At the age of fifteen Richie Merritt was transported from the gritty streets of Baltimore to the drug epidemic of the 1980s. Richie plays Rick Wersche Jr. a young drug dealer turned informant for the FBI. The story encapsulates the capitalistic greed of that era and Merritt’s acting matches up well against the experienced chops of Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey. Richie Merritt is only seventeen, but his range showcased in this dynamic period drama promises a bright future in Hollywood.
I was told that the casting director asked you to sell a stolen phone as part of the audition. How did you handle such an odd request?
I just did it! I did my best. I looked at this audition as an opportunity to skip school, and I just hustled.
Prior to meeting with Matthew McConaughey you worked with some acting coaches. What things did you learn, and how was the learning method different from what you were doing in school.
Conserving my energy was important. I was so excited to be on screen that I was always focused, and I was told by everyone to pace myself. I also learned about using perspective to gain a better idea of the character and the emotions.
You beat out a lot of professional actors for the role, and a lot of critics agree that your performance was wholly natural. How much of Baltimore is responsible for how your portrayed Rick Wersche Jr.?
It’s the way I grew up to be honest. I recognized what Rick was going through. I wouldn’t have seen things the way I did in the film if I hadn’t seen them in real life. I grew up around that stuff. I was around it.
Baltimore is right in Washington, DC's backyard and has a culture all of its own. Describe what aspects of Baltimore culture allowed you to stand out.
Being myself. Baltimore is a tough city, and knowing who I am helped me absorb the character, and understand the pressure that Rick put on himself.
The movie takes place in the eighties. Deep in the crack epidemic in Detroit. Did you have to dig deep to get yourself in those scenes?
I wasn’t born in the 80s. I was born in the 2000s. I watched old films, and old photos of my grandparents to see how things were back then to understand the era, and to get a feel about that time.
Whether it's light-weight drugs or the rare Jordans, there seems to be a lot of hustle evident in youth culture. Did you use any of that to prepare for your role?
Yes, I hustle every day. Baltimore is about getting a little bit more from some extra work. That’s all it’s ever been about.
McConaughey is a very well respected actor and you shared a lot of pivotal scenes with him. How was your relationship with him on- and off- the set?
We had a good relationship, on set it was a family relationship. Off set, we were friends. We still are.
Did McConaughey give you any acting tips? Or tips for life?
Yeah, he told me to always stay true to myself and to conserve my energy.
I'm sure you were happy to miss school to shoot the movie, but were there times when you really missed friends and family?
Yeah, it was a whole thing, I missed them a lot. I tried to go home when I could. But, the shooting schedule was tough. I appreciate everything, but being away from friends and family was rough.
A lot of the movie is shot in Cleveland. Was there a favorite place to eat around the area?
There was this bowling and pizza place, and they had lasagna on the pizza. It was a banger!
Acting can get really stressful. What do you like to do to unwind and relax?
I like to open up. Energy-wise, have fun, I open up and relax by having a good time. Try to get my mind off of whatever is stressing me.
What's next? I'm sure there's more acting offers coming, but do you want to pursue something else?
Anything—I want to expand. I don’t want to just play one part. I want to look at other roles and have an acting career.