‘Stranger Things’ Star Caleb McLaughlin Gets “Hauntingly Vulnerable” in Feature Debut ‘Concrete Cowboy’

The actor trades the Upside Down for gritty Philly (alongside Idris Elba) in ‘Concrete Cowboy’ — and his director is already making Denzel comparisons: “This kid was reaching another level.”

Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin was three weeks into shooting season four of the hit Netflix series in Atlanta when COVID-19 shuttered production in March. For the past five months, the 18-year-old New York native has been laying low in the Georgia city with his family, waiting for production to resume. “Hopefully this year, but it may be next year. We have no idea,” he says. “I just started getting back into a routine of getting up early, working out more, going out a little bit to the grocery store. But everything’s just been thrown all over the place.”

The same could be said for the Toronto Film Festival, where his first film, the drama Concrete Cowboy, [made] its world premiere Sept. 13. McLaughlin, who plays opposite Idris Elba in the father-son drama, won’t be on hand for the debut given that, given travel restrictions and quarantine protocols, only Canadians can attend this year’s fest. (Elba will be missing as well.)

But in light of the buzz around the film — which centers on a brooding Detroit teen who is sent to live with his estranged father in Philadelphia and learns about an urban cowboy subculture — the actor best known as walkie-talkie-wielding Lucas Sinclair is poised to enjoy his breakout moment.

It’s a star turn that didn’t come easy for McLaughlin. The Broadway alum beat out some 1,500 actors to land the role of 15-year-old Cole, who becomes immersed in the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, a community of Black horse enthusiasts that has existed in Philadelphia for more than a century. After receiving the script from his WME agents, McLaughlin watched director Ricky Staub’s short The Cage, which chronicles inner-city life in Philadelphia, and set his sights on the role.

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