Indie Beat: Exclusive Interview With Stelio Savante

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Here at Cinelinx we like to talk about all aspects of filmmaking and movie news. To that end, we now have Indie Beat where we’ll highlight some of the latest news, trailers, and PR releases from the indie filmmaker scene.  So if you’re an independent filmmaker and want some coverage on our site, be sure to drop us a line at [email protected].  Now onto the interview!

Stelio Savante

Rob: What motivated you to produce 110 Stories? How did that project begin?

Stelio: I’m not a producer by trade but I’d been a cast member of the play commemorating 9/11 almost annually in NY. Playing the Bolivar Arellano role opposite Susan Sarandon, Edie Falco, John Turturro, etc. Portraying a real person requires responsibility and I invested a lot into knowing Bolivar and what drives him at his core. At that point it was hard to let go of the character. The play is about the victory of the human spirit overcoming tragedy. When Haiti tragedy happened I wanted to do something to help. I approached the writer, told her I’d like to bring the play out to LA for it’s west coast debut to perform it for charity. She was supportive. I reached out to some actor friends who joined my cast. And also director Mark Freiburger and producer Andrew Carlberg without whom this west coast debut would not have been possible. We performed it at The Geffen Playhouse with friends like John Hawkes, Ed Asner, Katharine McPhee, etc. And last year in NY was the 10 year anniversary of the tragedy. I started the process of bringing in talent through agency support, a close circle of friends and sponsorship through other producing partners. Once Samuel L Jackson, Melissa Leo, Jeremy Piven and Billy Crudup signed up, we knew we had something special.

Rob: What was your reaction to becoming the first male South African SAG Award nominee for Ugly Betty? Do you think your success is inspirational to others?

Stelio: I’m proud of being South African and I’m happy for fellow South Africans and good friends like journalist Nadia Neophytou, actress Lesley Brandt and director Rudolf Buitendach who continue to impress. We all celebrate each other’s success. But I didn’t really have a reaction at the outset. I’ve lived here for twenty two years now. So even though the support from South Africa has been overwhelming and my films do well and get seen back home I don’t really think of myself as ‘first male South African SAG Nominee’. But in time, I’ve come to appreciate that this ensemble cast recognition means I did something right. Likewise I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me (particularly from South Africa) and thank me for inspiring them. Not just with my acting career but being a spokesperson for Celiac’s disease and doing charity work. If I’ve made a difference in a positive way, then again…it means I’m doing something right.

Stelio

Rob: You first came to the United States on a Tennis scholarship. What made you change your focus to acting?

Stelio: That seems like a lifetime ago. A combo of being convinced to try out for a play in university and wanting to be around more southern belles…so it seemed like an obvious choice…’try out for a play’. Then I got cast, the bug bit and there was no looking back. I moved to NY and lived there for fifteen years. Studying my craft and doing a ton of theater until tv and film took off for me.

Rob: You do a lot of charity work. Do you have any charities which are particularly important to you?

Stelio: I’m active with both Operation Gratitude and Gary Sinise Foundation. Helping pack shoeboxes with coffee, wipes, DVD’s, etc is a small price to pay for soldiers giving their lives. Gary Sinise does more than anyone else for the troops, he’s the Bob Hope of our time. Building homes for those returning without limbs. Bringing together the children of deceased soldiers of the Iraq/ Afghanistan wars. Helping pay for wounded soldier’s surgeries. These two charities are not political and have support from both sides. They help the ‘taken for granted soldiers’ and their families who suffer. Soldiers do not get enough of what they need. Salaries being the top of that list… I’ve also just been auctioned as a celebrity actor by Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Joycelyn Engle for Steven Spielberg’s Children At Heart Foundation. So I will be offering a day on the set on my next project to the recipient and do everything to make them feel welcome and appreciated.

Rob: You’ve worked with many excellent directors, including Ron Howard in A Beautiful Mind. Do you have any favorite directors, or any director you would like to work with in the future?  

Stelio: Yes, that was early on and I’ve two lines left in the film. As far as directors I’ve worked with for run of project. My favorites; Rudolf Buitendach and Mark Freiburger. Rudolf is a master storyteller. He trusts the actor. Trust is such a crucial part of the process. He also trusts his key crew and DP which is why his films are so cinematically and visually superior. And Mark is a talent. He makes his set a lot of fun to be on. Just creates a very supportive environment. Who wouldn’t want that? I would like to be directed by JJ Abrams. Already worked on his shows. He’s a genius on so many levels. But although he produced them, he didn’t direct the episodes I starred in. So he’s the top of my list!

Stelio Savante

Rob: Your IMDb page shows that you have 11 upcoming projects completed. You seem to be in great demand. How do you choose your projects? Do you have a genre you prefer? Which of your upcoming projects would you like to say something about?

Stelio: My agents/ manager rock. We do get a lot of offers and I always consider the role in context of the script, the director and the cast when making my decision. Not in any that order but collectively. I like all genres. The material has to feel authentic because we live in an era when everyone calls themselves a producer or a director. But sometimes have no clue how to do either. So if the material is weak I typically walk away as I’ve been burned before by trusting too easily. I’m excited about several projects. Where The Road Runs Out makes a strong statement about social issues and human rights in Africa. Rudolf Buitendach directed it and we filmed in Rotterdam, Durban and were the first film to ever shoot in Equatorial Guinea. Writer/Producer Robert Mann had a rich script with a brave vision and Rudolf truly helped it become fully realized. He’s one to watch for in the coming months. I haven’t seen it yet but know we achieved something special on set with Rudolf, Robert and fellow actor Isaach De Bankole.