Hanging with Antonio

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com July 19 2004 11:00 PM 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.

There’s a quick moment in your movie that reveals drugs were a part of Dean and Pablo’s relationship. There’s even mention of the term “speed freak.” You’re no doubt aware of the domino effect of sex and drugs and HIV. Have you ever had a gay friend with a serious drug problem?
No, thank God. Drugs are an epidemic, and it’s devastating. It’s destroying souls, relationships, careers, families. People are losing everything they ever worked for, and it’s really hard to get out of it. That’s the worst part about it — you can’t force someone to go to rehab; they’ve got to do it on their own. If I did have friends like that, I’d be there for them. And I’d ask them, “What in life is worth living for? Is yourself enough? And if it’s not, you’ve got to think about other people around you.” As for AIDS, the sad thing is that our government is not doing anything about it. It’s important to raise money outside to fund programs to help. I always want to know my [gay] friends are OK.

Did you go through a party phase yourself?
Yeah, especially when I was living in New York in my early 20s. Man, I was out there. I’ve been around the world, from Spain to St. Tropez, where you start going out at midnight.

You still have a wild side. You race cars, ride a Harley, ride horses, go shark fishing. But how metrosexual are you — do you go for mani’s and pedis?
Manicures, pedicures? I love them. I hit the tanning booth and get massages too.

With the popularity of shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, are gay guys hitting on you more these days? Any wolf whistles? 
No, but people of both sexes have grabbed my ass. I hate that. I’ve been at nightclubs and signings, and somebody grabs my ass! If somebody asked me if they could touch my ass, I’d probably be OK with it. I might even say, “Let me touch your ass!” But if somebody doesn’t ask and I don’t expect it, I’m pissed! I don’t like not knowing in general. When I was a kid and somebody would tap me on the back of my head, I’d get really furious. If somebody hides behind a corner and jumps out and goes boo, I hate that! [Laughs] I have a temper — a lot of testosterone — and I’ve gotten into a lot of fights in the past [most recently, a backstage brawl at a fashion event in Los Angeles in April]. But I try to calm myself down now.

Point noted. So you’ve gone dancing at gay clubs?
Yeah, I’ve got many gay friends, and I love the music [at gay clubs]—house, techno, trance; it’s awesome. I have a lot of gay friends in Miami. Gianni [Versace] was one of ’em, God bless his soul. We were close. We respected our careers, hanging out with each other and [Versace’s sister] Donatella.

You kind of danced in Janet Jackson’s video for “Love Will Never Do Without You” [1992]. Did you ever have a wardrobe malfunction during a Calvin Klein underwear shoot?
No! But if I did, I could handle it. I’m not shy about anything. I’m pretty cool with walking around in my underwear. I’m happy with my… my thing… my friend… whatever you want to call it.

Testosterone is partly about taking passion too far — have you ever obsessed over someone yourself?
Oh, yeah. [Rolls eyes] You know a model by the name of Inés Sastre? She’s Spanish. She’s a [Lancôme cosmetics] girl. She’s got a little mole here [points to face], dark hair… you’ve seen in her in every magazine. Years ago — this is complimenting her, like you care, Inés — I was in New York [at the offices of the Ford modeling agency], and she was there. I didn’t know who she was, but I was just stunned. It was like hit-and-run! We talked briefly, and she left. For a year I tried to get in touch with her. She never got back to me. I’d send her flowers wherever she was, around the world. I was pretty obsessed. She’s in Spain, probably dating millionaires. I also called Britney Spears one time to see if she was single. But she never called me back!

You’re a romantic, then?
[Smiles] I was more, back then. Now I focus on things that are more important.

Have you ever had to console a gay friend with a broken heart?
Yeah, and I would always say first of all, “Respect yourself. You deserve better than this. You can’t take yourself down and give up. You’ve got to think about yourself and not the other person. Otherwise, you’ll destroy yourself.”

Has a guy friend ever fallen for you?
There was one, and he didn’t know how to approach it; he just felt this thing for me. I said, “Hey, man, if we’re going to be friends, you’ve got to respect me like I respect you. [If you don’t] our friendship’s not going to work.”

You have a crush on a guy yourself in a way… why the tattoo of Batman on your lower back?
Because he’s the only superhero that is human. I’ve loved reading comic books since I was a kid. I love the colors of his suit, the Batcave, and the fact that he’s very dark. I guess I relate because when I first came to America I couldn’t speak the language. He has these two lives. He’s got nobody in his life but this old man who loves him.

Hmmm.
[Laughs] What I like is that he knows what he’s meant to do, and he does it. And nothing will come in the way — women or distraction — of his goal to help people.

If you had to marry a guy, who would it be: Hugh Jackman or Brad Pitt? Ticktock, ticktock…
[Laughs] I know them both. I’d probably pick Hugh Jackman because he sings — The Boy From Oz was great — and he’s Australian. I love Australia! Not to say I wouldn’t pick Brad. Brad’s cool, but he smokes a lot.

John Kerry or George Bush?
Oh, no-o-o.

Will or Jack
Oh, Jack! He’s fun. He brings the best and worst out in you, man! There’s always something going on with him.

Does anyone still call you Junior?
My mom [Yvonne]. She calls me J.R., actually.

What’s the most important advice she has given you?
To be humble.

Is there anything small about you?
My ass. I’ve got a small ass. Everything was moved up front.