South African actor Stelio Savante on filming “A Million Colours”
May 2012 28

A former Cape Town-born-turned Hollywood actor and producer is set to impress local fans with his portrayal of a South African army major in A Million Colours, an upcoming local movie that is set during the 1960s and 1970s in SA.

Los Angeles-based actor Stelio Savante, 41, plays the role of Major Shawn Dixon in the new SA film, A Million Colours, which tells the story about love and friendship during the 1976 Soweto Uprisings and what life was like during those Apartheid years for two people from different ends of the spectrum. It stars local actors Wandile Molebatsi (from M-Net soapie, The Wild) as Muntu, former Idols winner Jason Hartman as Norman and Mpho Osei Tutu as Bomba.

“Dixon thrived in the most dangerous situations with the highest stakes possible. I’m always bored by villains in films who “play as scary” or who ‘scream or bark their way into the role’. So it was a fun, exciting and also very unpredictable role to play,” he told me via telephone from the US.

“The movie has a lot of heart and soul and for South Africans its a chance to be proud of how far they’ve come. It’s a story of redemption and overcoming all the odds,” he assured. And if audience feedback around the US is anything to go by, Savante said he hopes South Africans will enjoy the film too. “So far the film’s been to the Montreal and Atlantic Film Festivals earlier this year. Then we then became the first foreign film in history to open the Hollywood Black Film Festival and received a standing ovation. So it seems to have a message that transcends cultures.” READ MORE>>>

Savante’s role was previously offered to Hollywood actors Gabriel Byrne, Harvey Keitel and Barry Pepper – who either turned it down or wasn’t available to shoot the film – before he came on board to work on the production. For Savante, returning home to SA after a four-year absence from his previous visit back home was “great”.

“It’s always a privilege to come back to my spiritual home and see familiar faces and marvel at how far South Africa has come as a nation. My agents and managers look for roles that are filming in South Africa but I’m obviously very busy with projects on this side so it doesn’t always work out. This role and this film hold a special place in my heart, and it was very liberating to see this project fully realised.”

The film was shot in the townships of Alexandria and Soweto, which Savante described as “one of the richest experiences of his life”.

Savante moved to New York City in 1992 to pursue an acting career TV and film, and has has enjoyed a number of various roles in Hollywood, with some of his acting credits including roles on The Sopranos, All My Children, Criminal Minds, NCIS:LA and Law & Order: SVU.

But it’s Savante’s eight-episode stint on the award-winning TV show Ugly Betty in 2006 and 2007 that catapulted him into instant stardom. He became the first SA male actor to be nominated for a Screen Actor Guild (SAG) Award. “Ugly Betty was a good stepping stone and the role as Steve in Ugly Betty got me recognised a lot and got me tons of perks.

For Savante, one of the highlights of the movie was to work with Osei Tutu. “Mpho was a fantastic listener and to have that kind of commitment from your main adversary in the film makes for a very rich experience. It’s how you catch lightning in a bottle.”

He added: “The cast were awesome. Wandile is very sharp! He asks a lot of questions cause he is keen to learn and I have no doubt that audiences will appreciate his performance. Mpho was fun to hang with because he and I love theatre and he loves New York, which was my home for 15 years. I didn’t work with Jason Hartman very much but I credit him for being brave and diving in where many others would have held back. And I like how supportive he is of wildlife causes.”

While A Million Colours is set to première in SA on 26 April, Savante hopes to attend the SA launch in person. Until then, he’s keeping himself busy with various film projects this year.

“Last week I finished on a good little Indie film with actor Danny Glover called Shift. But I was already cast as the fifth lead in another Indie comedy, The Whole Banana, about 6 weeks ago. It follows the story of a struggling artist (Kristy Swanson) who is having a mid-life crisis of sorts and she ends up praying to Hermes (Kevin Sorbo). He is so taken with her that he comes down to earth, and they fall in love. But there’s a two week limit on his stay. It’s a light fun romantic comedy that will also see Dean Cain and Friends actor Matthew Perry making cameo appearances in the film too,” he said.

An excited Savante said he is thrilled to be working with a number if friends on the project. “I’ve worked with Kevin before and we’re friends. Dean and I are friends. And Matthew used to play tennis at the same club several years ago. Kristy Swanson is also a friend and she and Kevin have played love interests before in a movie called What If, a few years ago. So this is going to be a good time and friends working together.”

Savante, who prefers acting over producing, said he was said creating the right roles for himself was very important”. “It fuels the fire, the passion and the creative juices. But one needs to be selective and not do it too often. Not good for the health.”

Last year, Savante took to the theatre stage in New York, where he produced and performed in 110 Stories – a play he’d been involved in for 10 years. This time around, he got a number of A-List Hollywood stars to donate their skills and time to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy that took place in new York. Some of the stars who participated include: actress Katie Holmes, movie star Samuel L. Jackson, Kathleen Turner, Monk actor Tony Shalhoub, Sex and The City star Cynthia Nixon and Jeremy Piven (from Entourage fame).

“It was quite memorable to be able to give back to a city that has given so much to me. To be able to work with a cast the likes of which has never been seen before – not in one production anyway. To be able to play a role like Bolivar Arellano in front of 750 people and pay homage to those who lost their lives, was truly a highlight for me.”

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