“Stranger Things”—one of Netflix’s most-watched original series since it premiered in 2016—is back. The hit series follows an intrepid group of kids from Hawkins, Indiana, as they battle evil scientists, Soviet operatives, and Demogorgons. The show launched the careers of its many young stars, from Millie Bobby Brown to Noah Schnapp. Could you be next? With “Stranger Things” Season 4 now available on Netflix, this in-depth guide breaks down all you need to know about getting cast on the drama ahead of the fifth and final season.
- What is “Stranger Things” about?
- Who is in the cast of “Stranger Things”?
- How does the casting process work for “Stranger Things”?
- When does filming for “Stranger Things” Season 5 start?
- Where can you find “Stranger Things” casting calls and auditions?
- Who is the casting director for “Stranger Things”?
- What are the best audition tips for landing a role on “Stranger Things”?
Matt and Ross Duffer, aka the Duffer brothers, created “Stranger Things.” They also serve as executive producers and showrunners. The series began filming in November 2015 in and around Atlanta, premiering on Netflix on July 15, 2016. (Spoilers ahead!)
Set in the early ’80s, Season 1 of “Stranger Things” introduces viewers to a terrifying alternate dimension called the Upside Down. Thanks to the Hawkins National Laboratory’s secret supernatural experiments, a portal to the Upside Down opens, allowing a paranormal creature called the Demogorgon to abduct 12-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). The rest of the season focuses on Will’s friends and family—including Will’s mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder)—and their search to save him with the help of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a psychokinetic girl who escaped the lab. Season 2 introduces the Mind Flayer—a giant, spiderlike monster from the Upside Down that has managed to possess Will. Once again, the kids must work together to close the gate—this time, with the help of a new addition, Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink).
Season 3 picks up a year later and revolves around the opening of the new Starcourt Mall, which serves as a secret base for a Soviet lab that’s trying to reopen the gateway to the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is once again possessing the citizens of Hawkins, most notably Max’s abusive stepbrother Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery). Eleven eventually defeats the monster, but Hawkins sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) must sacrifice himself to shut down the Russian machine that’s keeping the portal open—or so it seems.
Season 4 follows three plotlines and is broken into two parts. While the kids in Hawkins find themselves tasked with solving the mysterious murders of teens in their community, another group who has moved to California are on the hunt for Eleven as she attempts to regain her powers. Meanwhile, in a Russian prison, Hopper finds himself at the mercy of another Demogorgon. Will everyone make it out alive? Viewers have to wait until Season 4, Volume 2 drops on July 1 to find out.
In its first three seasons, “Stranger Things” starred:
- Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven
- Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers
- David Harbour as Jim Hopper
- Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler
- Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson
- Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair
- Noah Schnapp as Will Byers
- Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler
- Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers
- Joe Keery as Steve Harrington
- Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield
- Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler
- Matthew Modine as Martin Brenner
- Paul Reiser as Sam Owens
- Priah Ferguson as Erica Sinclair
- Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove
- Maya Hawke as Robin Buckley
Season 4 saw the addition of numerous new regular and recurring cast members, including:
- Jamie Campbell Bower as Peter Mallard
- Brett Gelman as Murray Bauman
- Eduardo Franco as Argyle
- Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson
- Robert Englund as Victor Creel
- Tom Wlaschiha as Dmitri Antonov
- Sherman Augustus as Lieutenant Colonel Jack Sullivan
- Mason Dye as Jason Carver
- Nikola Djuricko as Yuri
- Amybeth McNulty as Vickie
- Myles Truitt as Patrick McKinney
- Regina Ting Chen as Counselor Kelley
- Grace Van Dien as Chrissy
For casting director Carmen Cuba, finding the right actors for “Stranger Things” has always been about individuality. In an interview with us, she said that “the original cast members are all real individuals. None of those kids cross over into the same space as another, energetically and emotionally. To add to that and add more singular types was challenging, but I always go back to the writing of the show, and the truth is that the writing helps in lots of ways because it is just so strong.
“They first did material that wasn’t even from ‘Stranger Things.’ I think it was from ‘Stand By Me,’ ” she continued. “Then they were all reading the same thing, so that actually was helpful in seeing how different they all were. We didn’t actively talk about it, but that’s something inherent to what casting directors do in general—because no one’s happy when they look at their cast and people feel the same as each other.”
The show’s popularity has grown exponentially over the years, which means that more famous actors began to take an interest in joining the show. But, as Cuba noted, “That became a hurdle for us, because we wanted to keep the show feeling authentic to what it was. If we were to lose ourselves and get super excited and put someone that didn’t make sense in it, it would be pretty obvious what we were doing. We had to practice restraint and still look for that authenticity and uniqueness that made the original cast work.”
That’s what makes the show such fertile ground for unknowns who have yet to achieve A-lister status.
Currently, there’s no word on when filming for “Stranger Things” Season 5—the series’ last—will begin. And if it’s anything like “Stranger Things” Season 4, fans may need to wait years to watch the show’s final installment. After all, as the Duffer brothers explained to the Hollywood Reporter, “With nine scripts, over 800 pages, almost two years of filming, thousands of visual effects shots, and a runtime nearly twice the length of any previous season, ‘Stranger Things’ 4 was the most challenging season yet.” The same will likely apply to Season 5.
