Monica Trace Lysette Patricia Clarkson

Steve Stanulis Interview: Monica

Monica, which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on September 3, follows a young woman who returns home to take care of her dying mother. The film focuses on the relationship between a parent and child and emphasizes the importance of human connection.

The cast includes Emily Browning, Patricia Clarkson, Trace Lysette, Joshua Close, Adriana Barraza, and Graham Caldwell.

RELATED: 10 Indie Films That Launched The Careers Of Major Directors


Executive Producer Steve Stanulis chats with Screen Rant about his work on Monica and how he transitioned from the NYPD to the entertainment industry, where he served as Kanye West’s bodyguard for several years before transitioning into acting and producing himself.

Monica Trace Lysette Joshua Close

Screen Rant: You went from being a bodyguard for celebrities to joining the entertainment industry.

Steve Stanulis: You also forgot a Chippendale dancer and an NYPD police officer. Don’t forget those. Those are pretty good nuggets.

Screen Rant: Wow. Then what inspired you to go from there to the entertainment industry?

Steve Stanulis: That’s a great story. Back in the 90s, when I first became a cop, I was still working at Chippendales. And again, different times, there’s no social media. I could do what I was doing, and I didn’t get in trouble because there was no social media. To make a long story short, one day, I was dancing, and a guy came up to me, and he goes, “I have these two girls at my penthouse that I want you to dance for.” And I’m like, “Yeah, okay.” So I go downstairs, and I’m hanging out with all the guys in the dressing room, and one of the dancers comes down and says, “Hey, this dude is still upstairs waiting for you.” I said, “Alright.”

I go upstairs, and I go, “Dude, I’m a cop,” and I show him my shield. He goes, “Oh no, really. I got these two girls.” So I ended up going back to his parents’ house to dance for these girls. And he goes, “By the way, I’m Leonardo DiCaprio’s money manager. Would you be interested in working security for him?” So I said, “Yeah, great. Call me.” So he hands me like two grand, and I was 21 at the time—it might as well have been two billion. So I basically got two grand to dance for these beautiful women and I get a call the very next day. This is 1999 now. This is right after Titanic, so this is Leo at the height. He goes, “Leo wants to meet you.” So I said, “Okay, what time?” He goes, “Can you get here at 8:30?” And I’m like, “I can’t. I’m doing a bachelorette party. Can I get there at 9?” He said, “Okay, we don’t want to leave Leo waiting.” I said, “Okay.” So I ended up showing up at, like, 9:30 and Leo’s there, and we have kind of nothing in common.

First of all, I have zero aspirations to be in this business. He’s like one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. I’m a stripper cop from Staten Island. And again, there’s really nothing breaking the ice. I had tore my ACL when I was a cop. And he’s like, “Oh, wow. I tore my ACL on Basketball Diaries. You mind if I see your scar?” So I said, “Yeah, as long as you don’t mind the G-string I’m wearing,” and then I pull my pants down and I’m sitting there in a purple thong—and that was it. It broke the ice. And basically, I was working with Leo. And again, because I was with Leo, anybody big in ’99 I was kind of with. Michael Stipe, Tobey Maguire, Cameron Diaz…all these people that were big at the height of ’99, I was a part of.

And then I went to a party and I met this gentleman named Dylan Sellars. And he’s like, “You play football?” I’m like “Yeah, in high school.” And he’s like, “I’m doing this movie called The Replacements with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman. You’d be perfect.” So I’m like, “Okay.” The next week I’m in Baltimore, and I’m playing a backup quarterback to Keanu Reeves. And that’s how everything kind of…very Forrest Gumpian type of story. I was always just at the right place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time.

Screen Rant: Did you have any desire before that to be an actor? Did you think about it at all?

Steve Stanulis: No. That’s why I say Forrest Gumpian. If I was like, “Oh my God. Leo wants to meet me. I’ve got to get there in time,” probably nothing would have come out of it. The fact that I was late…the fact that I had to go to a bachelorette party…I just think if I was of the mindset that “Oh my god, I gotta get there,” nothing would have come out of it. The fact that I went to these parties…everything he did I did. It was security, but it was kind of cool because I was in the posse. I was part of it. Even though I was security it wasn’t like, “Wait here.” I did everything that they did.

So the fact that I was in this party, and I was just talking to this guy, and we just happened to hit it off, and he was a New York guy. Like, “Yeah, I played football.” It wasn’t like, “Oh my god. There’s opportunity.” Everything kind of materialized just by chance. It was a unique story in the sense that I didn’t have the aspirations. Then I did Gangs of New York with Daniel Day-Lewis as the butcher, which was awesome because he ended up winning the Academy—the Oscar. But the gentleman that introduced me to all these people got in trouble. So I lost all that access.

But now I had the bug to start doing this. So I had to start auditioning like anybody else. I’m like, “Wait a minute? I’ve got to audition for things? I’ve got to send in headshots? What’s that?” I got a taste, and it was enough of a taste where then I had the bug to do it, but then I lost all my access. So then I had to become like everybody else and hit the pavement. So it was a unique beginning, and then it became a story like every other actor.

Screen Rant: I think that’s a great story of how we never end up where we think we will be in life.

Steve Stanulis: Exactly. My thing is, the less I gave a crap, the more things happened. I guess that’s how you’ve got to live your life. Who knows?

Screen Rant: You’re not just an actor. You’re also a director, you’re an executive producer…do you have a preference when it comes to being in front of or behind the camera? What do you enjoy working in most?

