- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
In 1991, Steven Spielberg’s Hook made its debut. The film, which had a notoriously rough shoot, was met with mixed critical reactions, though the film was eventually quite profitable. The film starred Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan with no memory of Neverland, and Dustin Hoffman as the malevolent Captain Hook. A Dream cast. The collection of boys in Neverland, the Lost Boys, was led by a teenage boy called Rufio, tough, smart, capable with a sword and a word, he was brought to life by young actor, Dante Basco. The character of Rufio had an interesting arc, serving as leader of the Lost Boys before losing that position to the man claiming to be Peter Pan. Rufio’s jealousy and doubt of Peter’s authenticity becomes a moving moment in the film when Peter’s rightful place is finally recognized (aided by an achingly beautiful score by long-time Spielberg composer, John Williams).
In the years since Hook premiered, Basco has amassed an impressive resume of film and television appearances, plus a solid number of voice roles to his name, including Star Wars Rebels, The Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender (as Prince Zuko).
Home Theater Forum had the pleasure of speaking with Dante ahead of Hook’s release for the first time on the 4K UHD Blu-ray format (Check out fellow reviewer Todd Erwin’s take on the impressive looking disc here).
HOOK is available to own for the first time on 4K UHD and Digital 4K, as well as on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
HTF: I saw Hook last night for the first time since the '90s, I guess when it first came out on VHS in England. I'll be honest, I was maybe 17 or 18 years old when I first saw it and I remember being disappointed. I think that's probably more to do with my age. At 17 or 18 years old, Hook is probably the antithesis of what you're actually craving at that transformative age.
Dante Basco: You were a little bit older than the target audience at the time.
HTF: Yes, but I'll tell you, watching it again all these years later and I'm a father now, I can't tell you how magical I found it. And I was honestly, really surprised. Now, I know critically, at the time, reaction was mixed. Do you think it's about time for a critical reevaluation of Hook?
Dante Basco: At the time, I was 15 [and] not as aware of all the critique of the film. And over the years, I've learned more about it and people's ideas of it. And I think it's a good time because I think, depending on your age and where you were at that time, you had different feelings about it. A whole generation I meet now that grew watching that film [at age] 8, 9, 10, in the theaters, it's so impactful to them and so it holds a different kind of [feeling]. So, yeah, maybe it would be a good time to reevaluate it. Because I heard Steven's also thinking about it…
HTF: I know that [Steven Spielberg] found it a challenge to make the film, I think because it was such a large production. the sets were huge, and there were a whole bunch of kids involved. But I don't know, I think, watching it now, especially as a father-- my son is six, I think it hit me a lot different. And I'm glad I got the chance to reevaluate it because I think it's a really charming, magical film. Is that how it felt making it? I know the process of making a film can be very hard, and lots of waiting around. But what do you remember most about your time on set?
“My biggest memory was just being around these gods, as it were, in our industry. Legends. Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins. I would come to set on my days off to really just kind of soak in greatness.”
Dante Basco: Well, I was 15 at the time and a very serious young actor. Started my career at 10, was really studying profusely. So my biggest memory was just being around these gods, as it were, in our industry. Legends. Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins. I would come to set on my days off to really just kind of soak in greatness. I would literally sit next to the camera, watch Steven Spielberg direct and learn about directing and filmmaking. I’d watch Hoffman work and then to get act with him! I also loved just kind of reveling at, and just walking amongst the gods. It was pretty remarkable.
HTF: So Dean Cundey was cinematographer, and of course, Steven Spielberg's directing. You've written. You've produced. You have starred in a lot of work, and you've done a lot of voice-over acting. But watching Dean Cundey work, watching Steven Spielberg direct-- how they interpret the script that's on the page, what has that given you as you've moved into your own writing and your own producing.
Dante Basco: Oh, I mean of course remember Dean Cundey, a great, great guy. [At the time] I never thought about writing. I was just an actor and continue to love acting. But I've been around the industry-I think this is my 33rd year in Hollywood-and you realize how all these things that you took part in, and not just in Hook but especially in Hook, but every film you work on, you are around filmmakers and the writers and absorbing. You understand the stories you want to be a part of, that you want to tell, or teams you want to be a part to help tell these stories. It's all an education. I didn't go to college, growing up on sets in Hollywood, [so] that was my college, spending time on the sets, being a sponge, and really trying to absorb information. So, it's really a trip these days when I'm on set, especially independent cinema and I'm the most senior person on the set experience-wise. I grew up and was a kid my whole life on sets so it's pretty fascinating.
