Idris Elba praises Tom Hanks for 'immediately' sharing coronavirus diagnosis in Oprah COVID-19 interview

USA TODAY TV Critic Kelly Lawler breaks down her must-see TV shows of the spring and talks about how the coronavirus is affecting production. USA TODAY

Idris Elba praises Tom Hanks for 'immediately' sharing coronavirus diagnosis in Oprah COVID-19 interview

Got questions about coronavirus? Don't fret: Oprah Winfrey is here to help.

The former daytime talk-show host revealed Saturday that she's producing a new streaming series devoted to answering questions and dispelling myths about COVID-19.

"Oprah Talks COVID-19" is available on Apple TV+ and can be viewed in more than 100 countries, according to Apple

Winfrey's first installment, released late Saturday, features FaceTime interviews with actor Idris Elba and his wife, Sabrina Dhowre, while a second episode, which arrived Sunday, featured Pastor Wintley Phipps. Elba revealed recently that he'd tested positive for COVID-19 and Dhowre said she learned the morning of the interview that she had tested positive as well, without feeling any major symptoms of the virus. 

Like millions of people all over the world, I've been staying safer at home for over a week now. I know a lot of people are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, & uncertain. Bc of that, I want to offer some hope & gather thought leaders & people going through it to add some perspective

— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) March 22, 2020

"Like millions of people all over the world, I've been staying safer at home for over a week now," Winfrey tweeted. "I know a lot of people are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, & uncertain. Bc of that, I want to offer some hope & gather thought leaders & people going through it to add some perspective."

In the opening of the first episode, she observed: "This is a big test for our humanity. We have an opportunity, in the midst of all our fears and disruption, to really rise."

The interview was an exclusive of sorts: Elba, who along with Dhowre, is currently quarantined in New Mexico, where he had expected to start filming a new project. 

He said he chose to talk to Winfrey so he could discuss his health with someone he considers a friend, "but also someone whose journalistic approach to doing things like this is probably one of the best." 

So why go public? 

"COVID-19 has come to a sort of pressure point right now but for the last two weeks, it's been a talking point and I really felt that a lot of people didn't know what was going to come ... It didn't really feel relatable. There were a bunch of theories going around: It's a conspiracy! Is it even real?" Elba, 47, recalled. "And when I got tested and it came back positive, it became very real. It was always real for me but it became very real. And I just felt compelled to tell people that this is very real. Someone like myself, in the public eye, can press a button and 30 million people will get a message the next day, I think is a really important component in the messaging around COVID-19 right now."

Elba said he was inspired to come forward by Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, the first major stars to announce they had been diagnosed with coronavirus last week. 

"Tom being in a – I suppose – a high risk category, while being on set on a film, came out immediately, which was the right thing to do, 100%," he said. "Film sets are incubators, essentially ... I think Tom definitely did the right thing ... I spoke to my wife about it and said, 'I really think I should say something' and she said, 'Yeah, let's do it.' "

By way of an update on his health, Elba said, "I feel fine – been checking my temperature every day." (It appears he has not suffered from a fever, noting he has stayed around the normal range of 98 degrees.)

"I really haven't witnessed any major symptoms," he said, adding that he isn't sure how long he'll be in isolation but knows he'll have to be tested again at some point. 

The silver lining in all of this: He's had a chance to catch his breath. "The rest, if I'm really honest, has been incredible – just being able to sit still. I never sit still, and so from a mental point of view, I feel pretty focused and (have) been OK." 

Viewers can watch the first episode at without a subscription. Additional installments of "Oprah Talks COVID-19" will roll out each week, Apple said.

Winfrey retired from daytime TV in May 2011, after hosting her own talk show for 25 years. Since then, she's focused on OWN, her cable TV network, and a number of side projects.

Contributing: Jayme Deerwester and Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY


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