Scene from “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers” (from left): Darion, Dionysio, Dante and Derek Basco

His splashy role in Steven Spielberg’s grown-up Peter Pan tale “Hook” may have started the ball rolling for versatile Fil-Am actor Dante Basco—after all, you can’t appear in one of the legendary director’s movies alongside the iconic likes of Julia Roberts, Robin Williams, Maggie Smith, Phil Collins and Dustin Hoffman and not get people to 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 years old, is adding another feather in his multitasking cap.

He doesn’t just cowrite (with brother Darion) and star in Cignal Entertainment’s “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers,” which launches on Netflix on Wednesday, he also makes his directorial debut in it. In the story, Dante shares thespic 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—composed of Duke (Dante), Danny Boy (Darion), Dayo (Derek) and David (Dionysio)—who figure in vignettes that are alternately wacky, dramatic, inspiring and even heartbreaking as they muse on love, family, ambition, their Pinoy roots and the Fil-Am way of life during a huge clan reunion at a wedding in suburban Pittsburg in California.

Family affair

Indeed, it’s a family affair like no other, but the fact that there are many more Bascos in the film lends lived-in believability and spontaneity to these very personal tales.

“The advice I always give to any young filmmaker is, ‘Write what you know’—and what I know are stories from my family,” the actor-director said in our recent one-on-one interview with him. “All the vignettes 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 going back to my homeland, the Philippines.

“First and foremost, the brothers in the film are my real brothers: Derek, Darion and Dionysio. The characters are named after my dad and his brothers Dayo, Danny, Duke and David—they’re the original Basco brothers. The stories don’t necessarily match up with all their stories, but we threw some curveballs in there. The film is definitely based on true stories.

“These are things that are very personal to me. So, being able to tap into all those experiences and being able to cast some of the best actors I know, who happen to be my brothers, to bring these stories to life on this film with me, was a dream come true.”

Well-crafted roles

Asked if he’s anything like his character Duke, the “golden boy” of the Abasta siblings, Dante said, “You know, my brothers are amazing actors, but the way Hollywood works out, not just for Filipino actors and for people of color in Hollywood, but for all actors, you rarely get to do what you can actually do in this town. I’ve been in this industry for over 35 years, and my brothers have been right alongside me and have had great careers in their own right.

“So now, when I finally get the chance to direct my first film—thanks to Cignal which produced the film with me—I was able to help craft roles specifically for my brothers, for the magic that they can do.

“As far as me and Duke, there are similarities and differences. There are dark sides to some of the brothers and not all of them can be 100 percent always on the up and up because things happen. It’s an age-old story, some would say.”

Dante Basco

Our Q&A with Dante:

Your scenes as Duke with his ex-squeeze, played by Solenn Heussaff, in Intramuros look gorgeous. Could you talk about Solenn and Tirso Cruz III’s participation in the film?

You gotta love Solenn. She was amazing! I’m fortunate that she was able to come in and trust me as a first-time director. And I’m grateful to have her and Tirso in it for having both their interest in the film. I mean, part of me coming back to the Philippines and going into Asia is about creating connections and building bridges between the Asian Americans and Filipino-Americans, for them to be able to go back and forth.

It started with Cignal also helping me produce the film “Empty by Design,” directed by Andrea Walter and costarred Rhian Ramos. It’s inspiring for me to be able to work with great actors, like Jericho Rosales in “Subject I Love You” years ago.

Then, being able to get Tirso to do a wonderful cameo with us. For people who are familiar with my career, especially the Fil-Ams who grew up with my 2000 film “The Debut”—which had Tirso in the cast playing my father—it’s a very meta situation for me that somehow brings things back full circle.

It’s been 30 years since Spielberg’s “Hook” came out. In honor of that, what do you fondly remember about working with Steven, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, etc.?

Yes, we’re celebrating the film’s 30th anniversary this year. It isn’t every day that you get to work on a daily basis 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’s changed acting forever with improv, playing a grown-up Peter Pan. And Dustin Hoffman, one of my all-time acting heroes, along with the likes of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro—these are the ’70s actors who changed the landscape of what acting would be in the world. They’re gods!

At the time, I would go to work on my days off just to watch these guys working and just be a sponge on the set and really soak it in—and they were all very gracious. They very much became mentors of mine during the shoot.

What can I say? I was 15 years old and working with them was like having the ability to go watch Picasso paint stroke or seeing Mozart conducting a symphony. If you have the wherewithal to be in the presence of greatness, you should just go and soak it in!

Speaking of legends, you were also in “Moonwalker” with Michael Jackson, right?

Yeah, me and Dionysio. 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’ve mentioned early on that I wear so many hats in this industry.

I’ve been very fortunate in my crazy career in Hollywood. It’s afforded me a lot of opportunities to do so many different things, starting as a breakdancer who became an actor. Then, from actor to voice actor to a poet to someone writing plays and screenplays to producing independent Asian American movies. Then, being able to direct films on top of writing my memoirs and becoming an author and hosting a hit podcast.

As I came into the industry as a breakdancer, these are things I never thought I would be able to do throughout my career in this town. Hollywood’s a wild ride, and everyone does it his own way. And you know, I just continue to figure out how to do it my way every year! INQ

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