Above image: Necklace by John Hardy and Lisa Maita, worn throughout
Straight outta Baltimore, Richie Merritt is the star of White Boy Rick, the true story of a fifteen-year-old Detroit drug kingpin turned FBI informant. The real life Richie has swagger and attitude too, plucked from school by a casting director and thrust headfirst into a career-making debut, performing alongside Matthew McConaughey and pretty much stealing the show. We visited Richie and his family at home in Baltimore, ate some BBQ, bowled some strikes, and watched the sun go down over Merritt Point Park.
James West: Hey Richie, what are you up to today?
Richie Merritt: I’m just chilling, getting a ride back home back to Baltimore. I was out in New York for a little bit, I did a fitting and then I did a photo shoot.
JW: It must be a bit of a whirlwind, how did this whole film come about, you’ve not been in anything before.
RM: I was going to school, and I walked into the front office to sign in, and there was a casting agent there. I was recommended by one of the ladies on the front desk, so me and my friend went back there individually to talk to her. I’ve never been in any acting classes, or theatre classes, never did anything with acting. But I did know what a casting agent was, so I just answered every question she asked, and did a couple of improv scenes, and it blew up.
JW: What happened next?
RM: It was probably a week after that I met up with an acting coach, and I trained with her for a good week or two, and then they flew me out to California, to meet Matthew [McConaughey].
JW: The casting director obviously saw something in you – what kinds of things do you work on in the acting workshops?
RM: It was a lot of reading the script, taking some scenes and running them a couple of times, then we’d get further into it, you can’t just say it you’ve gotta really feel it, you gotta put yourself in that person’s shoes to make it look good, we did that for two weeks. James: And then you flew to California and met Matthew, did you work on some stuff together? Richie: Yeah we just chilled, the first time we really met was at a bowling alley. It was real fun, he was like a regular person. I suck at bowling but I do a lot of it… James: Where did you shoot? Richie: We shot in Cleveland Ohio, we shot in Detroit Michigan, we shot in Miami Florida, and we also shot in Las Vegas. We got around, cool spots, nice weather. Hot though. After I met with Matthew, I still had a lot of training to do, because this is my first acting part, so I did some more with my acting coach. I had to go to Ohio and that’s when I started my diet, I started going to the doctor just to clear up my face, I had to read the script a lot, get really used to it to get myself into a different character.
JW: How long was the shoot?
RM: The whole shoot was like six months, it was really long. But it was really nice. Everybody got along, and was really understanding.
JW: Did anything surprise you on set since it was your first time?
RM: Oh man, a lot – I was just so new to everything, it blew me out of proportion. I didn’t know they had to shoot the scene, like 155 times, you gotta shoot it 65 times then go to another angle and do it another 65 times… it’s a lot but it was really fun. I like being creative and in character.
JW: I guess you have to give the same performance each take.
RM: Yeah, exactly. You gotta remember everything. If I was tying my shoe on the right side, if I didn’t do that at the exact same time I did on the next take it would mess everything up.
JW: When was the first time you saw the finished film?
RM: I saw it a couple of months ago in California. It was pretty weird watching myself, you can’t tell when the cameras are in front of you how it’s going to turn out but it looked pretty good! Sometimes the cameras were right up in your face, I was like, “Isn’t that a bit close!”
JW: What was your favourite part of the whole process?
RM: The part I love about making this movie… I can’t say, I love it all. Every day I woke up, some days I was a little tired, some days I was a little angry, but I never let that get in the way. I put my mind and my pride to the side and just rolled with the flow.
JW: So we met in Baltimore for this shoot, have you always lived there?
RM: I’ve always lived in Baltimore since I was a baby, born and raised.
JW: What’s it like there?
RM: Baltimore – first of all the weather, it can be hot, then it can be cold. So prepare for the weather switch-up. We got downtown, maybe it’s not as safe as other places, but it’s a good city. Every city’s got its positives and negatives. We got some good food in Baltimore, good crabs. Some of the downtown spots are good, you’re not really going to find a New York prime steak in Baltimore though.
JW: What’s happening for you now the film’s coming out?
RM: It’s a lot of travel, just for this month, a lot of talking. Other than that just bringing the energy. I have to travel to Canada.
JW: What do you think you want to do next?
RM: Get into another film. I’m trying to switch it up, I’ve played a white-boy-slash-gangster, maybe I can play a killer in the next. I don’t think I’m ready for a romance, but a comedy or action movie, or a scary movie. I’m a good screamer, I can scream my ass off!
JW: What’s your favourite kind of movie to watch.
RM: Sometimes when I’m bored I like to watch anime. But I like action movies a lot.
JW: You work in a movie theatre, do you get a chance to see many movies there?
RM: Yeah, yeah I get to see every movie. It’s a good first, actual job job.
JW: Are they going to play your movie where you work?
RM: Definitely. I’m going to throw a party for my people so they can come and see it.