Long before ‘Invictus,’ Mandela named Morgan Freeman as the actor he would most like to play him in a film about his life in 1994 at a press conference.
Once the film was in development, Freeman told Mandela: ‘If I’m going to play you, I’m going to have access to you. I’m going to have to get close enough to hold your hand.’ The two began to meet for dinner whenever they were in the same city.
As an actor playing Mandela, Freeman said he focussed his attention foremost on imitating the former president’s physical attributes.
He said: ‘The danger, of course, is always caricature. So, the biggest challenge I had was to sound like him. Everything else became easy to do- to walk like him, use the same speech pattern, and mirror his physical nuances.’
Idris Elba’s hotly anticipated portrayal of Mandela in ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ is due to hit cinemas in January 2014.
The Luther star said playing the former South African president and freedom fighter was ‘definitely the biggest challenge’ of his life.
‘To call the prospect of playing Nelson Mandela intimidating would be to put it lightly. I look and sound nothing like the man, but hopefully I’ve pulled it off. It’s a massive honour to play this saint amongst men,’ he said.
Elba added Mandela had seen the film and was ‘really happy’ with it.
He told The Guardian the film was ‘hands down the best’ movie about Mandela’s life.
‘Anyone wanting to understand who Mandela was should go and watch my film. Morgan Freeman is outstanding. Terrence Howard is an outstanding actor. But my film is about his life.’
David Harewood played Nelson Mandela in BBC drama ‘Mrs Mandela’ alongside Sophie Okonedo in 2010.
The Homeland star said he was daunted to play one of the most famous men in the world. ‘I was terrified. Then I started doing my research. And the more I read, the more I understood that he’s a man, a very vulnerable man, a man in love, a man who was incredibly strong and intelligent.’
He told The Metro he thought Mandela felt ‘incredibly guilty about doing what he did to his family’ when asked if it was fair to say he abandoned his wife and children for his political beliefs.
Howard is due to star in ‘Winnie,’ a film about the relationship between Mandela and his ex-wife, played by Jennifer Hudson.
The film was shot in 2011 but shelved. Howard told GQ the decision not to air the film when it was due to be shown ‘broke his heart’.
He added he felt the pressure to step up to the mark to portray Mandela in the film.
He said: ‘If you fail at Nelson, you don’t get to comeback and say, ‘Well, I was trying. Let me do it again.’ There are no re-takes. I knew that it would either kill my career or give birth to it.’
Glover played Mandela in the HBO drama ‘Mandela’ in 1987, three years before he was released from his 27 year prison sentence.
The actor, who was involved with the anti-apartheid movement as a student, said: ‘No-one had really heard of Mandela since 1964, but it was such an honour to play him.’
He said he tried to get inside Mandela’s head by imaging that his letters and speeches were his own words.
‘They were not simply words that I was memorising on the page, they were my words and I took ownership of them. I really tried to associate my own reaction, or what I would have felt writing in those very intimate moments, with his,’ he told SABC news.
Dennis Heysbert played Mandela in the 2007 film ‘Goodbye Bafana,’ about the relationship between Mandela and his prison guard James Gregory.
He told reporters it had been ‘daunting’ and ‘intimidating’ to take on the role.
‘Every night I went home, I would have a glass of wine and just cry. The sacrifices he made were profoundly sad to me,” he said.
Sindey Poitier played Nelson Mandela alongside Michael Caine in the 1997 film ‘Mandela and de Klerk,’ in which Caine played the last apartheid-era president of South Africa, F W de Klerk
The Independent’s critic Lesley Dowler said the resemblance between the two men was uncanny, ‘right down to the president’s rather still way of walking’.
However, Poitier was quoted as saying ‘no actor in the world can play Mandela better than Mandela’.
Wire star Peters played Nelson Mandela in Channel 4 drama ‘Endgame’ in 2009.
He said he preferred to study Mandela’s speeches to get into the role.
He said: ‘I once directed a man in the role of Martin Luther King. The actor would talk about him in third person and I would say ‘you are not getting what I am saying. I know he meant a lot to you, but how would you do what he did? I don’t want you to play the end of it’.
‘The challenge was to be as ordinary a person as you can but one on a mission.’