Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures and Studio 8
Piya Sinha-Roy
May 17, 2018 at 12:00 PM EDT

The surreal true story of a 14-year-old impoverished boy who became the FBI’s youngest informant was not the main draw for director Yann Demange in adapting the story of White Boy Rick for the big screen but rather, it was the Detroit teen’s touching relationship with his father that became the driving force of the movie.

“It’s a story about family really, a single-parent family trying to survive against the odds in face of abject poverty,” Demange told EW. 

The first stills from White Boy Rick, out in theaters in September, shows Matthew McConaughey as Richard Wershe Sr. and newcomer Richie Merritt in the titular role while, in a story that explores the adversity that the family faced. Demange said McConaughey, a dad of three, tends to gravitate towards characters that are fathers and “that have a lot of humanity and engage with different parts of the human condition.”

Growing up in Detroit in the mid-1980s, Rick Jr. is the outlier within the predominantly working-class African-American community that he grows up in, but is able to charm his way into a ring of drug dealers, attracting the attention of the FBI who recruit him to help them tackle the crack epidemic at its height.

“The film is trying to identify with a different point of view, people in the margins that are often talked about at the moment by people who don’t really know or understand what it means to be poor in America and try to survive as a family,” Demange said.

The London-bred filmmaker said he wanted to find an authentic actor to play the lead, asking casting directors to search for a fresh new talent with a similar background to Rick Jr. A casting scout went to a school in Baltimore in search of a potential Rick and came across Merritt, then aged 15, who had been sent outside of class after getting into trouble. The rest, as they say, is history and Demange called Merritt “an incredible find.”

“It would have been too inauthentic to take a great acting kid who can pretend he’s grown up in an African-American community. I thought it would be interesting to find a kid who was genuinely closer to the character,” Demange said.

See McConaughey, Merritt and co-stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rory Cochrane, Bel Powley, and RJ Cyler in exclusive stills above and below from the upcoming Sony Pictures film.

Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures and Studio 8
Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures and Studio 8
Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures and Studio 8
Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures and Studio 8
Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures and Studio 8
Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures and Studio 8

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