Sweater by Berluti.

A couple of weeks later, I talk to Elba, who is unexpectedly in Los Angeles for a day. "I flew in yesterday from Ghana to do a one-day shoot here," he says, calling from the back seat of an SUV headed to LAX. "Twenty-four hours ago, I was in Africa doing something very different, and 24 hours from now, I'll be back home in London with my family in a completely different environment. And next week, I'm gonna be in front of a bunch of people playing music in Ibiza."

From dictator to daddy to DJ, it's all part of what Elba refers to, not unhappily, as "the randomness of my life right now."

"It's very, very random, but part of me is used to it," he says. "It's become my life's pattern. And I think I've always been this way—this variedness is a part of my personality. I'm not schizophrenic or anything, but literally one day to the next, I can become very different people."

Elba describes his experience filming in Ghana as an epic journey, moving and exhausting. The fake eye didn't work out, as there was no one in the jungle to help him get it right. But the filming was a success, and he was able to meet family there, relatives of his mother he hadn't known.

Now he's back and thinking about music, planning his set lists for Ibiza and looking forward to being with young Winston and his mother. After a brief break, he'll focus on Yardie, a coming-of-age film about West Indians in London that will be Elba's feature directorial debut. Directing is a new hat for him, and yet his approach remains constant.

"All these things I do come from the same place," Elba explains. "When I'm rapping, it's kind of like this character that I put on. It's a character who can write songs and lyrics really easily, so therefore I can stand up and do it too. Acting is definitely jumping into someone's personality."

And a part like the Commandant in Beasts of No Nation allows Elba to fly far into foreign emotional territory.

"It's strange, but I've chosen to be this guy because I get something out of being other people, you know?" he says. "It's this departure for me. I get a sense of release. A sense of rejuvenation."

That's the goal: catch and release. Find the next great role, bring that character to life, and move on to the next challenge and opportunity.

"From an actor's point of view, you're obliged to lose yourself a little and take on someone else's agenda," he says. "That's why you're there."

Thinking of our day browning onions and making stew, Elba offers: "If I was to play a chef, for example, I could just come in and play it as Idris. Just show up in costume and say my lines. But I'm obliged to take you further into the psychology. That's what my job is."

• • •