When it came to casting the lead role of Dr. Nate Samuels, Beast executive producer Jaime Primak Sullivan had a specific vision of which actor could be the embodiment of survival – and it all came down to actor Idris Elba.
“When I first had the idea it was never about the actor,” she told Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “It was about the survival.” And while Sullivan never had a specific actor in mind, she did want her leading man to be a Black actor. “We’ve seen every Liam Neeson survival thriller, so we know that white men know how to survive,” she joked.
Beast is a thriller that follows a widowed doctor (Elba) and his daughters’ family vacation to Africa, which turns to terror when a vengeful lion mercilessly stalks the family looking for blood.
‘Beast’ EP explains why Idris Elba was the perfect leading man
“And we just thought, let’s do it differently,” she explained. “Let’s find a movie star who doesn’t look the way every other survival thriller movie star looks. And, we found our leading man in Idris. And I mean, what a leading man he is.”
“Sitting next to him in South Africa in the bush [sigh],” she said. “Just like sitting next to him and he would just be talking to me with his very British accent. You forget he’s British. By the way, he is not African American and he will correct you quickly because he’s not American. So he’s Black.”
Elba’s talent also blew her away. “Just sitting next to him, I mean, you just really get why the world is in love with him. And it is amazing,” she said. “It really is amazing how when a director says action how he goes from like the British guy talking about his DJing career and the video games he loves to play. And all of a sudden he’s this American doctor and his children are in deep jeopardy. And you’re just like … ‘Save me, Idris.’”
‘Beast’ has a much more important message, Jaime Primak Sullivan describes
Elba was also the perfect man to go up against the ultimate predator. “And so for me, it was like, what would happen if you took the Cujo isolation element with the Jaws feel and put them together?” she wondered. “And I would like to say for the record, this is very important. Ultimately, what motivated this movie was what poaching is doing to the ecosystem in South Africa.”
“The education that we got and the amount of money that land owners have to spend on anti-poaching efforts … because what the poachers are doing to these prides and what they’re doing to the elephants and what they’re doing to the rhinos, it is horrific,” she said.
“So [writer] Ryan Engle did a very good job and we tried to do a very good job of showing people that this lion is reacting to what man had started,” Sullivan said. “This isn’t just like a lion having a bad day. This is a lion who lost his mate and lost his pride because of poaching. And he realized, ‘Oh, you guys are the problem.’ And so he’s doing what lions do.”
Idris Elba’s family gets stuck in the middle in ‘Beast’
Sullivan said while the lion in Beast is portrayed as the villain, he’s simply protecting his land. “And unfortunately, this family gets stuck in his territory and he can’t discern, obviously, the good from the bad,” she said.
“But poaching it’s an epidemic. And it’s horrific,” she emphasized. “And I understand or I try to understand the lengths in which people will go to feed their families and to make money and survival. But I just can’t help but think there’s got to be a better way than killing these animals and leaving these cubs without fathers to protect them, because then other males come in and kill. It’s just it’s a cycle of horror, to be honest.”
Beast, starring Idris Elba premieres in theaters on August 19.