In recent years, Idris Elba has played more larger-than-life roles, whether it be the villainous Brixton in the Fast & Furious spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, Macavity in Cats or his upcoming turn as Bloodsport in DC's The Suicide Squad. But with his latest role, the actor leads Concrete Cowboy, a project very much grounded in the reality of North Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street Stables, a community of Black cowboys who have been gravely reflected by gentrification over the years.
Netflix’s Concrete Cowboy was not only shot on location in North Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street, the cast also acted alongside members of the community, some of whom were given roles within the film too. Concrete Cowboy is a unique production, and one that has Idris Elba playing a character unlike we’ve ever seen him. When speaking to CinemaBlend, the Luther actor talked about how he immersed himself in Black cowboy culture:
My production team, Ricky Staub and Dan Walser and that team did maybe 24 months of development and Emma and Anna, who run my company went to Philadelphia like 12 months prior and hung out for a week with the team. I didn’t get a chance to do that until maybe three weeks just before shooting. So I got a chance to soak up maybe two weeks prior for me. But we were there everyday. It was more like shooting a documentary than a movie because we were there so much. And we were shooting on location with real people who lived there, who were also in the film. And we really got a sense of who everyone is and Ricky had lived in Philadelphia for three years before even making this film to really get to know this story.
Concrete Cowboy's director, Ricky Staub, lived in North Philadelphia when he got the idea to make the film, and has been developing the project since 2011. Before Idris Elba and the cast got involved, the filmmaker immersed himself in the community through research, interviews and hanging out with the urban riders. Stranger Things’ Lucas, Caleb McLaughlin, stars in the film and had the chance to work closely with some of the riders. In his words:
I think a lot of people think working with non-actors is challenging, but it was actually cool because their drive for acting and how much they want to do good in the film, they are asking questions and they are ready to work, which was great. And watching them act and watched them work, you couldn’t even tell they weren’t real actors, so I have to give it to them.
The Netflix movie follows McLaughlin’s Cole, a teenager who is sent off from Detroit to Phili to live with his dad (Idris Elba) after getting in trouble at school. He and his father are not close at the beginning, but working at the stables allows him to become more connected to his father and the community he lives in. He also meets other cowboys played by Cliff “Method Man” Smith and Lorraine Toussaint. The Selma actress said this about the experience:
It felt like Ricky Staub was really committed to being a part of this film. He wrote this film for the community and about the community and was really adamant about having them in the film in front of and behind the cameras, so we were surrounded by this community and so, it was very easy. It was really important. We really leaned on this community to authenticate what we were doing whether it was the dialogue, the writing or the body language. Even just the way we walked or sat or hung with each other. We were very fortunate to be voyers to a certain extent and actually absorb it as actors. It helped define our work in the film.
As discussed in the interview video above, when Method Man first arrived at Fletcher Street, he actually thought he had stepped on a set built by a production designers, only to later find out it was the real place. It definitely sounds like Concrete Cowboy is as close as it gets to a documentary on the community, though the coming-of-age story is based on a novel called Ghetto Cowboy.