How Concrete Cowboy’s Caleb McLaughlin And Idris Elba Approached Their Father-Son Relationship

Minor SPOILERS are ahead for Netflix’s Concrete Cowboy.

Netflix’s recent big hit is Concrete Cowboy, a drama centering on the Black cowboys of North Philadelphia as they fight to continue their legacy at the Fletcher Street Stables. One major highlight of the film is seeing Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin take the reins in his first lead movie role alongside Idris Elba. In Concrete Cowboy, the actors play an estranged father and son who find room for their relationship by the end of the film.

When Caleb McLaughlin’s Cole is taken to live with Idris Elba’s Harp in Concrete Cowboy by his tired mother, we don’t expect the relationship to tug on our heartstrings or grow into a place of acceptance. The Netflix film tells a beautiful story about how a father and son can forgive one another and develop a meaningful relationship after over a decade apart. It provides a sweet message about mending familial bonds in between its important storyline highlighting Black cowboy communities.

When CinemaBlend spoke to the Concrete Cowboy cast, Caleb McLaughlin opened up about how he and Idris Elba approached their central relationship in the Netflix film. In his words:

That’s one thing that’s beautiful about this movie is the father and son relationship was rekindled and how our characters came to an understanding. We had to go through some tough times to really understand who each other were at that moment – in that 15-year gap they weren’t in each other’s lives. So, I think that was definitely very special and it was challenging for me because I have a great relationship with my father. I didn’t know how that felt at all, what that feeling was as an absent father. So I think when I sat down with Idris and talked about our relationship, that helped me a lot. And we spent hours just talking about our relationships with our fathers.

As the Stranger Things actor explained, he had to dig deep with this role because he had not experienced the kind of abandonment his Concrete Cowboy character feels for his father. Caleb McLaughlin said he and The Suicide Squad actor had long discussions together about their own relationships with their dads in order to find space for their performance as father and son in the movie.

Although Idris Elba’s Harp is not a typical father and certainly makes some mistakes with his 15-year-old son, as the movie goes on, we learn his good intentions. Both characters then begin to understand each other, and thus heal their previously nonexistent relationship. It sounds like this aspect of the film was really important to the cast aside from telling the story of the Fletcher Street Stables, a real place that remains threatened by gentrification.

Concrete Cowboy challenges the “deadbeat dad” trope, and it's great to see so much love and care being placed in a father/son relationship on screen. The Netflix movie is based on the book Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri and enriched by writer/director Ricky Staub’s in-depth research and interviews with Fletcher Street cowboys ahead of writing the adaptation.

Check out Concrete Cowboy streaming on Netflix now and stay tuned for more exclusive interviews about more new movies this April.

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.