From the coolly understated Tango in American Gangster to the defiant soldier in The Losers, Idris Elba is riding a series of cinematic successes that are not just fueling his own career, but helping shape the role of black actors in Hollywood.

The 37-year-old British actor, who made his foray to American television as Stringer Bell on the HBO series “The Wire,” has starred in a variety of hit flicks, including Guy Ritchie’s crime film RocknRolla, Obsessed with Beyoncé and the horror thriller 28 Weeks Later.

With a perfect blend of style and swagger in his latest movie, Takers, Elba plays Gordon Jennings, a successful British criminal mastermind and leader of a group of high-living criminals who bankroll their extravagant lifestyles with robberies.

“I was a small part of an ensemble where my character, even though he is the leader, is not so much the bad guy,” claims Elba, who is quick to point out the difference between Jennings and the Stringer Bell character from “The Wire.”

“It [“The Wire”] put me on the map as an actor in this country, and I am proud of the work I did in it, but I tend not to play gangsters just because I think people will always want to see me play Stringer Bell. In Takers, which is a heist film, I play the leader of a group of thieves who’s really more of a mastermind criminal. Yes, he is bad – he’s a professional thief – but I have played worse characters in my past that have a real mean streak. I do that pretty easily,” he chuckles. “I am a good person at heart, but it’s more fun being a bad guy.”

Elba – who launched his career over a decade ago with incendiary performances in British television classics “Dangerfield,” the British soap opera “Family Affairs” and the notoriously funny comedy series “Absolutely Fabulous” – has come a long way from a childhood in London’s East End. The actor, who left London for New York in search of greener pastures in 1998, has had a very lucrative career with roles in The Reaping with Hilary Swank and Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls.

A crime caper directed by John Luessenhop, Takers stars a cool list of 21st century stars that includes Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, T.I., Chris Brown, Michael Ealy and Matt Dillon.

“It’s an ensemble piece with equal amount of screen presence and charisma. It’s entertaining and is not your typical urban film,” says Elba. “I want people to hold on to their seats and really get engaged with the character, as each character has a storyline that takes them in a certain direction. You will get an opportunity to see both Chris and T.I. show their talent. With T.I., he is a very charismatic kind of guy and so is his character – so what you are seeing is T.I bringing himself to the role.”

Jennings, Elba’s character, was initially written as an American criminal, but the actor felt he could do him more justice if he was changed to a Brit.

“He was just a small-time thief turned into a big-time thief,” Elba says, “and was an American character born and bred in Los Angeles. I wanted to change that a little bit and make him a little more international, and because I am using my own accent, I get an opportunity to show what it is like to be an international in America. Between myself and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who plays my sister, we show a moment of British culture – Afro-Caribbean culture living in America in a mainstream American film, which is quite rare. That was quite an achievement and I am excited about that and eager to find out what my European audience thinks about that storyline.”

For director Luessenhop, who made his directional debut with the prison drama Lockdown, Elba was the perfect choice.

“He is blessed with the quality called ‘presence’ in Hollywood. Your eye seems to go to him automatically,” says Luessenhop. “He brings a definition to his role with everything he does, from the way he walks and the way he carries his briefcase to the way he sits at a table.”

This sentiment is echoed by writer and executive producer Gabriel Casseus, who adds that “women love Elba.”

It’s an admiration Elba modestly dismisses.

“I am told more than I experience it that I am a sex symbol. When I walk down the street nobody is chasing me down so I don’t know if that’s half true. Black men in film are not often described as sexy, and if they are, it’s not in the right connotation. It’s just about the size of our members. Just to be a black man that is sexy is a rare thing, and if that’s the moniker that goes with the title, then I am in for it,” adds the actor.

A friendly, funny and down-to-earth guy, Elba, who is a producer and star of the new BBC drama “Luther” scheduled to premier this fall, can also be seen playing Laura Linney’s love interest in the upcoming Showtime comedy “The Big C,” which centers on a suburban wife and mother whose life is turned upside down when she’s diagnosed with cancer.

“’Luther’ is my return to the small screen in a major way. I am the lead and part producer of that show. It’s a phenomenal piece of writing about a brilliant, intuitive but dysfunctional detective, and it’s the first time the BBC has cast a black man in a role like this on primetime television, so I am excited. We did the first season, and it has been received amazingly well. We sold it to BBC America, so it should be here in the fall, and I am interested to see how American viewers receive it.”

Takers releases in theaters Aug 27.