Dante Basco has enjoyed a film and television career that has spanned over twenty-five years. He is best remembered for his role as Rufio in Hook, a live adaptation of the Peter Pan story directed by Steven Spielberg. More recently, he has gained a cult following through his voice work on the hit cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender and its follow-up, The Legend of Korra. Basco appeared this past weekend in Atlanta, GA at MomoCon, a convention celebrating both animation and video games. FanBolt attended his Q&A session Sunday afternoon.
On his early career:
Dante opened the panel in a candid way, revealing that he had only awoken just prior to the panel and needed coffee to get things going. He briefly described his career, which began with b-boying in Southern California as a young kid. This eventually led him to LA, where he and his brothers would enter the acting world. Five years into his career, his breakout hit came at the age of fifteen. This, of course, was when he portrayed Rufio alongside Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams. He described Williams as a brilliant actor, who was constantly improving. He also lamented that the infamous food-fight scene was “fun for everyone but Rufio” – where he was tasked with being left out, while Robin took center stage.
On independent film work:
1999’s But I’m a Cheerleader, shown at the Sundance Film Festival, included Dante Basco portraying a gay character named Dolph. When reading for the part, Dolph was described as a tall, white, blonde, athletic type – “like a quarterback or something,” according to Basco. His reaction when he was offered the part? He asked to meet with the director again, to find out more about the part and see if she had accidentally contacted the wrong actor. The director reassured him saying that he had the “boy next door quality” that she was looking for for Dolph. After that, Basco really got into the role because the director “saw past race and ethnicity” in casting.
On playing Zuko:
When asked about how he formed Zuko’s voice, Basco revealed that he didn’t actually get to “see” Zuko until much later into production. Instead of basing the voice off of the character’s appearance, he and the other actors found their direction through acting and interacting with each other. In most cases, the actors used their own voices – if you’ve ever heard Dante speak, you’ll find this to be true.
Dante also revealed that he is a fan of the ever-popular shipping of Zuko and Katara – though he was quick to reinforce that everything he was saying was not canon. He described the two characters as “soulmates” who shared “magical moments” throughout the show. He went on to say that Zuko and Mei being together is “cool” and that Zuko “loves her too.” Speaking philosophically, he says that we all have soulmates that we meet throughout our lives. Even though we don’t end up with them, they’re special people that “you need in your life at that time.”
On the passing of Mako:
Mako Iwamatsu has been described by many as a role model for all Asian-American entertainers. In a career that spanned 45 years, he appeared in countless movies and television series as an actor and voiceover artist. His final TV role was that of Zuko’s Uncle Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender. He passed away after the completion of the second season.
Basco recalled many times where Mako played his uncle or father in both animation and film. His most immediate recollection of Mako’s passing was in the studio shortly thereafter. In the second episode of the third season, titled “The Headband,” Zuko visits Iroh’s prison cell. The exchange is one-sided, with Zuko becoming angered by his Uncle’s silence – Iroh says nothing throughout the duration of the scene. When Iroh’s voice is later reprised by Greg Baldwin, an understudy of Iwamatsu’s, the scenes were conducted with Baldwin in a separate room. Basco recalled how chilling it was hearing the voice of Iroh and trying to hold onto the fact that Mako was really gone.
On the success of Avatar:
When he won the job, his reaction was, “that’s cool.” No one really knew what they were getting into, or that it would reach critical mass so quickly. He recalls meeting up with Jason Isaacs, voice of Zhao and of Harry Potter fame, after the show exploded in popularity. Isaacs allegedly approached Basco saying, “remember that cartoon we did? What the f— man, how did it get so big?”
Driven by his own creativity and thirst for art, Dante Basco continues to do work in various forms of media – from poetry to film to voice acting and even YouTube. He is most active on his Tumblr account, which can be found here. Though it was his first, we here at FanBolt hope that this won’t be his last pilgrimage to the great city of Atlanta!