As I exchanged farewell’s with Antonio Sabato Jr. on this particular Thursday, an epiphany crossed over my grey matter, like a lonely cloud on a windy afternoon. Antonio is your typical guy, grateful for a long-lasting career, proud of his two kids (Jack Antonio, 16, with actress Virginia Madsen, and Mina Bree, 8, with Kristin Rosetti), and crazy about anything on wheels. And when his underwear is located underneath his pants (where most of us guys prefer them), he is the kind of guy you could kick around with for an afternoon, and probably end up with some pretty hot chicks just by association.
Antonio was born in Rome, Italy, and moved to Beverly Hills when he was 12 years old. His father, Antonio Sabato Sr., is a movie star in his own right, having roles in several blockbuster movies, including Grand Prix (1966), starring James Gardner and Yves Montand. Antonio went from there to the billboards as a Calvin Klein model and a popular character on the daytime soaps. He’s made several prime time appearances on television shows, such as Melrose Place, Ally McBeal, Earth 2, Charmed, Ugly Betty, and My Antonio, including some time on the big screen in the film, The Big Hit (1998).
Behind the screen, Antonio is a huge Formula One fan, and has held a professional racing license since 2001. He is also a performance and tuning junkie, having built several of his own modified vehicles, including a 2005 Infinity FX45, which he featured at SEMA Las Vegas in 2006. What else do you need to know about this man of many hats? Let’s ask him…
Eric J. Leech: What’s coming up for 2011?
Antonio Sabato Jr.: I have a movie that I did with Ashley Jones that we shot in Ottawa, which was really really cool. It is a Lifetime movie that is coming out in Spring. It is called A Mother’s Secret. Before that, I have been working on television shows. I did My Antonio, which is a TV show produced by me for VH1 that came out last year. I worked on Bones and CSI New York.
EJL: I heard you were thinking about producing some films?
ASJ: I had the chance to go to Italy to open a production company to start making some films. One of them that I was able to get the rights for is a western movie that my father did in 1968. It is called Hate for Hate, and was released by MGM. It was a spaghetti western. I just thought that westerns are about to come back, and that is a good way for me to produce a western, co produced with an Italian company. I needed to get the rights for this particular story. Mission accomplished. Now a lot of projects are coming my way. Everything just started pumping up about a week ago, so I am kind of in limbo as far as what projects I’m going to be doing.
EJL: Did you and your father ever do a project together?
ASJ: Not yet. My father has got a few scripts that he wrote about racing that are quite good. We never had the time, but we go to the track a lot and jump in some car and race around the track, so we have a good time.
EJL: Do you have a license to race?
ASJ: I turned pro in 2001, and have been racing ever since. I just renewed my license with Skip Barber.
EJL: What is your own favorite race story?
ASJ: In 2002, my first race in Indianapolis. I did not have that much racing experience and I remember jumping into a cop car, which was a GT3 cop car. It was an almost 500 horsepower race car, and I remember just sitting there on the straight away on the start/finish line, and the lights going from red to green, and I remember just how excited I was to be racing against professional race car drivers. I didn’t have any type of experience like these guys had, and I was able to finish. I was able not to crash, and I was able to keep up with some of the guys, and finish in the top 20. I remember that very clearly and I can’t wait to do it again.
EJL: Have you been doing any racing lately?
ASJ: I was talking to a good friend of mine, Lorenzo Lamas, and we are both passionate race car drivers. We are trying to put something together with the Porsche team, which for me will be going back to racing for Porsche which I raced in 2002 and 2003. I raced for Porsche cup. I haven’t raced with Porsche since, other than just testing cars and going over the track. We have an opportunity to go in as a team, me and him, and we might revolve a TV show around it. It is kind of early stages, but at the same time we have to move quickly, because if we want to jump in on the championship, we only have a couple months before the first race starts.
EJL: What about racing draws you to it?
ASJ: What draws me to it is the environment I grew up in. It is in my family. Racing is part of my DNA, my family, my upbringing. I love everything about cars. I grew up with cars around me, sports cars, Ferrari’s and Porsche’s.
EJL: What is the most difficult part?
ASJ: Everything is hard about it. It is physically hard. It is enduring. The concentration level has to be really high. At the same time you have to have a certain type of calmness about it because you don’t want to make mistakes. It is physical, it’s mental, but I love it and once you are in the car you just let everything go and do what you’re supposed to do. Learn from your mistakes, from your crashes, and from the things that didn’t go your way. Racing is always full of surprises, and it doesn’t go your way 100 percent, but as long as you finish the race and you learn from it, that’s where I’m at. I want to become a better race car driver, and it takes time and experience. The more you are behind the wheel of a car, the better you get. It is like anything else. It is like working out, going to the gym, or whatever. So that is why I try to go to the race track as much as I can.
EJL: Have you ever crashed?
ASJ: I’ve had some bad crashes. I’ve hit the wall and other cars. You walk away, let go, and learn from them.
EJL: It doesn’t affect you?
ASJ: Well, you’re always going to go there no matter what. I think that if you love it, you move on and never look back. That is the philosophy that I have.
EJL: What’s the story behind Enzo Ferrari loaning your father cars to drive?
ASJ: My father was in the greatest formula race car movie of all time, called Grand Prix. The movie was made in 1966, directed by John Frankenheimer, starring James Gardner, Yves Montand, and my dad, Antonio Sabato Sr. He played an Italian driver, Nino Barlini. He drove for the Ferrari team next to Yves Montand. The movie became so successful, and my father became a huge star over night. The movie won three academy awards. It is just the best race car movie of all time. Even Le Mans with Steve McQueen can’t touch it.
