Welcome to the family!: The Basco brothers on their comedy ‘The Fabulous Filipino Brothers’
For decades now, the Basco brothers — Derek Basco, Dante Basco, Dionysio Basco, and Darion Basco — have been working in Hollywood and the independent film circuit, taking up various filmic and television roles here and there. They’ve appeared in films together and starred opposite one another frequently — and sometimes they’ve even competed against one another for the same roles. But director Dante Basco’s The Fabulous Filipino Brothers may be the first time since 2000’s The Debut and 2003’s Naked Brown Men that all four Basco brothers once again play opposite one another on-screen.
Composed of four different vignettes — each starring a different Basco as a leading man — The Fabulous Filipino Brothers is as much a celebration of the storytelling power of the Basco siblings as it is an exercise in strong character writing. Love is a common theme that runs throughout the four stories, which finally culminates in a wedding (“What’s more Filipino than a wedding?,” a voiceover asks us in the beginning). With its lovable cast of characters and various cameos from the Bascos’ own real-life family, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers is a fun exploration of one Asian American family’s dynamic — inviting us all to catch an exaggerated glimpse of what life as a Basco may be like.
For more insight into what it was like working with one another and introducing their family to the world, we talked to Derek Basco, Dante Basco, Dionysio Basco and Darion Basco about the film’s humble beginnings and the logistics behind some of its most memorable scenes.
For years now, you’ve all been in the industry working on various films. Dante, what was it like transitioning from acting to directing a feature-length film for the first time?
Dante Basco: My first time directing — it actually went as smooth as it could’ve gone. Which is great, because me and all my brothers came to LA at the same time. We’ve been in the industry now for over 35 years, and we studied together for 20 of them at the same acting school. I’ve been producing Asian American films for the last 10 years, and so that ramp up to directing kind of happened naturally. For me, it was really kind of easy in the sense that I just kind of followed the path that I tell young filmmakers: “Write what you know. Try to work with the best actors you can.”
And that’s what I got to do here. Write a really fun comedy that was based in the life of our family and our friends and our experience. And also being able to write roles for my brothers who are all amazing actors and have great charisma in their own right. But also knowing how the industry has been over the last three years — not just us as Filipino actors — but most actors don’t really get to do what they can actually do in Hollywood. So if we get the chance to work with each other, with my brothers, then it’s like, “Let’s do what we can actually do.”
It came from stories from our lives; it came from scenes we’ve done in school. The really unique thing for me as a first time director is my lead cast. I’ve seen every performance [my brothers have] done, since we were breakdancing in the streets of San Francisco, staying up all night rehearsing, and coming up with routines. To school plays, to acting class, to off-off-off theater in LA and Hollywood, to every single television guest stars — two lines! — lead roles in movies, lead roles in television. The good and the bad. We’ve been through it. We’re lifers! And we happened to have been through it together.
To direct — I might never get an experience like this again where it’s so intimate. In a lot of ways, it’s my first time directing, but we’re 35 year veterans of Hollywood and almost everything we’ve done in this town has led us up to doing this movie, right now.
In The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, all of you play on-screen brothers and you’re all quite different! How similar are your on-screen personas in the film to who you are in real life?
Dante: Some more than others!
Darion: We tailored it to our personalities — it’s just heightened. You can definitely see who each brother is, specifically. That was kind of by design as well, because we definitely wanted to show that although we’re brothers and Filipino, Asian American actors, there’s definitely differences between each one that you don’t see in Hollywood movies.
Dante: Four different leads! And you can see that they’re actually different people…
Dionysio: With different wants, different desires, different humor, different everything, you know?
Dante: People think we’re interchangeable — not just brothers, just anybody! We can be next to a Vietnamese actor, a Cambodian actor, or Chinese actor —
Dionysio: They just lump us all in. “You’re the friend guy, the funny guy, whatever.”
Dante: But then also, the great thing about auditioning against each other for over 30 years…
Dionysio: We did it the other day!
Dante: We’re doing it again tomorrow!
Dionysio: We were all at my place and we all auditioned each other. We all read for each other and we were doing some weird camera angles like, “I’m-a try this!” Now for us, we just have fun with our careers now and we’re like, “I’m just gonna go for it.”
Darion: We studied for so long together, so we know the strengths and weaknesses of each brother too.
Dante: We’ve done the same scenes. This is the thing — as soon as someone does something on film, it’s crystallized. But because we grew up in the theater, we know that these characters are growing, living things. It worked out for us as brothers because we auditioned against each other a lot. And you can get your feelings hurt when you don’t book something, right? Someone you love the most gets it. But the reality is, when you start working very intimately with each other, you understand what he brings to the character. If they want Darion, they want this. I can’t do that!
But that being said, we can all really change characters in the movie, and we can all play each others’ scenes and it would be totally different, but it would be totally fun. We all bring totally different things to the [table]. If this was a play, we would do a night where we switch characters and see what happens.
There are a number of pretty memorable scenes in the film, but the ones that stand out to me the most are Derek’s cockfighting scene and Dionysio’s food deepthroating scene at the wedding. What was it like directing and acting in these scenes?
