Acting opposite a titan like Idris Elba is no easy feat for most actors, but Caleb McLaughlin has experienced “Stranger Things.”

Bad jokes aside, McLaughlin was thrilled to get the opportunity to play Elba’s son in “Concrete Cowboy,” which follows 15-year-old Cole as he struggles to reconnect with his estranged father Harp (Elba), an urban horseman living in North Philadelphia.

“It definitely was a dream come true being introduced to the project [and] finding out that Idris was playing my father,” McLaughlin tells Variety. “Who wouldn’t want Idris to play your father in a movie?”

He continues, “I definitely just was intimidated coming onto set because I wanted to be on my A-game. I look up to Idris and all of his work; he’s a seasoned actor and everything. But he made me feel very comfortable being on the set and communicating and the dynamics between the father and son relationship. It was a lot of fun working with him.”

And the feeling was mutual. “Caleb is my guy. Before he even knew who I was, I was a fan of his,” Elba says (followed by much protest from his young co-star). But his fandom wasn’t the only reason he signed on for the film. The movie, inspired by novel “Ghetto Cowboy” by Greg Neri, is set against the backdrop of the Fletcher Street Stables, part of a Black horseback riding culture that has existed in North Philadelphia for more than 100 years.

“It was one of those scripts that reading it, you could visualize it. Even though I’d never seen the stables of Philadelphia, I could imagine it. The texture of the words in the script really touched me,” he explains. “And then the central storyline — I’m an only child, who was very very close to my late dad. So, it just really stole my heart.”

And en route to finding their father-son connection onscreen, the pair discovered they have a lot in common. Both are good dancers, challenging each other in a dance battle on set at least once. (McLaughlin admits Elba won.) And both actors “had a lot of sniffles” around the horses they learned to ride for the film. (Elba is actually slightly allergic to the animals.) But when it comes to who was better on horseback, McLaughlin says, “I felt like we were both on the same plane.”

Joined by the film’s producer Lee Daniels, writer-director Ricky Staub and co-stars Jharrel Jerome and Lorraine Toussaint at Variety’s Virtual TIFF Studio presented by Canada Goose, the group discussed premiering their film at a virtual film festival and what they learned from working with the real-life urban cowboys that the movie represents. Elba, who also produced the film through his Green Door Pictures banner, says the real riders of the Fletcher Street Stables were indispensable in making the project feel authentic.

“All the riders from the stables, they were teaching us all the time, even in between takes,” he recalls. “We’d go off to the ranch and train, but when we came to the set and were doing anything with the horses, all the guys would just make sure our posture was right, the way we were holding the reins … because we were representing them.”

Staub had already dedicated a good amount of time to making sure the film was authentic, embedding himself with the Fletcher Street Riders for two years prior to filming. There he learned their stories and ultimately cast the real-life cowboys in 10 of the film’s 25 speaking roles and 11 of the 14 stunt acting roles on the production.

“My goal from the beginning with them was that I wanted to not just make a film that they could say ‘That’s us,’” Staub explains. “But there’s no better way, in my opinion, to do that than actually including them in the entire process. I can direct and know that I’m talented at that … but I didn’t grow up as a Black cowboy.”

Though Daniels is a Philadelphia native, he had never been to the stables, but he praised Staub and the cast for how they portrayed his hometown.

“I didn’t know this story exists,” Daniels says. “These actors, they brought their A-games and they turned Philadelphia out. It was great to see them where I grew up at.”

Daniels also singled out Jerome for his portrayal of Smush, Caleb’s drug-dealing cousin, saying that though the actor is from New York, he really tapped into that Philly vibe. For Jerome’s part, he says he took on the role because he was looking for parts that “felt special to me and that felt like it would challenge me.”

Staub had approached Jerome for the role after seeing him in “Moonlight” (and before the star’s Emmy-winning turn in “When They See Us”) and expanded the part once Jerome expressed interest.

“How [Staub] built Smush in particular felt so right and special to me,” Jerome explains. “Because Smush is a character we’ve kind of all seen before, dealing drugs and stuck in a life that he doesn’t want to be stuck in. But he has so much more meat and depth in him considering he was a horse rider back then. … I don’t know drug dealers, but I’m sure that I haven’t met a drug dealer that used to ride horses back in the day.”

For Elba, it was also a unique chance to tell a different kind of Black story — and a chance to potentially protect the stables, which are at risk of closing.

“For a long time, you know, there’s been to like a real sort of mistelling of history around Black people and horses and cowboys and whatnot,” Elba, who will play another horseback rider in the upcoming Western “The Harder They Fall,” says. “It feels really apt to be able to tell a part history that’s been definitely buried, and in the case of ‘Concrete Cowboy,’ that history is right now. Those stables — they face being taken away forever and, part of what Ricky said to me was that, ‘I’m hoping that we made this movie and they keep the stables, based on the fact that people fall in love with the story and history and heritage of the stables.’”