Anybody who knows about racing, knows about this film, and so basically from that moment on he became close friends with Enzo, and he started only driving Ferrari’s. It’s in our passion, it’s in our blood. My father would go to the factory and they would send him cars. At the time when Enzo was alive, he would spend a lot of time with him. There were a lot of stories about this man and the whole factory. My dad use to go there all the time. That was a different time. You could buy a Ferrari for five grand. Now you can buy one, especially those, for about a million and a half.
EJL: Did you ever get to go to the factory?
ASJ: I was too young to remember, but I always wanted to go. I have been to the Porsche factory, since I have been associated with them. I became a passionate fan of Porsche growing up as well.
EJL: If you had the choice between Porsche and Ferrari, which would you choose?
ASJ: If I had the choice between the two it would be a hard one. I know both companies and I admire both of them. I love them both, I can’t tell you which one, I would probably just have both (laughs).
EJL: Do you have a couple favorite cars in your own collection?
ASJ: Sure. I have a Porsche Carrera 996 convertible that I really enjoy. It is just a great car. It is a 3.4-liter that I’ve modified. It is easy to drive, has a lot of performance, and you can drive it every day.
I have a BMW an 05 760i, which is the smaller version of the 7-series, but it is a V-12, and that’s about a 500 horsepower V-12 that I modified, but it looks stock. I like to do little subtle things that make the car better, but it doesn’t bling too much. I like performance. I like reliability. I like durability, that you can drive it every day, and be comfortable in it and not be too rigid, or too hard to drive.
EJL: Did you do the work on these cars?
ASJ: I work on all my cars. I do stuff like LED’s and HID kits, and I do performance packages. I have an 05 Infinity FX45 that I took to Sema. It had the first true dual exhaust built by me with Magnaflow.
After my car was released at Sema and people saw it, Infinity was starting to build their FX’s with all true dual exhausts. I know they saw it from me, because the car before 05 never had it. I had the only one.
I do springs, exhaust, intake, ECU upgrades. When you do upgrades on the ECU, you can gain some horsepower, but you also gain miles per hour. I like the cars to look stock, but when you look carefully in them, and around them, they are quite different. I like to work on lighting as well. Bringing in all the LED’s and all the little lights in the car are all high definition and HD kits for the cars. High and low beams. I like the car to look cool and classic. All my cars have some personal touch by me.
EJL: You also own a few motorcycles.
I have two motorcycles that I built. I have an 05 Yamaha R1 that was rebuilt from scratch. I rebuilt the engine. It’s got probably about 180 to 185 horsepower.
EJL: That’s a lot.
ASJ: I also have a Harley-Davidson that is a 93, Softtail, that pretty much does not look like a softtail anymore. It looks like a sport bike. It has everything modified from the sprockets, the chain, the exhaust, carburetors, Brembo brakes, suspension front and rear. It’s got 180 sport tire. Just all kinds of things. I like to work on stuff, and if I can’t put it on, then I have the right mechanics and the right builders that can build it exactly the way that I want it.
EJL: Do you still own that custom made Batman Harley?
ASJ: Yeah, it was yellow. That is the same bike, only now it’s all black with copper lining, and has a copper Batman symbol. It is really cool.
EJL: Let’s get back to acting. Do you have a preference in your acting roles?
ASJ: I am just fortunate to be working. I enjoy every character I play. I think that if I had to pick one, the bad guy is more interesting. I love playing bad guys, and that’s what people tell me, that I usually play them a lot better than the good guy, so I take it as a compliment. I enjoy playing bad guys for sure. When you start a project and you get inside the character you’ve got to love it, and you’ve got to love the person you’re playing either way. I enjoy what I do, I am very fortunate.
EJL: How do you prepare for a role?
ASJ: The more preparation, the more history you can build the better. It all depends on the particular character, who he is, the back ground. What kind of life. Get inside his head. I would dive in, but I would dive in after preparing myself. Reading about him. It all depends on who I’m playing. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of time, so you have to do what you can. Sometimes you get a movie and you have to start the next week.
EJL: Is there a role you haven’t tackled that you would like to?
ASJ: I have always been a passionate fan of western movies. I grew up watching them, and I enjoy them, so I am kind of glad that True Grit is getting the popularity it is getting. Bringing the westerns back. I always thought they’d be back relatively quickly, and there you go, now they’re doing them. I would enjoy playing a western, just riding horses everyday, and being up there in a western town. The whole thing that goes with it would be pretty cool.
EJL: Do you consider yourself a good horseman?
ASJ: I have my daughter who is teaching me. She is eight years old and is a lot better than I am. She has been riding since she was three years old. I take her horseback riding, so she is teaching me. I took lessons growing up and have been riding my whole life, but nothing like my daughter, she is phenomenal.
EJL: Do you have any closing words?
ASJ: I really want to say my thanks to the country of Canada and how well respected people are, and what a beautiful place it is to work. I have worked in many cities in Canada, and this time I had the chance to work in Ottawa, which I’d never been, and I got to tell you. It is just a lovely town, a lovely city. The capital of Canada has a lot of amazing people and I just want to thank Canada in general, and I wish everyone in the world was like them, because they are just really positive people, and it was just great to be working and be around those people. Thank you very much!
Stop by Canada anytime, Antonio. They’ll leave a streetlight on for you!
Excerpts Originally featured in Urban Male Magazine (UMM)