Carolyn Cutillo’s journey into acting started at Abington Heights High School where she was president of the drama club under the tutelage of an encouraging drama teacher, Michaela Moore. Now the Clarks Summit native and current New York City resident has landed her first lead in a feature film — in India.
Cutillo recently finished filming the Tollywood, not Bollywood, horror feature “Fear the Fear,” which tells the story of a group of American college students who travel to the south of India on spring break, take refuge from a bad storm and end up trying to survive the night in a mansion in which their worst fears are manifested and lead to the demise of some.
“Technically Bollywood is coming from the Mumbai area and I was shooting in Hyderabad, which is Tollywood, with a T,” Cutillo said. “We, Americans, all think of any Indian cinema as being Bollywood. Over there they have different regions … all riffs on our own Hollywood. So Tollywood is actually a bigger industry than Bollywood production-wise.”
After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Cutillo settled in the city and began cultivating a career. She performed in multiple theater productions in the U.S. and abroad, including the play “Safe” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, been featured on two television shows on the Investigation Discovery Channel, and taken a role in an art house Film, “L for Leisure,” that showed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
So, how does a 26-year-old actress who works as a teaching assistant at NYU while steadily building her resume land a role in India?
“I auditioned,” Cutillo said. “I have a bunch of odd jobs, day jobs if you will, like so many actors in New York, so I’m lucky enough to have jobs that are flexible. So I audition whenever I get a chance throughout my day, and this was on a website called backstage.com, so while I have an agent who’s working with me to get me auditions, you’ve also got to hustle for yourself.”
Cutillo, who had visited India for three weeks during college was cast before she got to the elevator after leaving the audition room.
“The film experience has been a surreal adventure,” Cutillo said. “Aside from the general culture shock of being in another country, it’s so vastly different to be in a film shooting in India.”
The actress said the film is being produced in three languages, English, Hindi and Telugu, and that there was a separate cast for each language, which she explained was a novel approach. This meant long hours on the set, often in high heat, but Cutillo said the rotating casts allowed time for meeting new people.
“It was a cool cultural exchange where we had so much down time, we would get to talk with the other casts,” Cutillo said. “Lucky for us, many people speak English in India, so we got to bond with our castmates who were about our age.”
Cutillo said the movie was filmed at Ramoji Film City, which she said claims to be four times the size of Hollywood.
“It’s the biggest film studio center in the world,” Cutillo said. “They have four hotels on the grounds, and then it’s all town stages and lots and places for filming. So it was a really surreal thing where you get out of your hotel and there’s a tour bus going by. It’s sort of Disney-ish in that Indian tourists come there to see where TV shows they know are filmed. So the tour bus would go by your hotel room and you’d walk around outside and you’d walk by a Papa John’s, a hospital, a mini-airport, a police station, but they’re all fake. They’re either facades of houses or they’re built just enough for filming needs.”
Cutillo said she and the other American actors were asked to be in photographs with tourists who were not aware that they were actors.
“They’re not used to seeing people of my color, non-Indian people, so people would ask to take our picture all the time, not even knowing we were in a movie … it was a really odd place to live in this insulated environment of film world,” Cutillo said.
Although the actors are finished shooting on set, Cutillo said there is some production work to be done, and the film is expected to be released early in 2016. She noted the director will be submitting the film to horror film festivals around the globe.
As far as the next stage for Cutillo, she said she’s back to working and auditioning, a process that never ends for most in the industry, but she mentioned she’s working on her own feature length screenplay, a romantic comedy.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651.