Steve Stanulis has had a remarkable career as an NYPD, a dancer, and a bodyguard to Leonardo DiCaprio, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian, later becoming an award-winning actor, director, and producer.
We sat down with him to find out a bit more about his background after his documentary, “15 Days with Kanye”, which won an award for Best Documentary at the New York City International Film Festival earlier this year.
GQ: What was your upbringing like?
Steve Stanulis (SS): I was fortunate to grow up in Staten Island, New York, within a neighbourhood where everyone hung out together.
However, it wasn’t the kind of environment that supported your dreams. You were expected to be a blue-collar worker and wind up like most people around you.
The expectations for achieving success, wealth, and fame were just not there; in fact, if you had such feelings, it was better to keep them to yourself or risk ridicule.
So I grew up thinking that must be the path for me, based on where I was born, how my peers looked at life, and how my life with my family and friends initially influenced my destiny.
That kind of thinking eventually led to me becoming at the New York Police Department as an official.
GQ: What was your first job, and how did it affect your future career choices?
SS: My first job was working in a catering hall as a pot washer, which was not fun. You’re standing over a hot sink over stinky dishes, working at night.
I’m not particularly fond of structure and regular patterns for my day-to-day; it was pretty gruelling and wasn’t something I wanted to do for very long.
It didn’t connect to my longer-term vision at all. I quit after a week, but it was a great lesson about hard work, and I respected it.
It put me in a much better position to understand what I wanted to achieve; a challenging job that is exciting and tough but defies patterns and normalcy.
GQ: Did your experiences with the NYPD provide a foundation for future roles?
SS: Absolutely; my job as a police officer in the NYPD put me in a position to see things people would usually not see, to deal with all sorts of people and situations, some of them pretty awful.
Later on, as an actor, I remembered both the positive and negative experiences and personalities, and they gave me a background and foundation to channel real-world experiences.
Other people might have to research these roles, but I lived them day-to-day in terms of the situations I encountered.
GQ: How did the entertainment industry become your passion, and how did it lead you to become an actor?
SS: I had a Forest Gumpian kind of life; I had the opportunity to provide security for Leonardo DiCaprio while I was still a cop.
I worked with Leo for a bit, and I was living and going as he did. Then, there was an opportunity for an acting role that popped up for an acting role in the Replacements (with Keanu Reeves).
It was an incredible experience, and once I was through it, I felt hooked on the feeling that acting and entertainment gave me; a true sense of accomplishment and self-worth. I knew anything was possible after that.
GQ: In terms of the orchestrating roles you’ve had, do you prefer directing or producing better, and why?
SS: I prefer directing and producing equally. However, I don’t enjoy tackling them simultaneously for the same project. Trying to deal with both roles during the same project causes one of them not to be done to the extent and quality possible.
I prefer to focus on one role at a time and give it my all. Trying to engage fully in both roles would take away the focus and excellence I want to bring to directing or producing.
I’ve been able to direct Ice T, William Forsythe, and Tara Reid, to name a few, and to work with such professionals was genuinely humbling.
Conversely, a producer is like the general manager of a baseball team; the day-to-day shooting schedule, handling casting, making sure we are within budget, and dealing with logistics; I enjoy producing just as much as directing, although they are pretty different.
Producing has created unique opportunities; for example, I was incredibly fortunate to work with folks like Patricia Clarkson in “Monica,” which premiered at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival. It’s terrific to move back and forth between the roles as needed and desired.
GQ: When you reflect on your many transformations, what do you think holds people back from pursuing their dreams, and how does mindset play a role?
SS: The biggest thing I find in the entertainment industry is that most people don’t like to deal with rejection. It happens perhaps 99% of the time. Just before their ship may come in, people throw up their hands and walk away.
You’ve got to embrace the negatives as much or even more than the positives as learning experiences. Being persistent and committed to success despite many rejections is the key.
You can’t be afraid to take risks, especially after being told “No” too often. A single “Yes” could transform your life overnight.
GQ: What prompted you to create a documentary about your role as Kanye West’s and Kim Kardashian’s bodyguard?
SS: It has been years since the Kanye thing happened in 2016, and I couldn’t get rid of it online. So, I decided to embrace the self-generating, never-ending buzz by telling my side of the story.
With “15 Days with Kanye“, we follow the time from when I was hired for the Met Gala through the events that led to my dismissal.
From the 30-million-dollar lawsuit, the robbery in Paris, and the wacky rules I had to follow, you’ll get a good idea of what I went through during that role.
I believe people will find it compelling, engaging, and exciting, especially Kayne’s recent press, like with Adidas.