Netflix’s Stranger Things is a huge hit. But, a lot of the success of the show is due to the casting director, Carmen Cuba. In an interview with Decider, Stranger Things casting director shares tips for aspiring actors and talks about casting two of the show’s primary stars.
Casting director Carmen Cuba won her second Emmy Award and rightfully so. Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ has won multiple awards for the show’s premise, special effects, and cast. But, one of the best parts of series is the group of talented aspiring actors who work on the project and their ability to work alongside acting veterans including Winona Ryder and David Harbour. The show has given many aspiring and young actors their first major roles.
In an interview with Variety, Cuba talked about working with series creators the Duffer Brothers and the challenges of adding new characters and actors to a TV series.
Cuba says the casting process for ‘Stranger Things’ started as soon as the show began. She says, “[The Duffer Brothers] start talking about the characters as soon as they start thinking about them. So that’s usually before they start writing them. I can start looking out [for actors that would be right], because [the Duffers]know I’m always casting a bunch of things. I can always sort of pretend to be looking for one thing while I’m looking for another, especially with this show. We have to do a lot of that.”
Cuba points out there are challenges with adding new characters to the ‘Stranger Things’ series. he explains, “It’s a very tricky thing to try to step into as each season passes. Because that core, original group is very comfortable with themselves, with their characters, with the process, with the directors. You have to really test, however you can, how this person will be able to step into [his or her]character while also stepping into this phenomenon.”
This is not the first time Carmen Cuba shared insight into the casting process for ‘Stranger Things’.
In a 2017 interview, Cuba previously talked about casting Millie Bobby Brown. She says, “An agent who knows my taste very well sent me info on her and I was intrigued so we had her tape. She’s based in London so she taped herself and it was amazing — really emotional and intense, lots of tears — and that’s where we started with the process. From there, we had her do additional material, gave her some direction over email, and eventually, Skyped with her then brought her to the US to test with our other kids. She did the entire Skype in an American accent and it was so good we didn’t even notice until the very end. Millie was very impressive on all levels.”
Another major star in the show is Finn Wolfhard, who not only stars in Stranger Things but also in the hit movie IT. She explains, “Finn’s first audition was from his bed because he was sick! The tape was also out of focus! But even so, he felt really dynamic and fun. And then we watched a few other audition tapes he did for other projects (one of them was for the Cary Fukunaga version of It) and saw he had great dexterity and range but also had a unique energy that made every performance specific to just him. He had an electricity that for me felt exactly like the real kids I knew at that same age who weren’t actors. It was fun and slightly nutty with a commitment to the mission at hand. And that’s what we thought would make the perfect ringleader. When we had them all in to chemistry read with each other it became even more clear because he basically ran the whole show on his own!”
When asked if she looks for kids to play adult emotions, Cuba points out what she actually looks for in child actors. She says, “I find that most kids actually have a singularity to them that isn’t actually represented in kid casting. I think that traditionally kids who look a particular way—’cute’ and ‘all-American’ are typical words used to describe what I mean—are encouraged to pursue acting and modeling and it results in a somewhat homogeneous representation of what a kid looks like. We definitely did not want that. We all remembered our childhood selves and wanted to replicate the awkward transitional beauty we experienced.”
Cuba also sees a major push in diversity in the film industry. She says, “I’ve been very lucky to work on projects that represent a wide range of diversity of thought throughout my entire career, and I continue to do so. The Casting Directors I know have always had a strong commitment to representing the world with accuracy and compassion, so I think for the most part we will all continue doing that, and I hope that more people whose stories are underrepresented get shots at telling these stories and hiring us to help!”
To learn how to audition for a role on ‘Stranger Things, check out our guide here.