His flashy role in Steven Spielberg’s adult Peter Pan tale “Hook” may have kicked off the dance for versatile Fil-Am actor Dante Basco – after all, you can’t appear in one of the director’s legendary films alongside characters. icons like Julia Roberts, Robin Williams, Maggie Smith, Phil Collins and Dustin Hoffman and they don’t make people notice.
Thirty years and many movies (“Take the Lead”, “The Debut”), TV series (“American Dragon: Jake Long”) and animated shows (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”) later, Dante, now 46, is adding another feather to her multitasking cap.
Not only does he conscribe (with brother Darion) and star in Cignal Entertainment’s “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers,” which will be released on Netflix on Wednesday, but he also makes his directorial debut. Throughout the story, Dante shares the spotlight with his brothers Darion, Derek and Dionysio Basco.
Shot before the pandemic, the fictional film is a four-way portrait of the Abasta brothers – consisting of Duke (Dante), Danny Boy (Darion), Dayo (Derek) and David (Dionysio) – appearing in cartoons that are alternately whimsical, dramatic, inspiring, and even heartbreaking as they ponder love, family, ambition, their Pinoy roots, and the Fil-Am lifestyle during a huge clan reunion at a wedding in suburban Pittsburg, California.
Indeed, it’s a family business like no other, but the fact that there are so many more Basques in the film lends lived credibility and spontaneity to these very personal tales.
“The advice I always give to any young director is: ‘Write what you know’ and what I know are stories from my family,” the actor-director said in our recent personal interview with him. “All of the cartoons are inspired by intimate stories from my family and the Filipino-American community I grew up in, as well as my experiences as a Fil-Am returning to my homeland, the Philippines.
“First of all, the brothers in the film are my real brothers: Derek, Darion and Dionysio. The characters are named after my father and his brothers Dayo, Danny, Duke and David – they are the original Basco brothers. Stories don’t necessarily coincide with all of their stories, but we threw some curvy balls in there. The film is definitely based on true stories.
“These are things that are very personal to me. So to be able to tap into all of those experiences and be able to choose some of the best actors I know, who are my brothers, to bring these stories to life with me in this film, it was a dream come true. “
Well done roles
Asked if you somehow resemble his character Duke, the Abasta brothers’ “golden boy”, Dante said, “You know, my brothers are great actors, but the way Hollywood works, not just for actors. Filipinos and for people of color in Hollywood, but for all actors, you rarely get to do what you can actually do in this city. I have been working in this industry for over 35 years and my brothers have been by my side and have had great careers with full rights.
“So now, when I finally got the chance to direct my first film – thanks to Cignal who produced the film with me – I was able to help create specific roles for my brothers, for the magic they can do.
“As for me and Duke, there are similarities and differences. There are dark sides to some of the siblings and not all of them can always be 100% growing because things happen. It’s an ancient story, some would say. “
Our questions and answers with Dante:
Your scenes as Duke with his ex-squeeze, played by Solenn Heussaff, in Intramuros are beautiful. Can you tell us about the participation of Solenn and Tirso Cruz III in the film?
You must love Solenn. She was amazing! I’m lucky she was able to come in and trust me as a director for the first time. And I am grateful to have her and Tirso in the film for both having their interest in the film. I mean, part of me that goes back to the Philippines and goes to Asia is about making connections and building bridges between Asian Americans and American Filipinos so they can go back and forth.
It started with Cignal who also helped me produce the film “Empty by Design”, directed by Andrea Walter and starring Rhian Ramos. It’s inspiring for me to be able to work with great actors, like Jericho Rosales on “Subject I Love You” years ago.
Then, being able to convince Tirso to make a wonderful cameo with us. For people familiar with my career, especially the Fil-Ams who grew up with my 2000 film “The Debut” – in which Tirso cast as my father – it’s a very meta situation for me that in some way brings things back to square one.
It has been 30 years since Spielberg’s “Hook” was released. In honor of that, what do you fondly remember from working with Steven, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, etc.?
Yes, this year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film. It’s not every day that you work daily with Steven Spielberg at the height of his powers as one of the greatest, if not the greatest director of our time, right?
Then there’s Robin Williams, who forever changed acting with improvisation, playing an adult Peter Pan. And Dustin Hoffman, one of my acting heroes of all time, along with the likes of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, these are the actors of the ’70s who changed the landscape of what acting would be like in the world. They are gods!
At the time, I used to go to work on my days off just to watch these guys work and just be a sponge on set and really immerse myself – and they were all very nice. They became my mentors during the shoot.
What can I say? I was 15 and working with them was like having the chance to go see a stretch of Picasso’s painting or see Mozart conducting a symphony. If you have the means to be in the presence of greatness, you should just go diving!
Speaking of legends, you were also in “Moonwalker” with Michael Jackson, right?
Yes, me and Dionisio. We were dancing! When we started in the industry, we didn’t come to Hollywood as actors – we were dancers in the Bay Area. You said in the beginning that I wear so many hats in this industry.
I’ve been very lucky in my crazy Hollywood career. It gave me a lot of opportunities to do so many different things, starting as a breakdancer who went on to become an actor. Then, from actor to voice actor, to poet, to someone who writes plays and screenplays, to producing independent Asian American films. So, being able to direct movies as well as writing my memoirs and becoming an author and hosting a successful podcast.
When I entered the industry as a breakdancer, these are things I never thought I could do during my career in this city. Hollywood is a wild ride, and everyone does it in their own way. And you know, I keep thinking about how to do it my way every year! INQ
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