Hanging with Antonio
BY Advocate.com Editors
July 20 2004 12:00 AM ET
He obsesses over Britney Spears, is “close pals” with “funny” Tori Spelling, loves Broadway musicals, likes to work out on the beach, and thinks Will & Grace’s wild Jack is someone he could hang out with. Oh, and he’s been known to wear nothing but underwear for a living.
Alas, Antonio Sabato Jr. is not gay. But he does play gay in Testosterone, the he-done-him-wrong dark comedy helmed by out director David Moreton (Edge of Seventeen), heading to theaters in early September from Strand Releasing. The fact that Sabato hasn’t essayed a gay character until now may be kind of a surprise. (And how’s this: The still Italian-accented guy has never played a gigolo!)
He has played some memorable hunks, however. The affable, pearly-whited, preternaturally glowing Sabato rose to fame in the mid ’90s as Jagger Cates on General Hospital and hit prime time as one of Heather Locklear’s thorns in Melrose Place in 1995. But his most pertinent claim to fame was, of course, his briefs stint as a model for Calvin Klein starting in the late 1990s.
Sabato himself admits that that campaign didn’t parlay a slew of big-league offers; his post-soap career has mainly consisted of playing tough guys in straight-to-video action flicks such as 2000’s Longshot. Sabato, 32, was last seen spoofing his gorgeous-guy image as a dim-witted personal trainer in this year’s short-lived sitcom The Help. He’s hoping to make a bigger impression with Testosterone, which Moreton and cowriter (and frequent Advocate contributor) Dennis Hensley based on James Robert Baker’s novel about a slumping graphic novelist named Dean whose Argentine lover of a year vanishes.
Bloodlusting for an explanation, Mr. Jilted (David Sutcliffe, of the recently axed cute-com I’m With Her) heads to Buenos Aires to find the mysterious, cocky Pablo (Sabato). Not only does Sabato flirt with men in the flick, he goes (for a split second) full-frontal with ’em. “He was interested in pushing the limits,” says Moreton. “And he really nailed it.”
While Sabato hasn’t dallied with the same sex, he has posed naked or near so for out photographers such as Greg Gorman and the late Herb Ritts, whom he counts as “good” friends. Earlier this year he participated in an 80-mile portion of the California AIDS Ride. “There’s a really nice guy behind that poster-boy image,” adds Moreton. “He’s really up-front, has no pretension. I hate to say he’s straight!”
In a talk with The Advocate at his beach-hip three-story, five-bedroom home in Los Angeles’s Marina del Rey area, Sabato — the son of “liberal, loving” parents (his dad, who had a bit part in Barbarella, is a famed actor in the family’s native Italy) — proves eloquently empathetic to gay men’s issues in particular. All kidding aside, this man who was born Catholic in Rome seems to be another reminder that you can’t judge a present by its package.
So any cold feet about jumping into Testosterone?
No, I think doing something like this will open up some doors for me. I’ll do whatever it takes! [Laughs] My biggest issue was that I didn’t want people to say, “Oh, he’s playing [gay]. He’s not real.” I wanted people to think, This guy’s been with men before. He knows what he’s doin’. This is not his first time. I knew that eyes are going to be on me a little bit more than usual. I wanted to jump in a bed with another man and kiss him and make it believable. I’ve never been with a guy, so if a gay guy believes my character, that would mean a lot to me.
How did you land the part?
I screen-tested — over and over. Nowadays, people might just say I did it cause gay roles are “hot.” But it was a good script and a challenging role. And I knew the director, David. Edge of Seventeen was a very good film.
Did you draw the line between what you would do and wouldn’t do in the sex scenes?
No, and the truth is, we didn’t really talk about them too much. I figure sex scenes are uncomfortable any way you look at it, but David [Moreton] was a gentleman about the whole thing [laughs]. When I had to kiss the waiter, my mom got there that day. I said, “Mom, you might not feel comfortable watching this.” And she said, “Hey, I’m not going anywhere.” She was really cool about it. She was happy that I was working!
Any epiphanies about kissing a guy?
No. David [Sutcliffe] and I just treated it like just a normal relationship with feelings.
Did anything “move,” à la Seinfeld?
[Laughs] Ya know, I don’t think it moved.
How much testosterone do you have?
I have a lot. I love women—the way they’re wearing something, their perfume, their toes — we all have our own little things that we like.
Some gay men go through their own testosterone-pumped phase, where sex is a big part of everyday life. Some come to learn that preoccupation isn’t all that fulfilling. Have you ever gone through a phase where you’ve thought, I’ve got to slow down!
Oh, no. [Laughs] If I see somebody I like, I’m going to make a move. Nothing’s going to stop me. I’m very picky, so I don’t find [women] I like that often. So when I do see someone great, I’m going to jump on it like white on rice, like a blanket, like a hot knife to butter, like a glove!
But you’re single these days?
Very single—for quite some time! But I don’t want my son [Jack, 10; Sabato also has a daughter, Mina, 2] to grow up going, “Who was that girl last night, and who is this one now?” She’s got to be right.
Men have certainly lusted after you through the years. Any crazy casting-couch stories?
Well, early on in my career, there was a hairstylist who is very well-known—one of the best. Every time I’d see him he’d say, “You’re going to be gay one day.” I was like, “I’m glad you know my future!” I took it as a compliment. There’s crazy people out there, but he meant it in the best way. He wanted me to be gay for him! We’ve become friends over the years.