British actor Idris Elba looked close to home for inspiration when playing late civil rights icon Nelson Mandela as he based the part on his own father.

The Wire star slipped into the former South African leader's shoes for new biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, and he has previously admitted playing the civil rights icon was a daunting task.

Now he has revealed he prepared for the role by channelling his father, who lost his battle with lung cancer in September (13) after shooting on the movie had wrapped.

Elba tells the January (14) edition of Reader's Digest, "My dad was the one man I knew that was that age when I was playing Mandela. He had a big silver-grey afro. We all loved him. I can't talk about this film without referencing him... I've never met Mandela in my life. Never met him when I was playing him. So for the older Mandela, I used me (my) old man. That's what my dad is like. The dignity, the poise."

Mandela died, aged 95, on 5 December (13), the day Elba's film received its royal premiere in London.