Stranger no more: ‘Stranger Things’ casting director speaks at Cal State for the first time


Courtesy of the Department of Television, Film and Media Studies

Alumni Carmen Cuba comes to speak with Cal State LA students about casting.

Cal State LA alumna and Emmy award winning casting director, Carmen Cuba, is famously known for her work on “Stranger Things,” “Magic Mike,” “Now You See Me” and “The Martian,” just to name a few. 

Her career began in 1999 with filmmaker Larry Clark on the films “Bully” and “Ken Park.” Cuba now works alongside big name Hollywood filmmakers, such as Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone and Steven Soderbergh. She has cast Soderbergh’s last 14 films, including the upcoming “Kimi” starring Zoe Kravitz. 

In 2016, she won a casting Emmy for “Stranger Things” and was nominated again in 2017.

“Really, it encapsulates everything I’m about,” said Cuba in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “My love of iconic actors. Casting Winona Ryder was my idea.”

On Feb. 11, Cuba spoke about her career to Golden Eagle students, alumni and others at an event moderated by Dr. Kristina Hackel, the chair of the Department of Television, Film and Media Studies. 

Cuba shared that before becoming a successful casting director she was actually a longtime journalist. 

“I had done full packages for two years, and so I went into post production and learned how a TV show like that was made, and then they wondered if I would be interested in casting because they pointed out that what I had been doing as a field reporter was very much in-line with the documentary casting that they were hoping to do,” said Cuba. “I said ‘yes.’ From there, I worked within that world of MTV and ‘The Real World,’ and I did pilots for them.”

Cuba explained how her passion for people is derived from being part of two different cultures: Peruvian and American.  

“I had no idea casting existed,” she said. “I was a journalism major and then was a journalist. I can only now look back and see the thread on how I landed there. I’ve always had a real curiosity and connection to humans and their stories and how they all fit into their world, maybe because I’m of two different cultures.”

When Cuba first moved to Los Angeles, she was working to pay her bills at a law firm by day and was a Cal State LA student by night.

“Specifically to casting, the real story is that I was in an elevator at a job and someone asked if I was interested in coming in to interview for a show that was starting,” she said.  

The exclusive event allowed attendees to gain valuable insight and knowledge from Cuba as well as ask questions. 

Alejandro Ruiz, a Cal State LA alumna who majored in television, film and media studies, said his experience was enjoyable, and he gained new insight into the casting world. 

“The event was important to me because it shows how there are many jobs in film we don’t know that we could get and love,” said Ruiz. 

Cuba explained how she finds new actors and underrepresented talent and what techniques she uses to pick who to cast. 

“It used to be that you would get huge piles of photos that would arrive, and that was my favorite thing, like sitting on the floor and pulling out these pictures and organizing them,” she said. “We don’t have that now. It’s slightly like a dating website where they all come up on the screen, and I just click and I’m like ‘I like him’ or ‘I like her.’ Also [for] our non-represented actors, there’s a thing called ‘actors access’ that you can sign onto.”

Aladria Brown, a theater major and film minor at California State University Sacramento, was surprised to learn that Atlanta has easily become a hot spot for new actors. 

“The biggest takeaway to me is her saying if she was an actor how she would move to Atlanta because we hear as actors that New York City and Los Angeles are hotspots, but Atlanta is quickly becoming a hub so it definitely stood out to me that she mentioned that,” she said. 

For Amy Martinez, an aspiring actress, entertainment host and communications arts graduate of the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, being at the event was an insightful and rewarding experience.

“Opportunities like this to learn from someone in this business don’t come around all the time, so getting this chance was amazing,” she said. “Her insight and experience was so eye-opening and exciting.”

Even though this was Cuba’s first time speaking for Cal State LA, she left an important legacy for Cal State LA students to look up to and feel inspired by.