“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.” – Casting Director Carmen Cuba
Netflix’s Stranger Things has been acclaimed for many reasons, but perhaps the key to the success of the series is the casting — with so many young actors on the show, casting is extremely important to the formula. In an interview with Decider, Stranger Things Casting Director Carmen Cuba talks about casting two of the series’ primary stars as well as the secret to successful casting young actors.
In particular, Cuba speaks about casting who many consider the breakthrough actor on the series, 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 standout on the series is Finn Wolfhard, who not only stars in Stranger Things but also in the blockbuster horror film It. She recalls, “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 who can convey adult emotions, Cuba points out what she actually looks for in child actors. She explains, “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 it as fortunate that the push for diversity within the entertainment industry has allowed her to bring fresh faces to the screen. 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!”