HTF: At 15 were you cognizant of what it meant to be an Asian-American young actor in such a pivotal role in the film. Because, and I'll be honest with you, Asian-Americans don't get good representation in cinema, still don’t, though there are a few exceptions. But to have a role like that in a Steven Spielberg film, to be Asian-American, did you understand the importance of that moment or is that something you come to realize maybe later?
Only later in my career, especially talking in colleges and doing keynote speaking for colleges, especially Asian clubs around the country, and seeing my career through their eyes and kids that write reports on you and understanding what Hook and Rufio has done.
Dante Basco: At the time, I had no clue. Like all actors in LA, you're just trying to book the next job even at a young age. You're just kind of in town trying to push your little rock up the hill and so I didn't really have a scope on how important that role was for the Asian-American community. Only later in my career, especially talking in colleges and doing keynote speaking for colleges, especially Asian clubs around the country, and seeing my career through their eyes and kids that write reports on you and understanding what Hook and Rufio has done. For a lot of people especially around that time in the '90s and me doing all my work on television, there's a whole generation of Asian-Americans [they tell you] you were the first cool Asian character we've ever seen on film and television. We are making progress, not at the rate that we would like to, but I've gotten involved as an adult and a better actor now. I have a company out of Hawaii, Kinetic Films, and we do Asian-American Pacific Islander films. I just finished another film coming out of Manila and the Philippines and pushing this new Asian-American cinema, or new age in media. So, part of my career as a writer/producer is helping the next generation especially people of color, Asian actors.
HTF: I wanted to ask you about working with Robin Williams. His passing was felt deeply by all of us who loved him as fans but I can't imagine what that felt like for those that knew him or worked with him. Steven Spielberg reportedly chose to watch Hook after hearing of his passing but wasn't able to finish it because it was too emotional. I wonder, have you watched the film since Robin Williams' passing? And what is it you most remember about working with Mr. Williams?
“I always tell people he's like your cool uncle who you want to hang out with all the time. That's who Robin Williams was. And he was like the genie from Aladdin, and when he was around, magical things happened.”
Dante Basco: I mean, so much love for Robin Williams. I had not seen the film in years, either. We did a tour of the film and I got to see it after Robin passed, and [it was] definitely emotional. I was a fan of Robin Williams for years, and so working with him, he was so loving and giving to me as an actor and as a mentor at the time, and he taught me so much. And with his passing, for the world, I always tell people he's like your cool uncle who you want to hang out with all the time. That's who Robin Williams was. And he was like the genie from Aladdin, and when he was around, magical things happened. And his passing, for a whole generation, was like the death of our childhood. But for me in particular, it was literally the death of my childhood because him and that time represents the end of my childhood, as I was becoming an adult. I have fond, fond memories of him.
HTF: Now, as Rufio, your character in envious, somewhat adversarial toward the person who's claiming to be Peter Pan, Robin Williams. Was that hard to play against Robin, given how warm, and generous, and funny, and nice, and kind he was? Was that tough or did you have fun?
Dante Basco: Yeah. I mean, it was because we had a great relationship. But I was a little, teenager badass [wannabe], so [laughter] we were all rambunctious and rebellious at that age anyway, so it wasn't too hard, I guess.
HTF: Tell me about the dinner table insult sequence. It's fun and a funny scene, but it must've been very, very hard to get through, not just because of all the quick-fire barrage of insults that you had to memorize and spit out, but with so many kids in the scene and sitting across from Robin Williams. Talk about preparing for and then trying to get through that scene.
“And [Robin Williams is] not just a world-class improv artist. He's the godfather to bringing improv to film and television. So improvving with him is like acting with Marlon Brando. I mean, what are you going to do?”
