Richie Merritt, a 15-year-old Baltimore kid with no previous acting experience, has landed the coveted role in the biopic White Boy Rick. He will play Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe Jr, who as a 14-year-old in mid-1980s Detroit became an undercover informant for law enforcement and established himself as a major drug dealer, only to get arrested three years later. Merritt will have a lot of support and help as Matthew McConaughey plays Merritt’s father, Bruce Dern his grandfather, and now Piper Laurie has joined the cast as his grandmother. Not bad for a first film role, right?

Piper Laurie
Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

He will join others who are now joining White Boy Rick including Jonathan Majors, Y.G., and Taylour Paige. The film marks Laurie’s return to the big screen after seven years; she was born in Detroit where the story takes place. The film, directed by Yann Demange, will shoot only a few scenes in Detroit; it starts production March 21 in Cleveland.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rory Cochrane, Brian Tyree Henry, and Bel Powley are also in the the film which is being produced by Studio 8, John Lesher and Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin’s Protozoa Pictures.

“This is something that none of us had done before. We searched all over the U.S., the UK and Australia,” Lesher told Deadline. “We auditioned both real kids, with no experience, and also young actors. It was very important to us that we found someone with the authenticity and similarity in his background (to Wershe).” He said Merritt grew up in similar circumstances in that he had the same socio-economic background and was a white kid in an urban environment. “We all just fell in love with him,” Lesher said. “He has a natural charisma.”

The true story follows the blue-collar father (McConaughey) and teenage son (Merritt) during the time the kid became a confidential informant, to a drug dealer, to being abandoned by the FBI and sentenced to life in prison.

What’s interesting is that just last month, the real White Boy Rick, who has spent about 29 years in prison, told The Detroit News he was “cautiously optimistic” about being freed after a meeting with the parole board and his lawyers. He has a hearing later this month and a public presentation in June.

Majors, currently appearing in ABC’s miniseries When We Rise and who will co-star in Scott Cooper’s upcoming Hostiles, has been cast in the role of Johnny Curry. Rapper Y.G., whose second album Still Brazy was released last year, will portray Leo Curry; Paige, the star of the VH1 series Hit The Floor, is taking on the role of Cathy Volsan.

White Boy Rick was scripted by Logan and Noah Miller, Andy Weiss, Steve Kloves and Scott Silver. Lesher (Birdman, Black Mass) is producing as is Julie Yorn of LBI Entertainment, where Lesher is now based and which has a first-look deal with Studio 8. Jon Silk brought White Boy Rick into Studio 8 and is overseeing the project.