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Why Roland Deschain From The Dark Tower Looks So Familiar

On August 4th, 2017, fans of Stephen King's Dark Tower series of novels will be flocking to theaters in droves to see The Dark Tower, the first successful adaptation of the books. Starring as titular character Roland Deschain, Idris Elba will lead the cast on an adventure between multiple parallel worlds in a life-and-death struggle with The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey)—a struggle that threatens the very fabric of existence itself. For a few members of the audience, this may be the first time they have seen Elba in a role. But for many, it's likely they'll get a familiar feeling as they watch this acting giant take on the character of The Gunslinger. 

With an acting career spanning over two decades, you've probably already watched Elba before in one of his many roles—even if you didn't realize it at the time. To help you figure out where you've seen him before, here's a look back at some of his more prominent parts over the years. 

Fair warning: these slides contain a synopsis of Elba's roles in numerous television shows and movies, and will contain plot spoilers!

Family Affairs (1997)

Like many other young English actors, Idris Elba took an early role on one of the many popular British soap operas of the time. In his case, he played the character of Tim Webster on the soap Family Affairs. Set in the fictional London district of Charnham, the soap focused primarily on the members and friends of the Hart family and the Gates family. 

While the soap itself lasted from 1997 to 2005, Elba only appeared in seven episodes of the first season. Primary character Duncan Hart (Rocky Marshall) was a notorious ladies' man, who enjoyed spending time at the pub. His frequent partners in crime included Roy (Miles Petit) and Elba's character, Tim. Although it was a minor part and only lasted for a year, it is entertaining to watch clips of the young Elba long before he became the acting heavyweight that he his today.

The Wire (2002-2004)

Only a few years after departing Family Affairs, Elba landed his first major recurring television role in the hit HBO crime drama series The Wire. In the show, Elba starred in the first three seasons as Russell "Stringer" Bell, a drug kingpin and the second-in-command of the fictional Barksdale Organization crime syndicate in Baltimore. 

Although he is undoubtedly a criminal, Stringer Bell isn't a typical drug-slinging crime lord. He attempts to bring an air of legitimacy to the organization by dealing in investments and setting up legitimate front businesses for Barksdale, as well as gaining clout with local politicians by hobnobbing with them and offering them financial support in exchange for their influence. That being said, he wasn't above ordering a murder if the need arose. Eventually, his machinations behind the back of his drug lord boss Avon and manipulation of members of competing gangs leads to his downfall, and he is murdered at a construction site.

Daddy's Little Girls (2007)

In 2007, Elba showed a different facet of his acting ability when he starred in the Tyler Perry romantic comedy Daddy's Little Girls. Elba plays Monty James, a divorced and hard-working mechanic who is the father to three girls between the ages of 5-12. The girls are primarily cared for by their grandmother, but trouble arises when she passes away and Monty's ex-wife shows up, suing for custody of the girls. 

Monty takes a second job working as a driver for Julia, a high-powered attorney, but she doesn't learn of his situation until he is forced to leave her stranded when one of his daughters is taken to the hospital after a fire. When social services award the children to their abusive mother and her boyfriend, Julia decides to help him with the case, and the pair gradually fall in love along the way.

28 Weeks Later (2007)

The film 28 Weeks Later is a direct sequel to the 2002 post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later. In this sequel, the breakdown of social structure and order in London following the inception of the mysterious Rage virus continues, and a NATO-affiliated American force is called in to attempt to control the situation by establishing a safe zone. 

In control of this force is Brigadier General Stone (Elba), who must deal with an unraveling situation after a pair of child survivors escape the safe zone and make their way to their old home in order to retrieve family mementos and look for their mother, who is presumed dead. Stone must send a force to retrieve them, and eventually the safe zone is compromised with the Rage virus again, setting off a new chain-reaction of infections at breakneck pace. Stone finally makes the call to go "Code Red," an order which essentially authorizes his men to shoot any civilians on site and firebomb the city in order to contain the infection.

Obsessed (2009)

In the 2009 thriller film Obsessed, Elba stars opposite Beyoncé and Ali Larter in what is essentially a modern reimagining of 1987's Fatal Attraction. Larter plays Lisa, an office worker who becomes infatuated with her boss, Derek (Elba). She tries on multiple occasions to seduce Derek, to no avail. 

Meanwhile, Derek's wife Sharon (played by Beyoncé) starts to harbor suspicions that her husband is cheating on her. Lisa begins to stalk Derek, showing up at a company retreat before spiking his drink and raping him while he is under the influence of the drug. Lisa's suicide attempt following her crime lands her in the hospital, where Sharon confronts Derek about the supposed affair and kicks him out of the house. When they eventually reconcile, Lisa's attempts become more desperate and dangerous to the couple, which finally leads to a violent showdown between Lisa and Sharon in the final act.

The Office (2009)

In the hit NBC American adaptation of the comedy series The Office, Elba makes an appearance for seven episodes in the fifth season as Charles Miner. Miner is the new Vice President of Northeast Sales for Dunder Mifflin, taking over the position following the departure of Jan and Ryan. He immediately clashes with both Michael and Jim, eventually leading Michael to leave Dunder Mifflin briefly and start his own paper company. 

Michael's new business is successful, causing enough of a financial dent in Dunder Mifflin's business that David Wallace and Miner are forced to offer Michael a buyout, which he declines on the condition that he and his employees are given their old jobs back. Following these events, Idris Elba's character is sent back to headquarters and eventually leaves the company entirely.

