STACK chats with director Baltasar Kormákur about pitting Idris Elba against a savage lion in the new action-adventure, Beast.

A self-avowed adrenaline seeker, director Baltasar Kormákur tackled stormy seas in Adrift and the world’s most difficult mountain ascent in Everest. Half way through the pandemic, the Icelandic filmmaker was ready for another challenge – setting off to South Africa where he would pitch Idris Elba against a savage lion in the upcoming action-adventure, Beast.

Thankfully, before Elba came close to the jaws of one of the world’s most fearsome predators, Kormákur consulted with Alejandro Inarritu over his realistic scenes involving Leonardo DiCaprio and a bear in The Revenant.

“Of course you can’t do these things with a real bear because they’re gonna tear the actor apart,” Kormákur tells STACK on the eve of today’s trailer launch for Beast. But after Inarritu advised him to use a real lion to shoot references for night and day, and for how it would appear in nature, Kormákur put in a difficult call to the studio.

“I told them, ‘I need a lion with me!’ Not to attack, but to be able to have a reference. I actually had my son shooting the lion, which we had in a cage nearby,” he explains.

In this terrifying man vs. beast survival story, Elba portrays Dr. Nate Samuels, a recent widower who returns to South Africa (where he first met his wife) on a long-planned trip with his young daughters to a game reserve, managed by an old family friend (Sharlto Copley) and fellow wildlife biologist. Set over a 24-hour period, the family is relentlessly pursued by a wounded and ferocious lion.

Shot in the rural provinces of Limpopo and Northern Cape as well as in Cape Town, Kormákur stayed on an animal preserve during the ten-week shoot, where he was stampeded by two elephants and heard lions scratching outside his cottage at night. And the rest of the cast had their share of scares and thrills on the set, too.

Idris Elba and director Baltasar Kormákur on the set

“Every time they had a break, Idris and the other actors were going on a safari, or else we were freaking out because there was a snake in the toilet or something. We were shooting an adventure, but we were also living an adventure,” says the director.

Kormákur knew Elba would deliver a nuanced performance but was even more impressed when it came time for action.

“I’m aware he’s a great actor, but it was his vulnerability in the scenes when he’s dealing with his daughter and he’s not handling it very well that were so impressive. He shows that kind of confusion and powerlessness that I know really well from my own life with my own children. Idris hits those notes perfectly… he really knows what he’s doing.”

The two men effortlessly bonded on set. “We had a kind of a brotherly connection, partly through – because you do use the actors to project some of your own experiences through them and they do the same – having similar experiences and outlook on life.

“Idris, like myself, is a father of many children and complicated relationships. And that was great because this film is about a father who is separated from his wife. She then passes away. And the daughters (portrayed by Leah Jeffries and Iyana Halley), especially the older daughter, are angry with him because he wasn’t there as much as she expected, and she doesn’t quite understand the dynamic between the parents. But he’s also blaming himself and he is trying to create a new future.

“Everyone who’s faced a divorce or trauma or losing someone, suddenly has to go through grief and then try to find a way to make a new dream; a new future. For me, that was very important. Part of why I was interested in the film was because it’s about real people in a real situation, being faced by a real beast, not a beast from Mars or some genetic thing.

“So I was also wanting to create the lion to be as real as possible, not oversized or something like that,” he says of his hyper-realistic VFX beast.

Ask Kormákur if Elba learned any new skills for Beast and he laughs, “Well, I’m sure he’s never fought a lion before!”

Beast stalks cinemas on August 25