Dante Basco: Yeah. I mean, that scene is one of the most memorable scenes in the film and everyone really loves it. It's so fun with the food fight. But if you remember the scene, it's an adversarial scene for me and I'm not in a good mood. That's the beginning of me losing my Lost Boys to Robin Williams, to Peter Pan. And so my memory of that scene was always-- it was a rough day on set. Doing the banter scene with him, the insult scene, he's amazing. I mean, at that time, I don't even know half of what he was saying meant, honestly. I watch the film now and it's pretty funny to understand some of the things he's talking about. And at moments, he was improvving with that scene. And he's not just a world-class improv artist. He's the godfather to bringing improv to film and television. So improvving with him is like acting with Marlon Brando. I mean, what are you going to do? You have few choices. You try either to improv with him, and that might not go that great and you'd probably get steam-rolled. Or you could just literally sit there and get steam-rolled. And I didn't want to do that. So you can just kind of let him talk, maybe count to two or three, and then just jump to the next line. So I think that was my strategy at that time. But it was amazing doing that scene That's the scene I think about. It's a great scene.
HTF: Now earlier this year, I had the chance to interview Kathryn Beaumont who voiced Wendy in Disney's 1963 animated version of Peter Pan. I was struck by her connection to the character that she'd voiced, and her love of the story. Did you guys watch that film? Did you read the book in preparation for Hook? Or did you just go in blind, right from the story as written for Hook?
“I was just this little Filipino kid with three Mohawks as Rufio, and then I see someone dressed up as him ride along. That's the most fascinating part, is being connected to it.”
Dante Basco: At that time, I didn't read the book going into it. I have watched, of course, the Disney film several times growing up. And we had VHS's of the live-action stage performance of Peter Pan. So that was my relationship with Peter Pan. Of course, Peter Pan is kind of in the psyche. That's one of the most ironic things about being a part of the Peter Pan mythology. It's not a franchise. I'm a big fan of Star Wars, or Harry Potter. These are franchises that become monstrous, amazing things. Peter Pan predates all of that. Peter Pan's a fairy tale. And there's so many people connected to it. And now I'm forever connected to it. You see people at Disneyland or on Halloween dressed up as Peter Pan and Captain Hook, and maybe someone's a Tinker Bell, or the crocodile. It’s a fairy tale that has been around longer than any of us has been alive, and is probably going to be around long after all of us pass away. I was just this little Filipino kid with three Mohawks as Rufio, and then I see someone dressed up as him ride along. That's the most fascinating part, is being connected to it. I guess like Kathryn, you're connected to this fairytale in this very personal way. And it's forever a part of your life, whether you like it or not.
HTF: I know you're connected to poetry. I read that you got, in part, connected to poetry after seeing Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, which is exactly how I came to know and write poetry myself, along with my grandfather being a lifelong fan of Thomas Hardy, who's a great British poet and novelist. Tell me about your earliest exposure to the art form of poetry and what it means to you. And I'll just say, before we spoke today, I watched your “Where Are You From?,” on YouTube. An absolutely excellent piece. So I'm curious to know where your earliest exposure to the form of poetry and what it means to you.
I ended up opening my own poetry venue with my friends and I attribute some of that to that support of Robin Williams and Dead Poets Society. And that poetry lounge became the inspiration which became Def Poetry Jam on HBO. It won a Tony on Broadway, and now every Tuesday night, still-- over 20 years in Los Angeles on Fairfax and Melrose, it remains as the largest poetry venue in the country.
Dante Basco: Dead Poets Society, one of my earliest memories of poetry, also. I had an acting coach at the time that exposed us to poetry and doing poems, and associated them with scenes we were doing. And I fell in love with a poet named Charles Bukowski and all of his work. And he really opened up the world to me outside of poetry in my English class because he lived in San Pedro. I lived in a town called Paramount, not too far from San Pedro. The way he saw the world and what he saw in the world were things that I saw, and I didn't know about poetry. Then Dead Poets Society hit me really strong, so much so me and my brothers had our own Dead Poets' Society and I have a picture of Robin Williams -- we got him a hat [with] "O captain, my captain" on it. And Robin Williams supported me in that. I ended up opening my own poetry venue with my friends and I attribute some of that to that support of Robin Williams and Dead Poets Society. And that poetry lounge became the inspiration which became Def Poetry Jam on HBO. It won a Tony on Broadway, and now every Tuesday night, still-- over 20 years in Los Angeles on Fairfax and Melrose, it remains as the largest poetry venue in the country. So still in love with poetry. Still write poetry. Try to write every day.
HTF: Well, thanks very much for speaking with us today. I know Hook is out on Ultra High-Definition and 4K today so people can discover or rediscover it. I know I'll be purchasing a copy for my son. So I hope it does really well.
Dante Basco: Well, thank you. Cheers!