Queen Latifah in The Equalizer
Three casting decisions have meant much personally to CBS's Claudia Lyon — booking Queen Latifah in the starring role in The Equalizer and casting Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) and Jessica Camacho (All Rise) as the leads in an upcoming holiday movie, A Christmas Proposal.
"The roles in the Christmas movie were not written for Latinx performers, but the best actors for the leads happened to be Latinx," says Lyon, executive vice-president, talent and casting for CBS Entertainment. "And I've always wanted to cast Queen Latifah in a show."
Indeed. Besides her consideration of the obvious charms and many alents of the actress-producer, Lyon brought her multicultural perspective to that decision, as she does regularly in her job.
Lyon's father immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago, and her mother from Guatemala. Growing up in Brooklyn, she found that television provided access to the world at large and it sparked her passion for storytelling.
After graduating from Binghamton University with a double major in film and psychology, she worked at The Gap in Manhattan while making cold calls from a pay phone in the store, searching for an entertainment internship.
"When you don't know any better, there's fearlessness," says Lyon, who snagged an internship in casting with ABC in New York. "I was always volunteering and hustling for things. When I learned what casting entailed, my mind looked at the possibilities this avenue could lead to."
In 1996, she moved to Los Angeles for a casting assistant job, then landed a temp gig at The WB. She was soon hired as manager of casting and later rose to vice-president, casting and talent.
When The WB folded in 2006, she moved to ABC as vice-president, talent and casting. "My first year, I covered Ugly Betty — by request — and was so excited to see it air," Lyon says. "Diversity had always been discussed, but it wasn't seen in the dominant culture. I realized I could help prioritize it in the industry."
In 2019, CBS recruited her to oversee all talent and casting operations for primetime and daytime programming, limited series, alternative programs and specials.
The rise of streaming services has made casting more competitive, she notes, with stars gaining leverage. But the increase in content is creating opportunities for new actors of all backgrounds to grow and become leads. When her career began, Lyon recalls, people of color were rarely leads. "Now, you can't cast a show without having a conversation about inclusion," she says. "It's exciting to have a voice in that."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2021