As bad boy Jagger Cates on General Hospital and an iconic Calvin Klein underwear model, Antonio Sabato Jr. was one of the biggest sex symbols of the '90s. The 37-year-old Italian stallion and father of two now wants to settle down with the help of his new VH1 reality series, My Antonio, in which 13 women vie for his affections in Hawaii. Looking back at the gay role that landed him the cover of The Advocate in 2004, our Antonio tells us why, despite an abundance of enhanced bosoms, he won't be boarding the Rock of Love bus anytime soon.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: It's been five years since you were on the cover of The Advocate to promote your first gay role, in the film Testosterone — a pretty big honor for a straight man, especially if he's not President Obama. Looking back, what stands out for you about that whole experience?
Antonio Sabato Jr.: I was a little disappointed with the way the movie turned out after the cut I saw at the Toronto Film Festival. Everyone seemed happy with it, so I was surprised to see a different finished version of it. The director cut some stuff I was in that I thought was hysterical. But most importantly, nobody told me about it, and that's what really frustrated and disappointed me. The producers could've at least told me things were changing. Besides that, I had a great time working with everybody on the film, I was proud that I did the film, and I was proud that I was on the cover of your magazine as well.
Not long after Testosterone you played gay in the TV movie Deadly Skies. Because you were a bachelor and Advocate cover boy taking on more gay roles, did you find fans questioning your sexuality in real life?
No, everybody knows that I'm not gay, but I don't tend to worry about what people say. I just played a serial killer and that doesn't mean I kill people every day. It's stupid to think that. With Testosterone it was a challenge for me as a straight guy to play a psychologically disturbed person who's going with men and women at the same time. It's something I obviously don't do in my private life, so why not try it on film? But at the same time, it's also a compliment if people thought I was really gay, because then I guess I did an OK job. [Laughs] With the gay and straight thing, people always focus on the negative. Everybody's equal at the end of the day. It's just a sexual preference. We're in 2009, so I think it's enough talking about who's who or who's what. It's nobody's business.
While promoting General Hospital: Night Shift on Chelsea Lately last year, you discussed the soap's gay story line, saying, "There always has to be a gay story line nowadays; otherwise you're not hip." So is there a hip gay twist on My Antonio?
No. But networks do tend to focus on what the other networks are doing — if it works for them, they have to do it too. Hopefully things are changing. If a story line is about a gay person falling in love with another man, it should be because it's a good story line, not because they're trying to get ratings out of it. But my show is about me falling in love with a woman.
What if one of the competitors told you that she was into girls as well as guys?
As a heterosexual man, I'd be into it if it was me just dating girls, going out, and having sex. That would be one thing. But with a woman I want to meet my kids, live in my house, and have a life with, I think a third person would make it too distracting. There's nothing wrong with sex, but that's not what this show is about.
Quite a few of the women on your show have, shall we say, extra-ample endowments. How do you feel about fake breasts?
A lot of women are getting stuff done just because they want to get noticed. If that's the case, then you've got some issues you've got to work out. If you have a really tiny body and these huge boobs that look so fake, I'm not into that. But if it looks great and it gives you more confidence, then it's OK. Overall, less is more.
Apart from the obvious physical differences, what sets you apart from VH1's other reality show bachelors like Rock of Love's Bret Michaels and Flavor of Love's Flavor Flav?
I wanted to bring class, honesty, and integrity to the show. If I'm going to have a life with the person I meet on the show, it's got to be real. Those other shows are more for the fun, where everyone's waiting for someone to get drunk and throw themselves naked in the pool. If you want to see that, that's fine, but I think people out there are getting smarter and want to see something smarter than the last reality show. So we wanted to be more intellectual. If two girls have a catfight in front of me, they're going to go home. I told the producers, "If you guys want that, I'm not your guy, because I'm not going to stand for it. That's not me." They were fine with that, and that's what sets us apart. I think the show is going to change reality TV as far as these dating shows go.
In the first episode you immediately dismiss a woman because you don't like her hands and feet, which might be one of coldest cuts in reality dating show history. Do you really have a hand and foot fetish?
I certainly wasn't rude or trying to hurt anybody's feelings, but I like what I like. Yeah, I love pretty hands and feet. When a woman wears a high-heel shoe with an open toe and her feet are unbelievable, it turns me on. Look, people may say that was too brutal, but this is my life. If the sex appeal and physical attraction isn't there, why wait weeks to decide if she's going to go? If the shoe were on the other foot and she didn't like anything I had to offer, I'd want her to be real with me too.
Your mother plays a big part in your decision-making process on the show. Would you call yourself a mama's boy?
In this country a mama's boy is somebody who relies on his mother to clean his clothes and cook his dinner. I'm a mama's boy in the sense that I love my mother and we're very close. Where I come from we're close to our mothers and we're more open about things. I can make my own dinner and wash my own clothes, but I have my mother there to support me. I can go to her to talk about issues and ask questions, and she has the answers.
No surprise that you often appear shirtless or in a swimsuit on the show. Is it possible you're in better shape now than you were during your underwear modeling days?
I don't know, but I do feel stronger now. I used to be in the gym all the time, but now I'm doing gymnastics every day, so I'm more flexible. My diet's certainly a lot better now than it ever was when I was younger. I feel I'm getting better as I get older.
You played Amanda Woodward's ex-husband, Jack Parezi, on Melrose Place in 1995. Now that the series is getting a reboot on the CW, would you ever revisit the role?
Well, he died — Heather Locklear killed me — but in soap operas you can certainly die and come back. So if they decided to bring me back, I would love to come back. That would be incredible.
Getting back to your Chelsea Lately interview, you got a lot of flak in the LGBT blogosphere for not answering host Chelsea Handler's question of whether you'd rather be gay or stupid. Seems like a no-brainer to me, Antonio.
Yeah, but the point that people don't understand is that it's a stupid question to ask. Of course I'm going to say I'd rather be gay, but I don't like answering stupid questions. It wasn't a straightforward question that she really wanted an answer to; she was just antagonizing me because she wanted me to say "gay." Everybody should know the answer to that, including myself, but the end of the day, it's a stupid question, and I just felt I shouldn't answer any dumb-ass questions. Ask me something that's worth asking.
OK, then. In your last Advocate interview you admitted to once reaching out to Britney Spears for a date, but she never returned your call. Considering what Britney's been through since 2004, is it safe to say you may have dodged a bullet there?
[Laughs] Yeah, well, she was a different person back then. Now she's all over the place. But listen, she's got kids now, so I really do hope for the best for her.
Advocate.com, August 2009.