LOS ANGELES, United States - Morgan Freeman, who played Nelson Mandela in the Oscar-nominated film "Invictus" after being chosen by the icon himself as his favored actor, hailed the late South African leader Thursday as a "giant" of the 20th century.
The anti-apartheid hero was also praised in Hollywood by the star of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" - a just-released movie whose fortunes could ironically be boosted by the tragic news, according to Tinseltown experts.
"Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century," said Freeman after Mandela died at the age of 95, triggering outpourings of grief and tributes around the world.
"Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve--a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind," he added.
Freeman - who has also played God and the president of the United States - was chosen by Mandela at a press conference in 1994, when the then president was asked who should play him in a big screen version of his autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom."
Ironically, the actor did not end up playing in that movie. But in "Invictus," he played Mandela in his first term as South African president, trying to unite his apartheid-torn country behind the national team in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Idris Elba, praised for his title role in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," said: "What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world.
"I am stunned at this very moment, in mourning with the rest of the world and Madiba's family. We have lost one of the greatest human beings to have walked this earth, I only feel honored to be associated with him. He is in a better place now," he added.
The timing of the movie's release - it opened on November 29 in the United States - will likely boost audiences. It is due out in a string of European countries in the coming months, but that could change after Mandela's death.
Industry expert Jeff Bock of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations told AFP that for the film's distributors, news of Mandela's death was "as timely as it gets."
"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," has had mixed reviews, but there has been strong praise for Elba's title turn, which some say could earn him an Oscar nomination.
"I think Idris could secure a nomination," said Bock, while cautioning that "this year more than ever, the competition is pretty fierce. Plus, reviews have been pretty middle-of-the-road, so it's doubtful the film will receive more than acting accolades."
Coincidentally, the film had a red-carpet premiere in London on Thursday, attended by Britain's Prince William, who called Mandela's death "extremely sad and tragic" - after learning the news during the screening.
Mandela's daughter Zindzi said on her way into the cinema in London's Leicester Square that her father was "fine" but "frail", and that she was "hoping to see more of him."
Freeman said Mandela's passing should be seen not only in terms of looking at the past, but looking to the future.
"As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we've come, but on how far we have to go. Madiba may no longer be with us, but his journey continues on with me and with all of us," he said.