By Tom LaVenture
AAP staff writer
Actor, dancer, singer, spoken-word poet and martial artist are just a few of the titles that Dante Basco has added to his impressive biography. Now, at just 31-years-old and one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming actors, the Filipino American says his life has come full circle.
If you haven’t seen Dante Basco in the current hit film, “Take The Lead,” (New Line Cinema), he plays a pivotal supporting role as Ramos, one of several troubled teens in a high school detention class whose lives are turned around by a ballroom dance instructor who teaches them self-respect and that they can have a future.
The film is based on the true story of Pierre Dulaine, played by Antonio Banderas. There is much of Dante in Ramos.
“Coming back to dance now is like coming full circle,” said Basco. “Dancing is pretty much my first love and it is pretty ironic that this film is a dancing movie.”
As a boy in northern California, Dante recalled that his elder brothers and other kids saw sports and the arts as an outlet and as opportunity. Dante chose the arts at a young age, and that this passion was supported by his parents as a way to keep him home and off the streets. At just the age of 8, he was break-dancing with his three brothers as “The Street Freaks.” Soon they were opening for artists Ice T and Vanity and performing half-time shows for the 49ers and the Oakland A’s.
“I’m a Filipino,” he says, “dancing is just part of growing up.”
Together, they were selected for the Nutracker performance of the San Francisco Ballet Company. This provided his first sense of culture through ballet lessons and the theater.
“…I related that a lot to what Pierre Dulain is doing,” said Basco. “Being part of this film is something special for me, as it somehow mirrors the things that happened in my life.”
In Take The Lead, the teens blend their hip-hop talents to their new-found appreciation of ballroom dancing, Dante said he appreciates this as something he has always done, blending the various art forms and experiences and making something old appeal to a new generation.
“The fusion experience is what its all about,” he added. “That’s the beauty of the film; that’s the beauty of hip-hop, and that’s the beauty of where we are today.
“They are two different worlds, but, we are able to take both of those worlds and make it into something new that is accessible to us youth,” he said. “I think it is the proper thing to do to honor both worlds and to create something new out of that.”
Basco enjoys the exposure of a big mainstream production, both for himself and as a member of the Asian American community. Without his performance, the role may have been one-dimensional, or worse, stereotyped. He credits Antonio Banderas and director Liz Friedlander with helping bring his performance to a new level.
As a young teenager, the Basco’s left San Francisco for the Paramount area of Los Angeles, where Dante soon turned his attention to acting. His parents helped with acting classes and he was soon earning bit parts in feature films.
Basco was just 16 when he landed the role of ‘Rufio’ in “Hook”, the 1991 film directed by Stephen Spielberg. He went through the audition process, expecting it to be a lengthy process. However, Spielberg chose Dante for the role on the first screen test. Later, on the set, he asked the director why he had been cast so quickly, and learned that he was the only actor of all the youth who actually scared him, a quality he wanted for the role.
Basco has also starred in the films “Biker Boyz” (with Laurence Fishburne), “Naked Brown Men” (which Dante co-produced and stars in with his brothers), “Extreme Days,” “But I’m a Cheerleader”, “Fakin’ Da Funk”, “Rave” and Showtime’s critically acclaimed “Riot.” He is currently adding his voice to anime character’s ‘Jake Long’ in Disney’s animated series “American Dragon: Jake Long” and to Nickelodeon’s popular series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” playing the villain ‘Prince Zuko.’
Most Asian Americans know Dante Basco as the star of the 2002 Filipino American film, “The Debut,” (Columbia TriStar). He is a teen who applies to art school while being pressured into medical school by his father.
“The Debut is a special film because it is a first of its kind Filipino American film with Filipinos in it, and I got to work with my entire family,” he said. “It was definitely an important film to me and the Asian American community.”
A young man of many talents, Dante writes poetry and ten years ago founded the open mic poetry readings, billed as “Da Poetry Lounge,” (the inspiration for HBOs “Def Poetry Jam”) at the Greenway Court Theatre in L.A. “It was sort of my living room,” he said. “I am more or less in a figure-head now but it is definitely still a very important part of my life.”
Basco’s mentor is Gloria Gifford, and he reads Charles Bukowski, Shakespeare and Larry Cohen, among others. “You name it and I am reading it and trying to figure it out,” he added. “It is how I try to develop my own style and voice.”
His next project is with his brothers, who are trying to script a sitcom, film, and album based on, “The Basco Brothers Show.” His goal is to have it become the first Asian American family program, that is written and directed by Asian Americans.