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Casting director Carmen Cuba is most known for casting several young actors in their intriguing and career-catapulting roles in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Her work also includes Magic Mike, The Martian, Hillbilly Elegy, and the FX miniseries Mrs. America. Based in Los Angeles, Cuba sifts through countless young talents to portray coveted roles in television and film. She even conducts worldwide searches. On top of it, she’s a mom. Therefore, she is tuned into the complexities of each child and what makes them unique.

 

What Qualities She Looks For

“I am very connected to children,” she said in a SAG-AFTRA Foundation interview. The two-time Emmy-winning casting director also revealed she looks for specific qualities. In fact, she looks for “that vulnerability, that openness, that inability to hide who they actually are.” 

“I think that I connect the most to the people who still have that access to the freedom of being a child, of embarrassing themselves, of not being able to protect the very thing about them that makes them different from everyone else.” 

What are good examples of these qualities? According to Cuba, these are demonstrated in Pan’s Labyrinth and the 1996 French film Ponette.

“I observe [kids] a lot, and I just think that they’re much more complicated than we often see in television. And so the mirror of trying to sort of match the complexity of my own children with finding actors trying to portray that is really exciting to me,” she explains.

Children have their own motivations that draw them to a career in acting. Most have a natural talent, a powerful innate drive, the encouragement of their parents. But Cuba insists she’s on the lookout for children who “love what they’re doing, and not really in the professional sense necessarily, but just in the playful sense.” “I don’t respond to the kind of kid actors who are looking for a job—and the next job and the next job. [I respond] more when they’re there to play and put clothes on.”

 

The Beginning 

As a young woman, Carmen Cuba worked as a journalist in New Mexico. She later interviewed real people for the reality show The Real World for five years before moving on to casting. She describes herself as “very curious about humans.” Therefore, she takes her time speaking with young performers and their parents during auditions as opposed to simply having the child read the script. 

“I really do try to get everyone relaxed and everyone connected by talking to each other,” she insists. “Those moments are helpful for me in trying to figure out how to give somebody direction. You can’t just give every actor the same three kinds of direction and expect to feel like they can give you something authentic to themselves but still in character.” 

 

The Search 

In deciding who’s the best fit for any given role, Cuba shares, “I will admit, [casting] is a gamble. I think for me it’s really instinctual … I feel like I gather various kinds of information, and then I just hope that it works.”

Carmen likes to find new and unrepresented actors through Instagram searches and theater schools. She even sends breakdowns to friends who work in theater, and often reaches out to New York acting coach Heidi Marshall for up-and-coming talent.