'Stranger Things' Auditions and How the Cast Landed Their Roles
Released on 08/10/2022
Finn was the funniest.
At a certain point, he started directing the kids
and saying like, Oh, you do this and you do that.
And Finn is now a director
and I just cast his first feature.
He was right to be directing those kids then
'cause he's a natural
and I was super happy to get to see
that very beginning of his directing career.
Hi, I'm Carmen Cuba casting director for Stranger Things,
here with Vanity Fair to talk about the casting process.
If I'm honest, when we cast Stranger Things
we had no idea that it was gonna be a huge hit.
We had no idea it was gonna go on for how long.
You know, sort of the foresight
to imagine a future with these characters,
but I was really just trying to get the best version of it
in the present.
Very early on, the Duffers and I discussed
that these parts were not likely gonna be able
to be pulled off by a kid who didn't have some experience.
So while some of my process involves
being out in the world and seeing a kid
that looks a certain way
and sort of talking to his parents
and saying, Hey, does your kid wanna act?
This was not gonna be that
because it was going to be such hard work.
It was gonna be every day for months on end
and very specific dialogue.
So that was helpful because from the very beginning
we were like, okay, no sort of street casting for this.
We're gonna start with theater schools,
acting coaches, kids who've been on Broadway.
The kids on the Stranger Things cast
have not popped up out of nowhere.
They've been working really hard for years
prior to us finding them.
Hi, I'm Noah Schnapp.
I'm 10 years old.
Am I weird?
It's just sometime I feel like, I don't know,
like, like I'm stuck.
Noah's audition was really special
because it really informed our need
for finding somebody who was young and innocent
but who had a strong charisma
that would keep the viewers interested
in why these kids were so dedicated to finding him,
because he doesn't actually show up that much in season one
but we knew that he needed to really carry season two.
So we were looking for a lot from this character
and he had experience on stage,
just shot a film with Spielberg.
Really just brought it every time we called him in
so it was very exciting to see this first tape
and to know that we would have him continue on
in the process with us.
My name is Millie Brown.
I'm 11 years old.
You can't see them.
I can see them.
That clip of Millie is also very memorable
because we had had her do the scenes first prior to this.
we could tell that she could cry
but she hadn't quite done it.
And the Duffers just asked if we could have her try it again
and sort of see how emotional she could get with it.
And obviously she got very emotional
and it was actually shocking
that someone that young could do that.
And another thing about Millie during the audition process
is that she's British and she did everything,
including the Skype with the Duffers, in an American accent,
so we sort of forgot that she even was British.
So she's pulling all of that acting off
while also doing an accent.
And at that young age, it was very impressive
as you can see on the series.
Hi, I'm Finn Wolfhard.
I'm late. [laughs]
I'm 12 years old.
Nancy, listen to me. What the hell, Mike?
Do you remember two days ago
with the magic trick?
When it looked like my Millennium Falcon was really flying?
Finn's audition was fun
because it was done from his bed
while he was in the middle of being super sick.
None of that showed.
You could tell he had energy and life
and was really excited to play the part.
No, I'll prove it.
Most excellent promise you can make.
Okay, now close your eyes.
And had sort of the same adventurous,
playful spirit as his character
so that was very memorable about that audition.
Hi, my name is Caleb McLaughlin.
I'm 13 years old.
Except I didn't tie it to a string.
It was actually flying.
This could be the most excellent promise you can make.
Caleb was fantastic.
He's somebody who'd been on Broadway.
We knew he had experience
and he just brought sort of an energy
that the other kids fed into.
All of them together have a very distinct
energy and personality that create this friend group
and we saw that immediately from his very first audition.
My name's Gaten Matarazzo and I'm 12 years old.
This is probably the most serious,
most important thing ever.
the most excellent promise you can make.
Just stand over there, Nancy!
You're not coming out until your eyes are closed.
[Nancy] Okay, okay, they're closed.
I have absolute power.
You couldn't have predicted
or sort of sought out someone like Gaten,
so he was an excellent surprise.
What he brought to the character was not what we imagined
and it also made us realize that we didn't even
have any idea what it could be until we met him.
He was sort of the first one
that created the part outside of how it was written
from the very beginning.
The demagorgon is tired of your silly human bickering!
It stomps towards you.
Boom! Fireball him, Will!
Stomp, stomp, boom!
It roars in anger!
When we got them all together,
we had already fallen in love with their tapes.
We knew that they were surprising.
