The Pitch Idris Elba Made For Three Thousand Years Of Longing That Helped Enhance His Storytelling With Tilda Swinton

Telling a story is harder than it looks, especially if you’re going for a specific effect. The new movie release Three Thousand Years of Longing is a specific case where all the bells and whistles were available in order to make Idris Elba’s story sessions with Tilda Swinton bend to the will of George Miller’s visual feast. And yet, Elba himself made a pitch that was so simple, and so old school, that it enhanced the body of the picture, in which our main pair get caught up in the magic of storytelling.

During the press day for Three Thousand Years of Longing, I was granted the opportunity to speak with both Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in connection with the film, which you can now rent on PVOD. Noting the electric chemistry between the actors in the latest vision from the man who's currently hard at work delivering his surprisingly long-awaited Mad Max prequel Furiosa, I was curious if the body of the anthology was filmed in long takes, or if the dialogue in the hotel room portions was limited to what was needed for the moment. 

That question yielded an answer that rendered George Miller’s cinematic offering even more impressive. Tilda Swinton confirmed that Three Thousand Years of Longing did indeed employ long takes of Idris Elba telling her stories of his Djinn’s exploits, which is impressive in itself. However, as she told CinemaBlend, Elba pitched Miller on a key idea that enhanced those scenes even further:

In fact, it was Idris who had the genius idea, at the very beginning of his conversation with George, about shooting the 3000 years story before we got to the hotel room. So that when the Djinn is telling Alithea all these stories, Idris is reporting on what he’d shot before Christmas.

As a film, Three Thousand Years of Longing orbits around the central anthology of how the Djinn’s 3000 years leading up to the present day have taught him everything there is to know about wishing. Imparting this wisdom with Dr. Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), a scholar who specializes in storytelling and myths, he tells three different stories over the course of their time in an Istanbul hotel room. 

For as much as the movie is a beautiful feast of spectacle, the entire concept revolves around two people in bathrobes having a conversation. Watching the trailer for Three Thousand Years of Longing, you can see how audiences might expect something a bit more fast paced and fantastical. What exists instead is more of a balance between far-flung cautionary tales and the more intimate moments between Elba and Swinton.

It absolutely works thanks to those stories being told so expertly on the part of Idris Elba. Knowing that The Suicide Squad actor suggested this shooting strategy shows how much of a handle he had on the role of the Djinn, as well as how much George Miller trusts his actors. That trust worked in a very special way for both Elba and Tilda Swinton, which they further explained in our interview: 

Tilda Swinton: That was really a work of genius, but yes, we shot in a way similar to working with a play. We shot with long takes, and that was useful, because we got a rhythm going, and we were able to establish a rhythm.

Idris Elba: It was designed to be a narration piece, with snippets of the room; but we shot the entire room. The narration is actually my performance in the room, even though you can’t see it. That was important for us to have, and it just brings a certain continuity to the emotion in the whole film. Which I think would have been different, had you cut to a narrator.

The Djinn could be one of Idris Elba’s career best roles, with Tilda Swinton’s performance also ranking highly among her work. It’s all thanks to a collaborative environment that saw some simple suggestions expanded into strategies that maximized the star power that anchored Three Thousand Years of Longing in the here and now. Sometimes the more traditional approach really does make a truly 'out there' tale of romance and fantasy even more fantastic to behold. 

As mentioned earlier, Three Thousand Years of Longing is currently available for PVOD rental, though you might be able to still catch it at a theater near you. Meanwhile, you can also pre-order Three Thousand Years of Longing (opens in new tab) in advance of its release on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD on November 15th. 

Or, if you're an eccentric millionaire that agrees with Tilda Swinton's movie theater plan, you could probably run the movie yourself for as long as you'd like. There are a lot of options in play here, and none of them require access to a Djinn. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.