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Julie Jordan
April 15, 2016 03:00 PM

Over the years, British star Idris Elba has portrayed a drug lord, Nelson Mandela and an obsessive London detective. But one of his more profound roles was that of a frying egg?

Raised in Hackney, East London, Elba took one of his first drama classes at his all-boys school. “I remember one teacher was like, ‘Right. I want everybody to lie on the floor and imagine you are a frying egg,'” the actor tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “No one wanted to do it. And as stupid as I felt, I ended up doing it. And I just got so liberated in that moment. Like, I can do this for a living? Ah, that’s cool.”

For more from Elba on his journey to Hollywood, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now

The actor, 43, who voices the malevolent tiger Shere Khan in Disney’s new version of The Jungle Book, says he always enjoys playing the bad guy. “The challenge is to humanize them and make them relatable,” he says. “Shere Khan has a real sense of why he hates man and the idea was to bring that alive.”

As for his preference between animated versus live-action films, Elba says the new movie – a live-action and CGI adaptation of the 1967 classic – is the best of both worlds. “I love the sort of experience of using my voice as opposed to my face and body,” says the 6’3″ star. “It’s quite hard work. They shoot your face so they can see how you’re saying things. I don’t think the tiger looks anything like me but they were obviously watching me to make it all feel as real as possible.”

The Jungle Book is playing in theaters now.

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