By Bryan Alexander | Gannett News Service
Idris Elba is a beast with a nation.
Elba voices Chief Bogo, the cape buffalo who heads the Zootopia Police Department — serving and protecting the modern mammal metropolis created in the animated “Zootopia” (in theaters March 4).
Even the British tough-guy actor is jealous of his beefy 2,000-pound character.
“I’ve definitely got some shoulder envy,” says Elba. “I can’t say I ever even dreamed of being a buffalo before. But now that I am one, I’m very excited about it. And I grabbed the part by the horns.”
The cast of characters in Disney’s film also includes a doughnut-loving police receptionist cheetah, Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), and Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer), a desperate otter who turns to the police to help find her missing husband.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), the first bunny on the police force, joins forces with shady fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to crack the missing-mammal case before a 48-hour deadline.
Like each of the voice actors working with directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”), Elba’s Chief Bogo evolved during the year-long voicing process, with Elba recording in various studio locations while jetting around the world to shoot projects such as “Star Trek Beyond.”
The directors knew Elba could handle Bogo’s larger-than-life personality and toughness and allowed him to use his own East London accent. But they were surprised to discover Elba’s sense of humor.
“Bogo started out pretty straight, this tough boss. We thought, perfect, Idris is a dramatic character,” says Howard. “But Idris is so funny — people would be surprised how funny. It was like, ‘We have to get some of this in the movie.’ So Chief Bogo has this goofiness under the surface.”
Elba says he’s relishing his foray into animated movies. “My kids are really going to enjoy it,” says Elba, who has a teenage daughter, Isan, and toddler son, Winston. “I always wanted to be Tom Hanks in ‘Toy Story.’ ”
He would set the mood in the sound studio to find his Chief Bogo.
“I like to turn the lights down, take my shoes off and get into the character. I really go for it in the room, with movement. I act out the part,” Elba says. “It’s a very animated performance.”
But he didn’t go full-buffalo Bogo.
“My thing was all about keeping his stoic nature. Chief Bogo has got these big horns, and he looks people right in the eyes. And I was trying to get that color in the voice. But it wasn’t like I was head-butting the microphone or anything.”