‘Stranger Things’ Casting Director Carmen Cuba on Casting the Young Stars and Finding Actors in Atlanta

“We didn’t settle on any single part, down to the one-year-old in the family that doesn’t speak.” – Casting Director Carmen Cuba

Casting a television series is difficult enough — but casting one that has a large number of children in lead roles? That’s a real challenge. Carmen Cuba is one of the casting directors nominated for an Emmy for casting Stranger Things, one of the most popular series on Netflix. Cuba — who won an Emmy for casting Behind the Candelabra — spoke to Deadline about the challenges of casting the series — and how they got it so right in the long run.

In particular, Cuba points to David Harbour as an example of someone who was a perfect fit for the series. He says, “David was someone that had been around doing incredible work for years. Once everyone saw his audition, we knew—he was undeniable, especially opposite Winona [Ryder].”

Of course, one of the biggest challenges of casting is casting young actors. Cuba explains that there were numerous challenges that the casting team faced. She recalls:

The place that we started was discussing whether or not these could be kids that we found in an open call, who had no experience, or if we thought they should have some experience. We also, by the way, did not have very much time to cast this. Some movies have a six-month search for the one kid who’s the lead; that was not the case.

We opened it up to kids all over the world. We saw nearly 2,000 kids internationally, but we didn’t do any open calls. We agreed that with the time constraints of shooting a TV show—their first show, that they were going to be writing, directing, and showrunning—that probably what we were going to end up with were kids who had at least some experience. That’s sort of where we drew the line.

In the end, a few of them were on Broadway for years at a time, and they each had done at least one significant role. Millie was on a BBC miniseries where she was unbelievable; Finn [Wolfhard] had done an arc on a TV show, so none of them were inexperienced.

However, Cuba admits that once they had the young actors together it was clear that they made the right casting decisions. She says, “It actually was very clear once you got them in a room. The idea was that, in this case, you really were casting a group, as opposed to one at a time. It wouldn’t have worked to cast one at a time.”

Still, even with the great success Cuba has had, she admits that one challenge is making sure that the non-leads can hold up to the stellar main cast. She explains:

A lot of what we cast is locals in Atlanta. I oversee all of that. To find actors who are at the same level as all these other people, and that can hold scenes opposite them, is always a challenge with any location. I will say that I think we’ve had great luck in Atlanta—each year, the pool there has gotten stronger and stronger. That’s where we found Shannon [Purser], who plays Barb, and that’s also where we found Joe Keery. Those two people, who were really pivotal characters, we found them there, but we really had to dig. We really just kept on pushing, but that’s to be expected.

I think we really took care with this one to just keep digging. We didn’t settle on any single part, down to the one-year-old in the family that doesn’t speak.”

Fans of Stranger Things will see how the new cast members work with the originals when the series returns.