Samarin's real story is truly wild. 18-year-old Samarin came to the United States in 2012 on a short-stint work visa through a Ukrainian university. In between flipping burgers at the local Red Robin in Harrisburg, PN, Samarin befriended Stephayne McClure-Potts and Michael Potts — a couple who agreed to adopt him so that he did not have to go back to Ukraine.
Samarin claims that the Potts asked him to shave five years off his age in order to adopt him and receive government benefits for doing so. Samarin bought in, changing his name to Asher Potts, and enrolling in the local high school.
As a student, Samarin found that the line between his faux identity and his reality was non-existent. At school, he received exceptional grades, participated in activities, and made friends. He was on track for college scholarships and potential valedictorian.
Then things changed. Samarin alleges that his relationship with the Potts soured, and that they threatened to call immigration as well as physically abused him if he did not do their household chores. (In the GQ piece, the Potts vehemently deny they were anything but good parents to Samarin.)
Eventually, during Samarin's senior year of high school, the Potts went to the authorities, where they alleged they were frightened of "foreign terrorist" Samarin and claimed he made threats to shoot up his high school.
In 2016, Samarin was arrested for charges that included identity theft and tampering with public records. Later that year, charges of statutory sexual assault and corruption of minors were added. He served 14 months in federal prison before ICE deported him back to Ukraine.
The GQ story is told mostly from Samarin's perspective, and the film is poised to be a ripped-from-the-headlines rags-to-riches story gone awry. It frames the young adult as a passionate learner who aspired to work for NASA, but struggled to find a way to make his dream life in the United States come true.
This isn't the first time that Elgort has played a criminal with a complicated history. In 2016, Elgort scored a Golden Globe nod for his the titular role in Baby Driver.
Will this scammer with a heart also win audiences and critics favor? One thing is certain: The public fascination with these stories is hardly dwindling.