Dionysio: We had to get the children off the set that day. And I could see everybody out of the corner of my eye as I’m working just cracking up and holding their mouths. And you just got to stay in it and be connected with your scene partner, Crystal Kwon. Just trust each other, trust [Dante] that he’s going to get it, and he has to trust that we’re gonna go for it. Now personally, me and Darion wanted it to be even longer! I wanted it to be so uncomfortable — but Dante was like, “No no no, we’ve got to keep this moving.”
Dante: The great thing about that particular scene, I think — we’re at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival… they ain’t seen no scene like that in this particular film festival! And see a lot of Asian American actors do something like that on screen to that degree. And it comes from our theater background, it comes from things [Dionysio] has done in the past — the kind of actor Dion is.
Dionysio: [laughing] From the kind of women I date…
Dante: Him and Crystal are amazing comedians. They took this scene and they developed this over the years, and so I needed it in the movie. It fit in this wedding in this interlude. It’s really crazy! It’s definitely going to be one of the most memorable scenes.
Darion: And then the rooster, talk about the rooster!
Dante: And then the rooster — it’s also a story that’s seeded in our youth. The rooster that we had, and [Derek] having a whole interaction with a rooster. We’re Filipino, so we have cockfighters in our family. It stems from all those stories and it all comes from stories from our family. I had written an initial sketch of that years ago, and it rose up from that.
Dionysio: How was it shooting it?
Derek: It was a real rooster! It really pecked me and I learned a lot about how to handle him, but it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of, “Okay, we’re going to try it! We’re gonna throw him at you, and you’re gonna react. Okay, now we need you to do this!” I was like, “Okay, I don’t know if I can do it, but roll the camera, let’s do it!”
And we caught magic in a bottle, we really did. You could see some of that excitement of not knowing if we’re going to get it! You feel that in the scene. I feel like Dante and Andrea Walter — they captured that when we shot it.
Dante: It was one of the most stressful days. Because A) you got a real rooster, and B) you have PETA/The Humane Society on the set. So they’re making sure that we don’t mess with this rooster.
And then we had to have the rooster perform! So we had to create things like the rooster seeing itself in the mirror so it can get itself ready. And then we had to kill the rooster without killing the rooster.
That was a real big thing because we didn’t know how to do that. Are we going to freeze the frame? How are we going to do that? The cockhandlers said, “Maybe we could tie him down?” And then after one of the meetings, I was like, “Yo, can we hypnotize the rooster?” And we Googled it — literally in the meeting with the cockhandlers. The first video that came up was Martha Stewart hypnotizing a chicken. We were dumbfounded. We were like, “This is it!” The cockhandlers were like, “Let’s try it.” And we hypnotized a rooster! That rooster laid there until we woke him up to do his thing. It was crazy. It actually worked out.
Darion: He was a good actor.
Dionysio: That rooster now — his name is Basco!
What do you want your viewers to take away from your film?
Derek: I feel like this is The Royal Tenenbaums of Filipinos. When you watch The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s about their family and their intricacies, and this is about our family and how we live. There’s a grandma, the grandparents, aunts, uncles — it’s very extended. When I put it in that universe, I feel like it’s The Royal Tenenbaums. That’s me.
Dante: I love that. That’s actually one of the films that inspired us as we were writing and creating. Ultimately, we’re in the middle of selling the film and we hope it’ll be ready for North America and Europe in the first quarter of next year. What the distributors told us — which I really wanted people to take from the film but I didn’t want to push them there — is that we’re not an Asian company, but we see ourselves and our family in your family. That’s ultimately what we always wanted. We grew up in America and we see our family in The Godfather, and we see our family in The Royal Tenenbaums, and we see our family in various films. And that’s why we love all these movies. We didn’t set out to make the definitive Filipino American film by any means. If anything, it’s the definitive Basco family film.
But I hope our community first and foremost — the Filipino community and the Asian American community — enjoys the film and is entertained, and enjoys that we’re celebrating who we are. But then I also hope that the people that aren’t from the community can see themselves and their family in our family. I think that even though it’s a crazy story and a crazy family, it’s still universal — love and family.
Dionysio: What I hope they get from it: I hope they buy a ticket and they watch it, and then we get to make more films! As a community, we need to put more work out there. The more work and more different Asian faces you see, it becomes normalized. That’s just life. That’s how life really is.
Dante: That’s the great thing about this whole pioneering era of Asian filmmaking we’re in right now. We’ve got all these great things: Crazy Rich Asians, great! Shang-Chi, great! Blue Bayou is coming out, amazing! Parasite won! We’re just adding to what’s going on out there! This is us! Adding to the plate of what’s going on, because we’re not a monolith. We’re not Crazy Rich Asians. We’re not Parasite. We are that, and we’re not!
Derek: This is jungle Asian!
Dionysio: Blue collar jungle Asian, and we’re not afraid to show it either! We embrace it.
Darion: The diversity of our own cultures, it’s awesome.
This interview was conducted in-person by Li-Wei Chu at the 2021 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on September 25, 2021.
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!