But bringing them all together
to do scenes together and step out and watch each other,
just the dynamics on screen were exciting enough,
but the dynamics off screen really sealed the deal
'cause you could tell that they would be a team.
They played off of each other.
They weren't competitive.
They were really supportive and enthusiastic.
Try to imagine what it must have been like
when they cast The Little Rascals.
It feels like a version of that,
which I think you feel on the screen when you watch them.
How's Bob the Brain?
Don't call him that.
We're good. Good.
When I first read the script,
I definitely felt this pull towards Winona,
and it felt like the combination of kids
with her as a mom was a winning formula.
And she did not audition.
She just met with the Duffers
and they talked through it
and I think it was very surprising for her
that she responded to the material and to them,
but I just felt like she would have a connection to it
and to them, even though it was just a guess on my part.
I'm happy that it was a good guess.
And David, David is someone I'd been watching for years.
You know, for me as much as I loved the famous person
that he was always in a scene opposite,
I always found myself looking at him,
watching his performance
and just sort of, as a casting director,
hoping that one day I would have something
where he would be the famous person in the scene
opposite someone less famous than him
and this really was the perfect opportunity.
And he auditioned for me in a tiny room in New York City
and he's acting, and immediately,
as soon as I sent that audition off to the guys,
I knew he was our Hopper.
♪ You can never surrender ♪
You don't like it? No. [laughs]
The evolution of the show
has definitely brought challenges,
and each season it sort of escalates
or becomes a different version of the original challenge.
I would say after season one,
the unexpected challenge was that
there were a lot of famous people
who wanted to be on the show
and who said, I'll do anything.
I'll do a day.
I'll do three days.
I'll be an extra.
And while that seemed very enticing,
the challenge was really trying
to stick to what the spirit of the show was,
which is the combination of these kids who we didn't know
with Winona, who we all love.
I would say the other challenge,
which is probably pretty obvious,
is that our cast is so talented.
Anyone we bring to the show has
to be as talented as they are
and that's a very high bar.
A good story is that Paul Reiser was not aware of the show
but his son thankfully was a super fan.
His son was like, You have to do it.
That was super helpful.
I think that we do get a lot of sort of children
of these people that we're hoping to have on the show
being big cheerleaders for us
and that's super exciting too.
This year's different.
This year's my year.
I can feel it.
I think season four has so many incredible new characters
and that the actors that we were lucky enough
to have in those roles really just turned it up,
from some roles that just had a few scenes
to Eddie Munson with Joe Quinn.
It really was impressive.
Robert England this season,
actually Robert auditioned for the role
of the mayor in season three,
so we had already seen him the year before.
We're so grateful that he would audition
because another thing that is key to Stranger Things
is that the Duffers really figure out
a lot about the characters through auditions.
So they don't necessarily sit down and say,
We're looking for someone who does this, this and this.
We sort of have these sides,
the material that people audition with,
and then they watch a lot more
than a lot of directors and creators do
because they learn about the character
through people's auditions,
which is an amazing process for me and really fun.
How do you like them, Max?
Would you like to join them?
For Vecna, we didn't have materials yet.
It sort of came to me while the Duffers
were still developing the character.
The only things we really knew
were that he needed to be both characters
and that he needed to be at least 5'10
and have a very thin face and physique.
Keep in mind, we're not allowed
to say what anything is for this show,
so I basically released something saying
that I needed people who fit that description.
Then we used a scene from Primal Fear
and a scene from Hellraiser.
So knowing it was Stranger Things
but not knowing what the character was and doing fake sides.
That kind of situation is always slightly mayhem.
But when someone really sort of brings
all of those bits of information together,
again, into their own thing,
then it really stands out.
And with Jamie, we immediately were so excited
because he did somehow combine the energy
of Stranger Things
with those two very different movies,
and that was what we always look for
and that was what he brought.
Stranger Things was not that difficult to cast.
The material was excellent,
and that always makes the job of casting much easier.
The other thing that made it pretty easy
is the fact that nobody had any idea
that anyone would see this show,
so there were very low expectations.
In a good way, because the low expectations
coming from sort of the the gatekeepers,
which allowed the Duffers, Shawn Levy, and I
to really have a lot of freedom and be really creative
and genuinely just pick the group of kids and adults
that would make the show feel the way
that they had it in their heads.
It wasn't really that hard.
It was easier to cast than Magic Mike,
and that's not just because I needed eight packs.
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