Born in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, Bell served as a founding member of the famed group in 1978 before later leading 90s spin-off group Bell Biv DeVoe. The biopic, which stars Bryshere Y. Gray (as Michael Bivins), Luke James (as Johnny Gill), Woody McClain (as Bobby Brown), Elijah Kelley (as Ricky Bell during his adult years), Algee Smith (as Ralph Tresvant), and Keith Powers (as Ronnie DeVoe), will chronicle New Edition’s humble beginnings in Boston to the trials and tribulations of their 30-plus year music career.
For McLaughlin, recapturing Bell’s adolescent years in the film was a great experience to showcase to viewers ― especially his parents, who he says are avid fans of the group.
“It brings it back to my parent’s era, and they’re excited to see me,” he said during an interview with HuffPost. “So I just wanna make them happy.”
The 15-year-old ― who initially auditioned for the role of group member Michael Bivins ― went on to add that director Chris Robinson and executive producer Jesse Collins offered him the role of Bell after he performed a few lines depicting the Massachusetts-native.
Aside from impressing Robinson and Collins with his vocal chops and dance moves to support the role of Bell – thanks in part to his past as a Harlem School of the Arts student – McLaughlin says his one obstacle was honing Bell’s charming personality traits.
“I sing and I dance, but he’s a ladies man,” he said. “And I’m a ladies man too, but I’m not as slick and smooth as he is. But I became to be more slick and smooth as he is by learning the character.”
“It was challenging to please Mr. Ricky, but what actually helped a lot was Mr. Ricky being hands on in the project,” he continued. “I would call him and ask him some questions. I would look up YouTube videos to see his mannerisms and his dance skills. So that’s how I became the character.”
Similar to his role as Lucas Sinclair in Netflix’s ‘80s inspired series “Stranger Things,” McLaughlin’s performance in “The New Edition Story” marks his second consecutive role centered around the decade’s formative culture.
Despite his generational gap, McLaughlin says there’s an informative silver lining within the nostalgia of each respective role.
“I never really thought that I would be doing a bunch of 80s stuff,” he said. “But it’s great because I get to learn more than my era and I can learn from people’s mistakes back then. It’s pretty fun. And I get to relive my parents’ childhood.”
The six-hour, three-night premiere of “The New Edition Story” airs on Jan. 24 at 9PM/ET on BET.