When it comes to The Dark Tower, Idris Elba wants you to know that, no, he doesn’t care if you hated the movie.
“Ultimately, everyone has an opinion and that’s okay,” explains the actor. But his live-and-let-live mentality about the film’s reviews does come with a grain of salt.
“I’d imagine that a film like The Dark Tower—if you know anything about the literature—it’s a very hard book to digest, and it’s definitely a hard book to adapt,” says Elba. “Until one of the reviewers that had something to say adapts it and does a great job, well I don’t want to hear what they have to say.”
Elba also says he got to hang out with Stephen King and confirmed his involvement in the upcoming TV series based on the book. “He’s very cool. He needs a hug,” Elba laughs. “He’s incredible. One of the most prolific authors of our generation.”
It’s fitting that Elba brought his discussion of the The Dark Tower back to the book series that inspired it. He’s a staunch literacy advocate, serving as an ambassador for , a global campaign founded by learning company Pearson and made up of over 100 organizations dedicated to ending illiteracy by 2030.
This year the particular focus of the campaign is raising awareness about the shocking levels of adult illiteracy around the world. It coincided with International Literacy Day, celebrated on Sept. 8, which highlights the remaining literacy challenges in the world. It is a fundamental component of the United Nations 2030 – a benchmark for universal literacy and numeracy.
“People need to be aware that you may be sitting on a train next to someone—an adult fully grown—holding a newspaper who can’t read it.”
Elba says that what drew him to participate in the literacy campaign is his own career in acting and music, which he described as mostly self-taught.
“Essentially, my first jobs were working with actors who’ve gone to drama school — and I couldn’t quite admit that I didn’t know anything about Shakespeare. Nothing. I just learned it on the job.”
According to Project Literacy, there are around 32 million adults in the U.S. alone who can’t read or write. These numbers reflect larger socioeconomic problems, but they also mean there are millions of parents who can’t read bedtime stories to their children.
One such parent was Wanda Steward, 47, from Philadelphia, who spent the past year taking classes and learning to read and write. Before that, she’d rely on her imagination and the illustrations inside her young kids’ favourite book, Chicken Little, to make up her own version of the story. Steward then put her imagination to paper and rewrote the children’s classic according to her own version of the story and her own made up characters.
Watch below as Elba reads Steward’s updated bedtime story as the adorable narrator:
Elba’s involvement with Project Literacy is not the first time that the actor has worked with an outreach program. In fact, his career was shaped by one.
As a teenager, Elba was offered a grant by a program called the Prince’s Trust so that he could attend a course at the National Youth Music Theatre. So if anybody knows the importance of giving back to his community, it’s him.
Perhaps that’s why, for his directorial debut for the film Yardie, Elba held an open casting call in Hackney, London where he grew up. That open call is now infamous. So many people showed up that it had to be shut down. But Elba says it gave him a chance to open up his work to London and meet young people that he wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to cross paths with.
From books to movies, Elba is mindful of the seemingly small things that can make all the difference in a person’s life. And he, more than others, knows the importance of speaking about them and helping raise awareness. Adult illiteracy is a particularly striking subject because it is just so prevalent around the world, yet still so hidden and invisible. And it is campaigns like this that can help break this cycle, which is passed on from generation to generation.