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“Beautiful isn’t about how people think about you; it’s how you feel about yourself”

Playing the role of Lucas on Netflix’s iconic series, Stranger Things, is no stretch for 15-year-old Caleb McLaughlin. “My imagination was huge,” he smiles, when asked about his younger self. After his sister started doing local theatre in their home state of New York, Caleb decided that he wanted to try it, too. “We did a few plays and I really liked it,” he says. “I knew that I wanted to be on stage.”

Caleb’s fate would be sealed when his parents took him to see The Lion King on Broadway. “I was like, ‘I want to be Young Simba,’” he remembers. One year later, Caleb made it to the final round of auditions for his dream role. “I was really sick and my mom asked me if I still wanted to go,” he says. “I was like, ‘I have to do this! I made it this far and I cannot stop.’”

Ultimately, Caleb won the role and made his Broadway debut starring as Young Simba in The Lion King. “It was never about money or fame,” he explains. “I just always loved performing and making people happy.” One Lion King audience member in particular would have a profound impact on Caleb. “This lady sent me a note and said I made her want to play the flute again,” he remembers. “She didn’t want to play it after something happened and she said I inspired her to love music again. It really touched my heart. That’s what I do this for: To touch people’s hearts and encourage them.”

Six months after his final Lion King performance, Caleb scored an audition for a new Netflix series. “At first it was called Montauk,” he says. After several auditions in New York City, Caleb flew to Los Angeles for a chemistry read with other potential cast members. “I met Finn and it was just a rush to be there, and a blessing to make it that far,” he says. “When they called me personally on my phone to tell me I got it, it was just amazing.”

To say that Caleb’s life has changed since Stranger Things premiered last summer is putting it mildly. He’s especially surprised when people know his middle name (it’s Reginald) or when celebrities praise his work on the series. “I’ve been watching them since I was little,” he says. “Even though I’m still little!”

What’s not little about Caleb is his heart. “Beautiful isn’t about how people think about you,” he says. “It’s how you feel about yourself and if you’re comfortable in your own skin. It doesn’t matter if that girl has better hair than you or knows how to take better selfies than you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not. Believe in what you want to do and just keep going for it. Achieve and succeed.”

Photos by Robert Hinton & Story by Colleen Broomall. Shot at The Chord Club NYC


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