However, the final installment may not be your last chance to battle Demogorgons because there may be a spinoff series in the works. At the Code Conference last year, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos said “Stranger Things” is “a franchise being born,” according to Deadline. This comes amid buzz that Brown might front a spinoff series within the Duffer brothers extended universe as part of a first look deal she signed with Netflix in 2021. As the Duffer brothers wrote in an open letter, “There are still many more exciting stories to tell within the world of ‘Stranger Things’: new mysteries, new adventures, new unexpected heroes.”
Although there are currently no active casting calls for “Stranger Things,” you can always check out our list of sci-fi and TV projects similar to the series for future opportunities.
It’s also a good idea to keep checking our casting call section; Heather Taylor of Casting TaylorMade has turned to us to cast background actors for “Stranger Things” in the past, from a “seedy neighborhood patron” to “old, creepy, or strange character types.” The CD will surely need more extras once filming for Season 5 gets underway.
Since the series shoots in Atlanta, local actors will have the best chance to land background roles. Background work often doesn’t offer relocation or travel stipends—so being local is crucial to getting repeat work as an extra. But keep in mind that for larger speaking roles—series regulars, recurring characters, guest stars, co-stars, contractors—you’ll likely need to go through your representation. Don’t have an agent? Here’s how to get one.
Carmen Cuba is the CD for the series. Based in Los Angeles, Cuba has worked on series and films including “Devs,” “Mrs. America,” “Vida,” “The Florida Project,” “Looking,” “The Martian,” and “Magic Mike.”
When it came time to cast “Stranger Things,” Matt Duffer said, “Everyone recognized really early on that if we had even one kid who wasn’t good, it would take the whole ship down. So we just started looking really, really early on. At that point, we just had the pilot script, and we had so little material that we were actually having them audition with scenes from ‘Stand By Me.’ ” Ultimately, they “found four kids that we just fell in love with. Some of them matched the characters in the script, and some of them didn’t, really.”
As for the adult leads, executive producer Shawn Levy said, “We never really operated with respect for conventional rules…. Winona Ryder was not getting offered a lot of jobs [in 2015]. David Harbour was getting offered jobs, but they tended to be number seven to 12 on the call sheet. We saw David’s audition, we sat for four hours having tea with Winona, and we came away from those interactions with certainty that we’d found our Hopper and our Joyce. We just knew what our characters felt like when we sat across the table from those actors, and we wanted to take that shot. My point is: The greatest idea in the world for casting is often not the obvious thought.”
Matt Duffer echoed this sentiment: “[Carmen] was seeing a bunch of New York actors, and I just remember getting a text from her going, ‘Watch David Harbour right now!’ We watched, and we were like, ‘Boom. That’s it. That’s our guy. That’s our Hopper.’ ”
Check out this advice from the show’s CD and cast members on how to prepare for a “Stranger Things” audition—and maybe even turn the room Upside Down.
Go the extra mile. Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler) recommends showing the casting director everything you’ve got. “I remember for [2014 film] ‘I Believe in Unicorns,’ I ended up taping a few extra scenes from it and sending it,” the actor said. “That was one where I really, really, really wanted it. I think it’s a good strategy if you can do something [extra]. On our show, Dacre Montgomery, his famous audition tape—it catches people’s eye. Sometimes you never know if they want more or that’s really going to turn them off. It’s tricky…. The main thing you can do is be confident in what you’re giving them. The trick for an actor is: This is me, this is my version—take it or leave it. It’s a hard thing to do.”
Don’t get too caught up in the fantastical. To convincingly play resident Hawkins bad boy Billy Hargrove, Montgomery incorporated real pathos rather than leaning too hard into the sci-fi aspects of the show. “The arc [of Season 3] changed things in a big way. It put me at this precipice of having two characters playing out all the time: the possessed Billy and the Billy under that,” he told us. “So I played a lot with researching people with bipolar disorder and split personality disorder, and how one personality controls the spot and how the other fights for that. So I tried to show the latter—the personality fighting for control of the spot—in my eyes, and then the [former] in the physicality. I played it [thinking about] a real-world example like that, as opposed to playing into the science fiction and fantastical element.”
If you’re a teen or child actor, don’t underestimate yourself. Cuba wanted to find authentic, grounded performers for the show, no matter how old they were. “We needed every single actor to have a subtlety and an inner life that didn’t necessarily need words to define them, and we held the kids and teens to the same standard,” she said. “We didn’t discuss it at the time, but it’s clear that we weren’t thinking of them as kid or teen actors in the process—the Duffer brothers were really expecting them to be able to deliver a very rich human experience despite what age body they were in.”
Having previous credits helps. “With child actors, it sometimes matters a lot to me if they have prior acting experience, and it sometimes doesn’t matter at all,” Cuba explained. “It depends on the role and the scope of what they have to do, the director’s style, and the simple realities of how much time they are given to shoot. In this case, it was pretty clear from early on that this would benefit greatly from actors who understood from some sort of experience [the effort the roles were] going to take and could access it and execute it at a fairly quick pace.”
Prepare—but be ready to adapt. “The best habit I think an actor can have is to be prepared enough that he or she can use that preparation to feel confident and playful in the audition—even if it’s not necessarily for a playful role,” Cuba said. “And to not judge themselves while they are in the middle of it if they feel like it’s going sideways is also key. It’s such a vulnerable thing to go into these rooms and put everything into these fleeting moments; filling them with an actual creative exchange should be key. The worst habit is probably preparing something in such a specific way that if the casting director or director asks you to adjust or do it differently, it causes friction and stops you from being in the moment.”
For the Netflix casting calls and jobs, click here!