South African-born, Stelio Savante, pursued his love for acting after a tennis scholarship led him to the United States. Savante established himself in New York, relocating to Los Angeles for a recurring role as Steve in Ugly Betty, which led him to a SAG nomination. With numerous high profile film, TV and theatre credits to his name and lauded as one of South Africa's top exports, Savante continues to ratchet up experience, proving his versatility and reliability.
He recently starred opposite Isaach de Bankole in Where the Road Runs Out, and played supporting roles in Jimmy, The Secret Village and the South African film, A Million Colours. On stage, Savante both performed and produced 110 Stories, a 9/11 tribute and a very personal commemoration for the actor, who lived in New York for 15 years
We caught up with Stelio to find out, which movies hold a special place in his heart. An avid film lover, Savante had to narrow down a Top 50... and take our word for it, his Top 15 is a great starting point for anyone wishing to expand their cinematic horizons.
"I’m a long-time film student that
owns hundreds of classic films..."
I can't watch movies without...
- ...total darkness. I like all my senses to be absorbed by the screen and only the screen. A completely visceral commitment.
Which famous people share your birthday?
- Barbara Streisand, Shirley McClaine, Djimon Hounsou. Uhm, no pressure to live up to the date or anything like that.
What is the first film you remember watching?
- The Godfather. On VHS, yes I’m a fossil, when I was in my late teens in South Africa. I was mesmerized by the characters. They were all such a world apart from anyone I’d ever met in my life. Seeing that lifestyle as an innocent kid was brutal, and yet so attractive to me.
What's the worst movie you've ever seen?
- Gigli, do I really need to say more?
Which movies have made you tearful?
The Mission, Scarecrow, Of Mice & Men and The Passion Of The Christ. The Mission defined redemption in an alpha male, something I identify with. Scarecrow… the friendship, and its journey and the same with Of Mice & Men. I find they hit similar notes that rip your heart out. And The Passion, very personal to me… a translation and vision that put into reality what God went through as a man.
Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?
- Well, I’ve gratefully worked with most of these and some are friends: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Sidney Poitier, Melissa Leo, Susan Sarandon, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling. I had 2 lines in A Beautiful Mind, worked with Crowe for 3 days. Pacino, I met several times at the Actor’s Studio and his best friend Ed Setrakian directed me in Mortal Coils. Ed told me that Al liked my work and I almost died.
Sidney Poitier just a few weeks ago at my play, he came backstage to congratulate his daughter and did the same with me. We spoke for a few minutes, a very special moment in my life. Leo, Sarandon and Jackson all in 110 Stories with me. And Penn and Gosling, even though I wasn’t in the film, Gangster Squad… I was invited to be part of the rehearsal and table read for the director and then a second time for the studio and got to meet and work with all of them. A tremendous experience.
What's your favourite movie line?
- "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." - The Godfather.
I say this because I lived in New York for 15 years, and have tasted many many cannolis and I would have left the gun behind too. There’s simplicity and poetry to that line.
Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?
- Javier Bardem, he would bring to life the darkest days of self-hatred in my youth and my inner conflict through my adulthood. With his capacity to play pain and loss and simultaneously a spontaneous madness.
If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?
- The journey of Paul The Apostle. I’m amazed by what he went through and what he overcame in the face of adversity. And I think it would have a profound effect on people the world over.
Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...
I’m a long-time film student that owns hundreds of classic films so I have a top 50. But my top 10 changes all the time for me – this is hard – I’ve given you my current top 15 which changes constantly as I watch these classic movies all the time – this is in no particular order.
- The Godfather I & II ...it is a very pure film. Long takes, slow shots, and a study of characters in an era and genre that people are fascinated with. Great dialogue, great characters, great cinematography, great direction and a great script. It feels like the first true 3D film because you felt like you were in it.
- The Bicycle Thief ...so simple, so brilliant, De Sica built the tension and conflict through great story – there was no CGI, no tricks and the film still stands up today.
- The 400 Blows ...it’s a coming-of-age story that breaks your heart and never gets old.
- The Seven Samurai ...one of the most visually stunning films that is so good, they continue to remake it over and over and over again.
- The Good, The Bad & The Ugly ...I love minimalist filmmaking and Leone was a master at it, this film defines it. An amazing soundtrack puts it over the top.
- Goodfellas ...living in NY for 15 years, this film just feels like the ultimate neighbourhood film and the characters are so real.
- Midnight Express ...it haunted me as a child, and obviously haunted the Turkish Government because they changed their prison system after it won awards. Possibly one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. .
- Taxi Driver ...the reference point for so many acting classes, film classes, and without a doubt broke the world of cinematography wide open.
- Heat ...I think it’s one of the greatest crime films ever made, Mann is such a master of the cops and robbers genre.
- To Live ...Zhang Yimou’s masterpiece is so compelling on every level that I can’t say enough about it.
- The Wages of Fear ...Clouzot created the most edge-of-your-seat thriller I’ve ever seen. It was made in 1953 and then remade, and is about to be remade again.
- Time of the Gypsies ...when I finished seeing it, I watched it over again – back to back – it’s so good that it tears your heart out and you hope for a different outcome.
- The Lives of Others ...it fascinated me from start to finish, what circumstances these characters, people lived in. Weinstein is now remaking it.
- The Professional ...I love the journey this film takes you on, all through the eyes of a child.
- Inglorious Basterds ...so richly stylized and although a fantasy it rings true in so many ways.
Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.