Luther (2010-2018)

In one of his most visible television roles to date, Elba has played DCI John Luther in the BBC crime drama Luther. As the head of the Serious Crimes unit, the dedicated and sometimes obsessive Luther doggedly pursues cases while dealing with his own failing marriage and his tendency to explode violently under extreme stress. The detective is also prone to using unorthodox means in order to catch suspects, methods that sometimes border on the illegal.

Elba explained his approach to the character in an interview with Digital Spy. "You know when you watch the news and someone has killed their children? And your instinct is to be like, 'Oh, if I got my hands on them'? Well, his instinct is to do that but he's a police officer. And when he does get his hands on them, he doesn't necessarily follow procedure." 

Despite his many emotional failings, it becomes readily apparent that Luther is a good guy deep down, especially after he takes in a wayward teen and protects her from the consequences after she kills a man in self-defense. Elba is slated to return to the role of Luther in 2018, when the fifth series of the show starts filming.

Marvel's Thor franchise (2011-2017)

Throughout four movies (Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Thor: Ragnarok) featuring the Marvel comic book character Thor, Elba has played the Norse god Heimdall, an omniscient figure who guards the mythical bridge that allows passage between the worlds of gods and mortals. While it isn't particularly a major role, Heimdall does play an integral part in the films as he directly or indirectly assists Thor in his missions.

Elba explained to Digital Spy why he, as a black actor, was proud to play the part of Heimdall. "My part was very small and functional in the first film, but I still felt very privileged to play him — especially since Heimdall looks a certain way and has a Nordic lineage — and here I was playing this character and bringing him to life in a different way. It felt quite groundbreaking to be a part of that."

Prometheus (2012)

Fans of Ridley Scott's Alien saga of films may remember Elba for his performance in the 2012 science-fiction/horror film Prometheus. In this prequel to the main Alien films, Elba plays Captain Janek, who leads the crew of the exploration vessel Prometheus on a mission to a moon in a distant star system in order to determine the truth behind the mysterious aliens called Engineers and their potential connection to humanity on Earth. 

After landing, what starts as an archaeological and exploratory expedition into a nearby structure turns deadly after the team runs afoul of an unknown biological agent. When an Engineer is released from stasis and seems hellbent on making it to Earth to release this weapon, Janek, ever the pragmatist, makes the decision to ram his ship into the alien's craft. He is successful in stopping the engineer, but he (and several of his remaining crew) die in the collision.

Pacific Rim (2013)

In the 2013 science fiction/monster/mecha film Pacific Rim from Director Guillermo del Toro, Elba plays military commander Stacker Pentecost. The planet is at war with mysterious alien monsters, which have appeared on earth via a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. For several years, Earth has fought these "Kaiju" with gigantic robots called Jaegers, which are piloted by a team working together via a mental link. 

The war is not going well, and the Jaeger program is about to be abandoned—with Pentecost left in charge of the last four Jaeger units. He attempts to rebuild his dwindling team of pilots and plots a desperate plan to end the war once and for all by sealing the breach with a nuclear bomb.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

Also in 2013, Elba starred as revolutionary and South African President Nelson Mandela in the biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The movie follows Mandela through most of the major points of his life—perhaps too many of those points, in fact—starting with his childhood years and progressing through his education and young adulthood before turning to his work as an anti-Apartheid activist and revolutionary. His nearly three decades in prison and subsequent years as President of South Africa are also chronicled. 

Proving yet again that he has an amazing range as an actor, Elba's performance as Mandela was praised by critics who otherwise felt that the movie was overall a disappointment because of the plot and pacing.

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

In what is perhaps his most acclaimed big-screen role to date, Elba starred in the war drama film Beasts of No Nation, which was released exclusively by Netflix on its digital platform. In the movie, Elba portrays the Commandant of a battalion of the NGF, a guerrilla rebel group which is involved in an ongoing civil war within an unspecified African nation. Caught in the middle of this conflict is a young boy Agu, who is left on his own after his father and brother are shot when their village is attacked. He is eventually picked up by the Commandant's group, and made a member of their militia.

The Commandant is at turns brutal and benevolent to his soldiers, but he also frequently rapes the young boys under his command. He becomes more unstable over time, especially after he is removed from command by his superiors and decides to take his battalion on the run. Elba received glowing reviews for his performance as the Commandant, and he also won a SAG Award for his role—one of two SAG Awards he took home at the 2016 ceremonies.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

In 2016, Elba became part of the Star Trek universe forever when he took to the big-screen in the role of the villain Krall. In the film, Captain Kirk and the rest of his crew on the USS Enterprise are dispatched to an unknown area of space in search of a reportedly crashed ship on a planet called Altamid. When the reach the planet, the Enterprise is ambushed and destroyed, and much of the surviving crew is captured by Krall, who desires a certain artifact in Kirk's possession.

His true motives and identity remain a mystery until the third act of the film, when Krall sets out to destroy the Yorktown starbase, while Kirk and his surviving crew desperately try to stop him using a hastily-repaired and 100-year old Starfleet ship. At Yorktown, Kirk and Krall enter into a final confrontation, and Kirk must prevent him from deploying a secret weapon that could not only destroy the starbase, but potentially all of Starfleet if Krall isn't stopped.