Steve Stanulis: It’s gonna sound very liberal. I’m gonna give you a liberal answer. I liked them all. It just depends. When I see opportunity, like, at this point in time, there’s no such thing as vanity projects anymore. It’s a business. So let’s take, for instance, Monica, a project that is screening and premiering at the Venice Film Festival, September 3. It’s with Patricia Clarkson, Emily Browning…it’s basically about a transgender woman, who has an estranged relationship with her mom, who’s sick. And during the whole process of helping her—I don’t want to give away the ending, but it was very now. I’m like, “I’m in.”

I read the script. I thought it was amazing. Kiddingly I said to everybody, “Oscar. Oscar buzz.” Everybody was laughing, but they’re like, “No, you know what? The topic is amazing.” So I didn’t say, “Oh, I’m not going to do this because there’s nothing in it for me.” So again, if you’re on a project for project basis, whether it’s something I can produce—I love to produce. If it’s something I can direct—I love that as well. Or act. I love that as well. I don’t like to do more than one in any film. That’s my only peeve. If it’s hard enough to do one well, let alone to do two or three, or wear three or four hats in each production. So yes, I do like to do all of them on a project to project basis. There’s no preference.

Monica Patricia Clarkson

Screen Rant: I was going to ask you about Monica, since that is coming up pretty soon. How did you get involved with the project? Did you just happen upon the script? Or did you know someone who was making this film?

Steve Stanulis: I spoke to a couple of people that were looking for funding on this particular project. And, again, when I read the script, immediately, I’m like, “This is phenomenal. One of the best scripts I’ve read.” It’s so timely. There’s nothing like it. It’s a little artsy, but it was just something that I really, truly believed in. And within two or three days, I said, “Here’s the check, let’s do it.” And again, it was probably one of the best moves I’ve made. And then you had Patricia Clarkson in there. It’s like, “Yes. I’ll do anything she does, let alone something with this type of role.” I’m blessed to even have my name on it. I really am.

Screen Rant: You mentioned that you like to do different things, but is there a specific genre? Do you like working on TV? Working on films?

Steve Stanulis: I’ll tell you what, it’s funny how there’s always a cataclysmic shift with this industry. In ’99, when I was with Leo and all them, when you were on TV, back then, you were almost looked at as less than a movie star. You were [up] here, if you were in the movies, and you were kind of [down] here if you did TV. I think that has totally shifted. If I could just stay in the TV space for the rest of my career, on any level, I would say yes because the productions are just as good, if not better, than any film. And it’s obviously consistent. I’m more of a heavy drama, psychological thriller guy. I prefer TV over film, at this point.

Screen Rant: I am the same. I also prefer TV to film and I love psychological thrillers.

Steve Stanulis: Oh, really? I don’t like Hollywood endings. I’m not a big Hollywood endings guy. I’m more of a “not everything’s always hunky-dory at the end.” We all don’t get the girl or save someone’s life. Sometimes life happens in real life, so I kind of like that as well. I like the “what’s in the box?” endings. Like from Seven. I like that. Because that’s life sometimes. That’s where I always go to. And it’s funny, because as dark as I love it, I’m super lighthearted, and I’m not that way in life, but I haven’t tried to do a stalker film.

Screen Rant: On top of all that, you founded your own independent film company. I would love to hear a little bit about what inspired it.

Steve Stanulis: It was pretty crazy. Again, when you’re doing a lot of films, I’ve been blessed enough to have the same investors over and over, and we’ve made money. I’m not saying we’ve made millions and millions and millions, but they’ve all made their money. The process of doing a film…we obviously go into pre-production, shoot for principal photography, and post, and then getting a deal…you’re talking about a year and a half sometimes before you get a return on your money.

So somebody brought to my attention, “Well, why don’t you open up a company and try to go public? And now instead of having investors on each individual film, you’ll have shareholders. And instead of them owning one thing you do, where it could be a 50/50 shot of it doing well, have them own everything. This way, if you get a couple base hits, great. You get that one double, everybody’s super happy.” Again, when you’re into doing film, you’d never think of the whole financing thing. That was a whole different world to me. Dealing with FINRA and the SEC and going public…and you’re dealing with the NASDAQ and their rules and audits…it’s not something that I was privy to. I am now and it’s kind of working out.

I don’t know if there’s too many publicly traded production companies. We’re close. There probably are a couple of studios that I would venture to say all publicly traded, but there’s not many. But it kind of makes the investor feel secure because they can kind of sell their shares anytime they want. So it’s just taking a concept that’s been there for years. Because a lot of people, when they hear the movie business, they’ll stay away. A lot of people have been burned. So this just puts them at ease and shows that we’re here for the long run. We want everybody to win. We want everybody to eat.

Screen Rant: It is amazing how many sides of the industry you’ve worked in. It sounds like you’ve seen it all.

Steve Stanulis: A little bit. A little bit.

Screen Rant: Lastly, I just want to ask if there are any upcoming projects you’re involved in. Is there anything other than Monica to look out for?

Steve Stanulis: For the bomb at the end for you, we’re doing Great Kills—a project called Great Kills. It’s a TV show. Three or four networks right now are looking at it. It’s eight episodes. It’s basically a mockumentary about a recruiter that follows around a hitman. So it’s like The Office with a hitman. It’s dark…it’s funny…most of it’s improv.

James Merendino, who directed SLC Punk is the director. Everybody’s going crazy for it. So I’m very happy about that. And then, again, we still have the 15 Days with Kanye documentary. It’s done…it’s just a matter of when. We’re in post-production on it. So those are the three meaty things. And then we have something in pre-production right now called Red Money. So yeah, there are a lot of cool things going on right now.

Monica Trace Lysette

Monica premiered at the Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2022.

Author: Brandon Murphy