Idris Elba Thought He Was Shot When Making 'American Gangster'

Director Ridley Scott contrived to have Idris Elba think he'd really been shot while filming American Gangster in 2007. In a new interview with The Daily Mail, Scott described how he scared Elba to get an "authentic" reaction for the scene. The story was eerily relevant following the recent discussion of gun safety on film sets.

Ridley described one of the climactic scenes from American Gangster where Denzel Washington's character Frank shoots Elba's character Tango in the head in the middle of a crowded street. He instructed Elba to lean his head on the prop gun so that the recoil would add some realism to the scene. The effect so was powerful that it had Elba thinking he'd really been shot for a split second.

"[Frank is] in the cafe and he says, 'Just stay here' and he goes out and all his brothers are watching, and he goes down the street and Idris Elba is standing there saying, 'Hey, what are you going to do, shoot me, Frank? Go on, shoot me Frank in front of all these people.' And he just goes boom and shoots him on the spot," Scott said, setting the scene. "What happened was I said to Idris, 'Listen, when he puts the gun to your head, lean on the gun.' Because, by the way, this is a gun with a solid barrel; there is no aperture. I would never risk it. But when you pull the trigger there's a recoil. There's no blank, nothing. So I said, 'I want you to lean on the gun.'"

"He pulled the trigger and it goes bang. Idris thought he'd been shot and dropped to the sidewalk and said, 'I've been shot!'" Scott went on. For further explanation, The Daily Mail spoke to weapons expert Paul Biddiss, who told them how this kind of prop gun works.

"A solid barrel is a completely filled in barrel that no bullet would be able to pass through, so it was a completely deactivated impractical gun as far as firing anything was concerned," he said. "But he was still able to create a recoil effect for the film's purposes by using something used in films called a UTM round, which can be put in a weapon that has had the barrel completely filled and it still causes a blowback... It can be used repeatedly for a recoil effect each time. It's quite often used in close-up execution shots in films."


Since the tragic accidental shooting on the set of Rust last month, there has been a lot of discourse among movie fans and professionals about which kinds of practical firearms effects are worth using, and which are too risky. Scott's input has inspired even more chatter on social media, with some users questioning why solid barrel guns can't be used in more contexts. Scott's new movie The House of Gucci is playing in theaters now.