had people calling me a black b*****d all day.
“I got into scraps and scrapes. It helped that I could run fast. And it helped that I was built big for my age.”
Those experiences meant the knockbacks when he started out as an actor didn’t really bother him. “As far as shaping my character, I think it built resilience,” he adds.
“Thicker skin. And when I got into an acting career, a ‘no’ from a casting director was no big deal.
Even to this day it keeps me grounded.
“I come from a working class, quite poor family – money’s great but, to be honest, not having it is not the end of the world.
“That experience of my childhood has definitely kept me grounded as an adult, professionally.”
He also thinks Yardie will show that violence in the UK – as seen in the current knife-crime epidemic – is nothing new.
“I think it might give some perspective to how long this country, this metropolis, has seen this type of violence.
And what we’ve done about it in the past. “I think we have to tackle it head on.
We all know how to get in a frenzy about something silly on social media. Let’s do the same about knife crime.”
Elba, who recently dismissed rumours he’d be the next Bond, got his break as Stringer Bell in The Wire and became a household name thanks to dark cop drama Luther.
He went on to appear in blockbusters like Thor, Avengers, Star Trek Beyond, Prometheus and Pacific Rim. He also portrayed Nelson Mandela in Long Walk To Freedom – basing a lot on his dad who died in 2013, who had been a union rep for the workers at Ford.
In 2016, Idris trained as a kickboxer for TV show Fighter after fearing he was going soft in his 40s.
“It was, I guess, something to do with the age I was,” he says. “The midlife crisis of: ‘If someone jumped me right now could I stand up or would I be s****ing my pants’.
And I found myself answering towards the latter.
So I said: ‘F*** it, I’m going to train’.”
Elba, engaged to Canadian model Sabrina Dhowre, has already got his next project in the works – a new take on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame for Netflix, which he will direct, produce, star in and provide the music for.
He says: “It’s about someone who’s been cornered off because of the way they look, because of a disability.
“There’s something I can build which makes him more heroic.
That’s why it’s appealing to me. And it’s a challenge. It’s a classic.”
Yardie is in cinemas on Friday.