White Boy Rick, opening on September 14, is based on the true story of Richard Wershe Jr., a Detroit kid who at 14 became the youngest-ever informant for the FBI and other law enforcement organizations – and then became a major drug dealer, all before being sentenced to life in prison.
The gritty film stars Richie Merritt, and features Matthew McConaughey as Richard Wershe Sr., with Bel Powley, Bruce Dern, and Piper Laurie playing other Wershe family members, and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane as FBI agents.
French filmmaker Yann Demange directs White Boy Rick as a follow-up to his attention-getting Belfast Troubles movie ’71. For several years Demange has been on the cusp of filmmaking stardom thanks to his film and TV work; here’s everything you need to know about the director whose work will be everywhere in a few years.
While he was born in France, Yann Demange and his family moved to London when the future filmmaker was only two. He started working as a PA and runner on music video productions in London at age 18. Like a lot of other people who start careers as film crew, he worked a lot of unglamorous jobs – but he got to do something most people don’t.
Demange went to the National Film and Television School, one of the top film schools in the world, on a Disney scholarship. At university, Demange made a film called Incomplete, which he calls a “loopy dark comedy” about – bear with us here – a guy whose genitalia disappear. That film was striking enough that he got agent representation after graduation, and soon he was directing for the UK series Secret Diary of a Call Girl, which was seen on Showtime in the US.
From there, Demange’s talent took over and he was soon working regularly. He did all five episodes of the 2008 UK series Dead Set (above), which chronicles a zombie outbreak on the set of a Big Brother-style TV show. That was created and written by Charlie Brooker, whose next project was a little show called Black Mirror.
And Demange did all of the first season of Top Boy, a 2011 TV series about a group of kids and other young people navigating life amongst drug dealers and street gangs in an East London housing estate. Think of it like the UK version of The Wire.
Belfast And ’71
Demange’s next project took him to the global stage. He directed ’71, starring Jack O’Connell as a British soldier separated from his unit in Belfast during the Troubles in 1971. O’Connell gives a tremendous performance in the lead role, and the film is crafted as a unique combination of genres. It works as a realistic piece of historical fiction, but also dips towards the feeling of a documentary, and even into adventure movie territory.
The filmmaker had enjoyed quite a few award nominations and wins, but the popularity of ’71 at festivals, and the universal critical acclaim for the film pushed him to the forefront of a group of emerging directors. He won Best Director at the British Independent Film Awards for ’71 and was nominated for a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut Feature.
That’s a great run for what even Demange and his producers were worried might be a too-small film. The director told The Guardian in 2015,
While we were making the film we were always being told that it wouldn’t travel, that no one would care. My producer and I were slightly broken, and at one point we looked at each other as if to say, ‘Is anyone even going to watch this thing?’
Far more people watched ’71 than he could have expected, and the result was that Demange spent months on the road taking the film to festivals. Which is a pretty good life, but it does get in the way of making movies. Finally, with the promotion of ’71 in the rearview mirror, Demange was able to focus on his future.
White Boy Rick To Lovecraft Country
Demange began shooting White Boy Rick in March of 2017 when things got really interesting. Last summer, when he was already working on White Boy Rick, Demange was tipped as the likely director for the 25th James Bond movie. That deal didn’t work out; Trainspotting and 28 Days Later filmmaker Danny Boyle got the job instead, with his Trainspotting writer John Hodge on board to script.
As it turned out, Demange got a much cooler job to follow White Boy Rick: he’s working with producers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams to adapt the novel Lovecraft Country for HBO. The series is based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff, and follows three people as they encounter a horrifying combination of Jim Crow-era racism in the American South and monsters straight out of the work of horror master H.P. Lovecraft.
Looking across the span of his career, Yann Demange has found a knack for telling stories that have a little bit of a weird twist, but always with a realistic backbone that makes even the more outlandish plot twists play like they were part of a straight drama. We’re excited to see what he does with Lovecraft Country, and whatever story brings his talent back to the big screen.
White Boy Rick hits theaters on September 14.