Have you heard the latest about Idris Elba?
No, not the new round of speculation that the acclaimed actor might be the next James Bond. I'm talking about a role he's actually signed for — in a movie based on a book by Tampa author G. Neri.
Elba has joined the cast of Ghetto Cowboy, based on Neri's 2011 teen novel of the same name. The book is about a real-life group of black urban cowboys in Philadelphia who rescue unwanted horses and teach neighborhood kids to care for and ride them.
Elba will play Harper, one of the cowboys and the father of a troubled teen named Cole.
Neri, who lives in Tampa with his wife and daughter, said Friday, "You couldn't ask for a better matchup" between actor and role.
"When I was writing the book," he said, "I knew (Elba) from The Wire. There's a little bit of Stringer Bell in the character of Harper. So it's kind of come full circle."
The movie will be the feature directorial debut of Ricky Staub, who, Neri said, "is from Philly. He's done a lot of high-end commercials" and directed the award-winning 2017 short film The Cage.
When Staub got the opportunity to direct a feature, Neri said, "he pulled out Ghetto Cowboy. It's a world he knew. He's filmed these guys."
The author said the book, one of 11 he has published, "has had a life of its own. It just keeps going and going and going. Schools use it in their curriculum, so every year kids read it like it's new."
As for the film, Neri said he's hopeful it will be "an advocate for the neighborhood. They'll film it there. Those guys will actually be able to build a real stable. I want the city to see them as a treasure, not something to shut down."
Neri said plans are still being firmed up but filming is expected to begin early next year.
"I've had friends who have had books made into movies tell me to think of it as a great big commercial for your book. They'll do their thing with the movie. The book is your thing."
He was already working on a sequel to Ghetto Cowboy, he said. "Now it can come out at the same time as the movie."
Neri's next book, Grand Theft Horse, isn't related to Ghetto Cowboy but is another tale about horses that is based on a true story, this one about his cousin. "I'm not one of those people who's obsessed with horses, but I am obsessed with good stories."
Grand Theft Horse will be published in September, and Neri will talk about it on Nov. 17 as a featured author at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.