When adventure calls, Idris Elba lets it go to voicemail.
"If I go on vacation – and that's a big if – I'm good with sitting still," says the actor, who finds himself on the holiday from hell in his new survival thriller, "Beast." "My wife (model Sabrina Dhowre) is not that: She wants to be a tourist and get around, but I'm fine just being chill and looking at my environment. I'm very boring like that."
Elba's latest onscreen outings are anything but dull: In "Beast" (in theaters Friday), he plays a widowed doctor named Nate Samuels, whose South African getaway with his young daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries) is thrown into chaos by a ravenous lion. And in "Three Thousand Years of Longing" (in theaters Aug. 26), he stars as a genie who must grant three wishes for a lonely scholar (Tilda Swinton).
"It's an Idris fest," Elba, 49, jokes of the pair of films. "It shows a bit of range. And I'm all about range."
'The Wire' ignited Idris Elba's career 20 years ago: Where is the cast now?
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, "Beast" is a throwback to man vs. nature movies such as "Jaws," whose "tension and simplicity you never forget," Elba says. Early in the film, Nate is tasked with saving his family when a massive lion attacks their jeep, gravely injuring their guide (Sharlto Copley) and stranding them in the African savanna. Knives, guns and even gasoline explosions won't kill the seemingly invincible creature, which eventually faces off with Nate in hand-to-paw combat.
"The actual fighting of the lion was really difficult," Elba says. "There were no lions used in the making of this film," so he worked closely with movement performers and stuntmen in motion-capture suits to create the computer-generated predator. He also re-watched 2015 survival drama "The Revenant," in which Leonardo DiCaprio gets brutally mauled by a grizzly bear.
"The bear sequence that Leonardo does is really realistic and is sort of a benchmark in terms of what we wanted to achieve for the audience," Elba says. "Because everyone who watched that was horrified."
On a more emotional level, Elba could relate to Nate's struggles to protect, and at times connect, with his kids. Elba, a five-time Emmy nominee, is a father of two: daughter Isan, 20, with first wife Hanne Norgaard, and son Winston, 8, with ex-girlfriend Naiyana Garth.
"My job has sometimes made aspects of parenting very difficult," Elba says. But on the "Beast" set, he was able to swap dad stories and confide in the director, which "made the telling of this story easier for me."
"We both have children with more than one partner and it's complicated," Kormákur says. "It's incredibly challenging to pull the family back together, and create a new path and new future and new family life." But the filmmaker would stop at nothing "to get my children back in my life, so I think in that way, (Idris and I) felt very (connected). We're very close in age and have similar life experiences."
Like "Beast," "Three Thousand Years" is sneakily profound in its themes of fate, desire and connection. The romantic fantasy film follows Dr. Alithea Binnie (Swinton), who's on a trip to Istanbul when she buys an old souvenir bottle that happens to contain a powerful Djinn (Elba), also known as a genie. The movie flashes back and forth between Alithea's hotel room and the Djinn's past, as he recounts lovers and heartbreaks and wishes gone awry.
The movie is adapted from a short story by A.S. Byatt and directed by George Miller ("Mad Max: Fury Road"). Despite its bombastic trailer, the film is a relatively intimate drama between Elba and Swinton's characters, with much of their conversations taking place in their bathrobes.
"It's deep, and for sure audiences will be surprised," says Elba, describing the story as a "cautionary tale." His Djinn – with a chiseled physique, bald head and booming voice – is vastly different from the wisecracking blue genie most people know from Disney's "Aladdin." But there's still a tremendous warmth to him.
"Idris embodies the paradoxical nature of charisma," Miller says. "He is, at once, so accessible you feel he could be your best friend. Yet he remains inscrutable, drawing you in by his mystique."
As for his own career wishes, Elba is itching to get back behind the camera, having made his feature directorial debut with 2018's "Yardie." He points to actor-turned-filmmaker Jon Favreau ("Elf") as one of his "heroes."
"He's an incredible actor, an incredible director, and I could definitely see myself in that space," Elba says. "That's where I want to be."
"Beast" also isn't the only big cat in Elba's life: Movie theaters have been hosting rowdy screenings of 2019's "Cats," a much lampooned adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit musical. The actor plays a treacherous tabby in the film, which is now regarded as a modern cult classic.
"That makes me happy, I ain't gonna lie," Elba says with a laugh. "I've taken enough shtick for it, so if it's a classic, then I'll take that."
In defense of 'Cats': Critics, keep your paws off this holiday surprise
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Beast': Idris Elba says Leonardo DiCaprio inspired fight with a lion