Cynthia Fritts Stillwell
Founder, Cynthia Stillwell Casting
Need a blood-thirsty vampire? A sexy Southern belle? A model who looks good in a maid’s costume? When film and TV directors need help, Cynthia Fritts Stillwell rolls up her sleeves.
For 30 years, Stillwell has been casting characters in productions for both the silver and small screens. The Savannah native has done it from her Victorian house in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, the neighborhood she moved to after returning to town three years ago with a hefty resume of credits to her name.
Stillwell was part of the city’s production scene in the 1980s, but left 18 years ago when the market dried up. “Then, there were usually four to six shows per year,” she says. “Now, Atlanta is bursting with film and television projects: There are about 42 per month.” Just drive around the metro area, and you’re sure to see what she means. Caravans of trailers from “The Walking Dead,” the Netflix series “Stranger Things” or “The Vampire Diaries” are part of the metro area landscape.
After studying film at UCLA, Stillwell broke into casting as a theater owner and producer in Savannah. She purchased and refurbished the Savannah Theater, one of the oldest operating theaters in the country that dates back to the 1830s. “I bought and toured Broadway professional shows throughout the Southeast,” says Stillwell. “I came to know the various stage hands, the transportation business and the venues in the various cities.” She had another edge as well: At the time, her husband was serving as the city’s mayor pro tem, a job that made Stillwell a city insider with access to exclusive clubs and some of the town’s most exquisite mansions and plantations. When film crews came to town in the late 1980s, Stillwell was armed with information to help them do business.
From 1985 until 1991, Stillwell was in Atlanta, but the lack of business drove her to New York and the West Coast. A longtime colleague convinced her to give the Georgia capital another go and to cast a new ABC show, “Resurrection.” That was three years ago, “and I’m still here,” she says.
Now part of the city’s mushrooming film industry, Stillwell has racked up credits for casting more than 300,000 actors in films, TV shows, regional theater and Broadway productions. She describes that group as “a tapestry of faces” who have appeared in such projects as Remember the Titans, Road Trip, “I’ll Fly Away” and, more recently, the Atlanta-based TV show “Devious Maids.” She also landed assignments as the Georgia Location Casting Director and Associate Background Casting Director for the Oscar-nominated Selma, the Oprah Winfrey project filmed in various locations around the metro area.
“I read more than 600 actors for 60 speaking roles of the 72 roles total before meeting with the director, and I cast more than 3,500 period background, non-speaking extras,” she says. And the job came with a bonus: Stillwell, a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild, nabbed a cameo as Lady Bird Johnson. “I loved being in front of the camera,” says Stillwell. The experience was so positive that she now plans to mount a one-person, autobiographical show, Behind the Moss Curtain, sometime early next year.
Currently, Stillwell is casting for Season One of “Daytime Divas” for VH1. She also produces, leads actor workshops and distributes films for Murphy Entertainment Company. In 2015, she launched the MidSouth Picture Car Company, a firm that finds vintage and contemporary vehicles for projects around town.
Though a typical work day might be 18 hours, Stillwell finds time to enjoy living in Old Fourth Ward, where she walks the BeltLine every day, rain or shine. “When I left Atlanta years ago, there was no BeltLine, no North Highland eateries, no real community. Now, I couldn’t be happier about where I’m living.”
Find out more at cynthiafrittsstillwell.com
STORY: Cathy H. Burroughs & H.M. Cauley