Stelio Savante was only a few years into his acting career about two decades ago when a fellow church member asked him a question that gave him pause: Why do you always play criminals?
“I struggled with it,” Savante told Christian Headlines.
At the time, Savante, a Christian, had portrayed bad guys in several projects, including The Sopranos and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In recent years, he portrayed a thief on the cross in the film The Two Thieves (2014), for which he won an American Movie Award.
He says he took the question to heart and began asking himself, “How does that glorify God?” Savante then asked pastor Mike Finizio of Harvest Christian Fellowship in New York City for advice.
“He said, ‘First of all, it’s between you and the Lord.’ But secondly, the Bible [is] if not the most R-rated books [at least] one of. … It actually behooves us to show characters where there’s consequences for their sin [and] sin is not glorified.”
A redemptive story, the South African-born Savante said, requires “bad characters.”
“The roles I gravitate to most naturally are blue-collar roles,” he said. “I do often play villains, and they are juicier, they’re more fun to play because they’re so far away from things I do in real life. But for me, it is about the arc of redemption.”
Additionally, he said, “You don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes.”
“I’m meeting people who are coming to know the Lord,” he said.
Since those early days of his career, Savante has played plenty of “good guys,” too. He portrayed Moses in the first season of The Chosen (2019). In 2019’s Infidel, he played a journalist. In 2022’s Pursuit of Freedom, he portrayed a missionary.
He also has a major role in the 2022 film What Remains, which tells the story of a pastor who faces the man who murdered his wife.
Being a Christian in Hollywood, Savante says, is both easy and difficult.
“It’s easy because once you know the Christ, whether you’re a father, a brother, a sister, an actor, a plumber, it doesn’t matter – you understand [that] there’s some purpose for your life,” he told Christian Headlines. “[It’s] hardest because the second you say that [and] people know that, you’re living in a goldfish bowl – they don’t understand necessarily that you’re just a forgiven sinner with flaws.”
Savante says he views his career as an act of service to God.
“As you grow in your faith and as you spend time daily with God,” he said, “you understand: Lord, I’m not really here for my own glorification in the art, I’m not here for awards, I’m not here to become wealthy. I’m here because You allow me to be an instrument for You to reach corners of the world that the traditional church cannot.”
Photo courtesy: ©Vision Films, used with permission.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.