Editor’s Note: This feature is part of a series highlighting some of the inspiring changemakers working to showcase a broader spectrum of Latinx artists and experiences in film and television.
As a college student, Claudia Lyon didn’t know what a casting director was, let alone that one day she would be the head of casting at one of the largest networks in the country.
Lyon grew up in New York, navigating her childhood in a family with roots in Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago and South Asia. Her love for TV and film grew over the years to the point that she found a way to get jobs as an intern and assistant even without connections.
While her future in the industry was still unclear, Lyon took a leap of faith and traveled to Los Angeles to take a temporary job as a casting assistant on a movie.
“I don’t think any of us thought I was going to stay here,” Lyon said about she and her family.
But quitting was never an option for her, Lyon said.
“Being first generation, I think a lot of times you feel a sense of responsibility to do what you’re doing, not only for yourself but for those who will come after you,” she said. “I always felt like I had to make the most of every opportunity and persist.”
Over the past two decades, Lyon has become a respected voice in the industry and overseen casting and talent departments at the WB Network, ABC Entertainment and now CBS Entertainment.
As a network executive, Lyon works closely with casting directors to make sure producers, studios and networks share a strong vision for each project.
While there’s still much more to do to improve Latinx representation in the industry, Lyon said she’s seen some recent progress. From an increased awareness that Latinos are more nuanced and not a monolith to more opportunities for Latinos to be cast in roles that aren’t specifically written with a Latinx person in mind.
Lyon knows she is in a position to bring the voice of a Latina along her diverse cultural background to the decision room. It’s a responsibility that she doesn’t take lightly.
“We come from different cultures and different parts of the world. Some of us are first generation, some of us are second generation,” Lyon said. “I feel like I can speak to those things through my work in casting.”
Name: Claudia Lyon
Job: Executive Vice President for Talent and Casting at CBS Entertainment
Projects you’ve worked on: The upcoming CBS original movie “A Christmas Proposal,” series “Clarice,” “The Equalizer,” as well as ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “black-ish.”
Years in entertainment: More than 20.
Mentor: “I’ve had a lot of mentors along the way. One person that comes to mind is a casting director named Phyllis Huffman. I was an intern and an assistant for her. She really was the person who helped guide and support me as I transitioned from working in New York to coming out to LA and finding my career path. She was the casting director for most of Clint Eastwood’s movies during her career.”
Latino…de dónde?: “My mother is from Guatemala, my father is from Trinidad and Tobago. I’m multicultural and multi-ethnic. I’m Latina and also of South Asian descent. I’m also from Brooklyn, New York.”
Trope I’d banish from TV forever: “I would like Latinos to be viewed as more than one thing on television, more than one story to be told. There’s so many cultures within our community that I would like to see represented, and different looking Latinos and Latinas. I don’t want to see just one representation of Latinos in one story, I would really like to see a fuller, more wide ranging representation of us.”
Latinx actor/actress I think will be a huge star one day: “It’s hard to pick one person. There’s so many. But if we’re talking about someone specific, we just cast Jessica Camacho in the first Christmas movie that we’re doing for CBS. She was on our show “All Rise.” She’s really special and a rising star for TV and film. She’s really fantastic.”
Latinx show I wish everyone was watching/had watched: “I wish more people had watched ‘One Day at a Time.’ I felt like that show had everything. It had excellent writing, excellent cast. I’m really an admirer of Gloria Calderon Kellet’s work and what she does not only by bringing those stories to the screen but behind the scenes. I just thought the show was fantastic and hilarious.”
Overused line that execs say when passing on a Latino for a project: “I like to challenge when I hear ‘we couldn’t find anyone’ or ‘there was no one out there.’ I hear it less and less these days because I think when someone expresses that, they know the response is going to be ‘How far did you look? Where did you look? We’ll introduce you to some more talent.’”
What I think all industry professionals could do to help increase Latinx representation on television:
“I think there are a few things. First of all, whose story is not being told and tell those stories. Mentor, invest in talent and amplify voices. I think if you take a few of those and do those every day that could lead to a lot of opportunities and projects that we haven’t seen before.”