Anthony Sayo: A Filipino Actor Establishing Himself as a Leading Man In Hollywood

By Neil Abbey

“You should be grateful to even exist!”

So croaks the title character in the surreal, award-winning 2021 short film, The Withered Ghoul’s Ceremony. He’s addressing his captive Monroe, played by Filipino actor Anthony Sayo, whose buff form flexes beneath a snug black bodysuit.

“I should be grateful to even be in LA,” says Sayo, thinking back to the shoot. “The fact that I’m here getting the chance to be able to do what I love, when I could have been a lawyer in the Philippines, it’s been a wild ride, but a very fulfilling journey.”

Anthony Sayo, better known as Diko among his Filipino compadres, grew up in Malolos, Bulacan. He was raised in a middle-class family; his father runs a pharmacy and his mother is a doctor. “We Filipinos understand that our Tatay and Nanay want to give us the best chance in life possible; my parents wanted me to be a lawyer. But I always wanted to be an actor. I blame my brother, he got me hooked on fantasy films like ‘Willow,’ ‘The Princess Bride,’ and ‘Howard the Duck.’ He got me excited about the big screen and acting.”

Initially, his parents weren’t exactly thrilled with his passion. “As a Filipino, you want to honor your parents, especially when they’ve worked hard to support you. So I decided to at least go to school and complete a degree.”

Sayo attended the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman and majored in Political Science, graduating magna cum laude. “My parents were happy,” he recalls. “But still, the pull of acting remained strong.”

Sayo found an acting school in the Philippines and enrolled in a one-year diploma program. He spent that year studying under the tutelage of an American acting coach who is a seasoned stage actor from New York with a long list of credits in both American and European TV and films. “I am really grateful for this formal introduction to the world of acting, and I would not have gotten this far without my mentor’s knowledge,” Sayo says.

“I told my mentor that I wanted to travel to LA and pursue an acting career there,” says Sayo. “He encouraged me but also said, ‘It’s a white man’s world’, perhaps to remind me it won’t be an easy climb. Still, I pursued my goal with no hesitation with the belief that there is equal opportunity for everybody, as long as you put in the work, regardless of your race or ethnicity.

While waiting for the proper moment and opportunity to move to the United States to pursue acting in Hollywood, Sayo became a certified fitness trainer.

He has spent six years assisting his clients in leading better lifestyles. While working, he began to utilise social media and created a support network, which paid rewards later on.

In 2019 he decided to visit his sister in Chicago, who had accepted a position as a nurse there. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to the US and then visit LA,” Sayo says. So he bought a one-way ticket and informed his mother that he would not be returning to the Philippines with her, as he was now ready to embark on his acting journey.

Sayo arrived with very little money, which was immediately spent. “I had no idea what I’d do, but I had contacts, many of them through my time as a trainer,” he says. “A friend from the UK suggested that I meet up with a friend of hers in LA, so I went ahead and reached out to them. They were total strangers to me, yet they welcomed me without a second thought. I stayed there for a few months until I was able to locate an affordable apartment.”

Within months and plenty of auditions, his career as a performer began. It wasn’t long before he won the ‘Best Actor’ award at the Hollywood Blood Horror Film Festival for his role in the film, ‘The Withered Ghoul’s Ceremony’.

After that, various opportunities came his way, and he now has four films in which he plays the leading role that will be entering the US Film Festival circuit this Fall:  “Kaiketsu,” in which he starred as a Master Samurai; “Daughter,” playing a father seeking justice for his daughter’s death; “Tears at the Edge of the World,”  where he performed as a man embroiled in an affair and “Night Owls,” as a hired gun in an action comedy.

Sayo’s most recent work is “Mantis Club”, a film set in a dystopian society where women devour men while having sex. “This dark comedy is cleverly scripted,” Anthony says. “Full of metaphors and symbolism, but at its core it’s about gender equality, especially in dating. I remember when I received the script, it was love at first sight.”

This short film is making some noise on the film circuit. It has been nominated for Best Short Film at six major US film festivals, including an Official Selection at the Catalina Film Festival. Some of these festivals are qualifiers for an Oscar entry. “I’m so proud of Mantis Club and excited for the rest of the cast and crew,” says Sayo. “This is a huge step forward for all of us.”

“I am glad,” he continues. “Doors will no doubt open. All that is required is for me to take advantage of these possibilities.”

Hollywood is notorious for being a burning ground for new talent. Thousands of people go to LA in the hopes of becoming the next big thing, but few rarely make it. Sayo is aware of the journey ahead, and is fully committed.

“When I’m on a film set, I try to be very present for the team,” Sayo says. “Film work is a lot of teamwork, and especially when I’m the lead actor, I wanna make sure that I am not letting the team down. Film work is so collaborative, and the way I approach my work as an actor, I always see myself as part of an ensemble. My goal is not to outshine anyone, but to deliver, on what was tasked upon me.”

It’s this Filipino work ethic and “malasakit” towards projects that could be Sayo’s winning formula. He’s hungry for more but, unlike other rising actors who act like big-shots the moment they get some recognition, he’s surprisingly humble.

Sayo is currently set to star on an upcoming film directed by award-winning Swiss-American filmmaker Gareth Taylor. You can follow him and his growing career on Instagram @anthonysayo.

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