Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin Says It Was ‘Refreshing’ To Step Outside His Famous Netflix Role For Concrete Cowboy

This summer will mark five years since the Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things first dropped on the streaming service. The science-fiction series has only become bigger and more mature with each new season, and the same can be said for its young stars. Millie Bobby Brown heads into her second Godzilla film this week, Finn Wolfhard will soon be part of the Ghostbusters franchise, and this weekend Caleb McLaughlin is starring as the son of Idris Elba in the western-drama, Concrete Cowboy.

Aside from playing Lucas Sinclair in Stranger Things, the 19-year-old actor has had a number of guest TV spots and supporting roles, but with Concrete Cowboy he has a film in which he is unmistakably the lead. When speaking to CinemaBlend, Caleb McLaughlin told us about how it feels to come into his own for this Friday’s Netflix release:

It’s definitely very refreshing. I’ve been playing Lucas for years now. Sometimes I almost think I’m Lucas. I gotta be like ‘Whoa, I gotta do something different.’ So, I think coming on to this film was refreshing especially for me as an actor just developing, and really challenging myself. This film was really challenging, it wasn’t easy. It really showed my range and my acting abilities.

Concrete Cowboy has Caleb McLaughlin playing Cole, a young teen from Detroit who is sent to live with his estranged father in north Philadelphia after repeatedly getting into trouble at school. Cole’s father is Idris Elba’s Harp, a laid back urban cowboy living close to an Urban Riding Club who teaches his son his way of life with the help of his close-knit community.

The Netflix release is an affecting coming-of-age story based on Greg Neri’s novel Ghetto Cowboy. The movie was filmed on location in Philadelphia where there is an actual urban cowboy community that has been fighting to remain its operations over the years. Caleb McLaughlin got to work alongside real urban cowboys who play characters in the film; he learned how to ride horses; and acts in some beautiful scenes with The Suicide Squad star Idris Elba.

Concrete Cowboy has been warmly received by critics ahead of its Friday release, with CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg describing McLaughlin’s role in the film as demonstrating “some exciting range” that is very much a departure from Stranger Things' Lucas Sinclair. After playing a role as well-known as Caleb McLaughlin has, it would have been easy for him to play a similar type of character, but Concrete Cowboy shows there’s a bright future ahead for the young talent beyond the ‘80s-set series.

Caleb McLaughlin is set to reprise his role as Lucas in Season 4 of Stranger Things sometime this year (the release date has not yet been announced). In the meantime, Concrete Cowboy, which also stars Lorraine Toussaint, Jharrel Jerome and Cliff “Method Man” Smith, arrives on Netflix this Friday, April 2.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.