How Netflix Is Creating Its Very Own Star System

To All the Boys I Loved Before followed the beats of a Netflix viral sensation. Step one: Movie or TV show drops. Step two: Audience devours, and begins translating the Netflix show into memes using screen captures. Star Noah Centineo, who, with his scar and Mark Ruffalo-esque voice is the quintessential embodiment of a teen heartthrob, became the focal point of the meme storm. By Friday night, Twitter was overtaken by thirsty tweets about Centineo shocking icy hearts back to life. Come September, we’ll see the process repeat again. Centineo will play the love interest in another Netflix high school rom-com, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser.
We can thank casting director Tamara-Lee Notcutt for the Season of Centineo. In addition to casting To All the Boys I Loved Before, Notcutt cast the former Fosters star in Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, set to premiere on Netflix in September. Indeed, Netflix may be the force responsible for Centineo’s skyrocketing career. Like Queer Eye’s Fab Five and the kids of Stranger Things before him, Centineo is the recipient of the Netflix Effect.
For young actors at the beginning of their careers, a role in a Netflix Original film or show now offers a pivotal opportunity. An actor like Centineo or Shannon Purser, his co-star in Sierra Burgess, can walk into a Netflix Original as a relative unknown, then emerge with viral fame — and, in Pursuer’s case, an Emmy nomination. “Netflix is an amazing platform to help young people launch their careers,” Notcutt said. “A hit on Netflix brings attention from everyone else in the business, which can translate to theatrical features in the cinema.”
The streaming service is on the cusp of creating a new star system entirely, one that’s freed from the conventional confines of the box office. Typically, Notcutt explains, a casting director’s choices are impacted by an actor’s box office value, derived by how many people are estimated to go to theaters to watch that particular actor in a movie. “Sometimes, [casting directors] lose creativity. The actor might not be right for the role, but you have to cast him anyway because he’ll put bums in seats,” Notcutt explains.
Since Netflix releases its original content to subscribers all at once, the streaming service need not worry about persuading people to go to theaters like studios do. Audience butts are already in their seats, so to speak — and they’re tweeting as they watch along, turning actors into stars through the force of sheer viral enthusiasm (see: Centineo, the entire cast of Queer Eye). Star-making is forged through virality, not through pre-existing popularity. As a result of this more democratic model, “much more talent is going to be given an opportunity because there’s not the restriction of box office numbers,” Notcutt predicts. Originals can be cast with “the right people,” and audiences will reward the right people, too.
Notcuff herself discovers new talent through watching Netflix — she thought to cast Purser in Sierra Burgess Is a Loser after watching, and loving, Stranger Things. In fact, Stranger Things is prime proof of Netflix’s star-making capabilities in action. After the ‘80s-set show became a phenomenon, the child stars became viral sensations overnight, and in some cases, movie headliners. A year after running from a Demogorgon in Stranger Things, Finn Wolfhard was cast to run away from Pennywise the Clown in the 2017 blockbuster It. Stranger Things Millie Bobby Brown also made the transition from monster-themed show to monster-themed theatrical feature, appearing in Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019.
In addition to propelling young actors to instant stardom, the casting parameters for Netflix’s original content will especially impact actors of color and actors with “non-Hollywood” looks, who haven’t been associated with significant box office worth previously. Notcutt points to Orange is the New Black as a prime example of a Netflix show that championed unconventional talent. “[Casting director] Jennifer Euston told me she knew most of those actresses and had always been bringing them in. She finally had a job in which she could actually cast them,” Notcutt recalls.
As a viewer, however, there’s another side to Netflix’s star system: Originals occasionally feature an uncanny talent repetition like something out of The Matrix. As the streamer continues to prioritize acquiring and producing films and shows, the feeling of deja vu we’ll encounter watching To All the Boys’ Centineo and Stranger Things’ Purser in Sierra Burgess Is a Loser will undoubtedly occur more often. Once you start noticing actors appearing in multiple Netflix Originals, it’s impossible to stop. Alex Strangelove, for example, is a queer coming-of-age story — and it’s also a hotbed of Netflix Original stars. Daniel Doheny, the movie’s protagonist, also plays one of the hapless teenagers searching for a severed penis in the The Package. Elliot, Alex’s crush in Alex Strangelove, also plays a spoiled scion of an uber-wealthy family in Netflix’s sci-fi series Altered Carbon. Nik Dodani, Alex’s friend, also stars in the Netflix sitcom Atypical. The Alex Strangelove actors waltz across the screen like ghosts of Netflix Originals past, appearing in slightly altered form.
Likely, these Netflix Original actor crossovers are the product of coincidental casting— each Original mentioned had a different casting team. Still, the effect is uncanny, and proof of Netflix’s widening control over the entertainment industry. What’s next for these stars? Maybe the actors’ goals are to use their Netflix Original appearance to land roles in major motion pictures or network shows. But as Netflix continues to recruit powerhouse show-runners, like Kenya Barris, Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, to its ranks, maybe becoming a recognizable face on Netflix will be the most coveted spot of all.

More from Movies

R29 Original Series