Avatar isn’t going anywhere. The critically acclaimed animated series wrapped in 2008, and its sequel series The Legend of Korra concluded in 2014, but the fandom shows no signs of slowing down. The anime-influenced series continues to dominate conversations, with many fans discovering it for the first time, and others revisiting it. Two of those fans are Janet Varney and Dante Basco.
Janet Varney is a voice actress who played Avatar Korra in the The Legend of Korra, and Dante Basco voiced Prince Zuko in Avatar and his grandson General Iroh in the Legend of Korra. Needless to say, the two of them have deep connections to the world of Avatar. Varney and Basco currently co-host the podcast Avatar: Braving the Elements. Produced by Nickelodeon, the podcast features Varney and Basco rewatching the series for the first time, interviewing special guests, and taking a deeper dive into the franchise.
Braving the Elements has helped the duo see the series in a new light and allowed them to have a closer relationship with fans of the series. Varney and Basco are regulars on the convention circuit, where they enjoy doing live versions of their podcast and nerding out about Avatar with other fans. Their latest stop was New York City Comic-Con, where Popverse was able to catch up with them, as they discussed their love for Avatar, each other, their funny behind the scenes stories, and wildest fan theories.
Are you enjoying your con so far?Varney: That's an easy one. Yeah.
Basco: It's Thursday, so what's not to love?
Varney: I know, everyone is fresh and awake, and everybody worked so hard on the con. And usually, we're here later in the weekend. It's actually really fun to see things as they're just beginning.
Basco: We did our panel already, so we got the hard stuff out of the way.
Varney: Yeah it was packed! Everyone is so refreshed, it’s a great con.
For the two of you, is doing a panel on a weekend different than doing it on a Thursday?
Varney: It feels crazier.
Basco: I know Saturday is wild.
Varney: On Saturdays we talk to staff members and stuff, we're like, how are you doing? Do you need help? This time, we just say get some sleep because we know that things are going to get busy.
I’ve spoken to a lot of voice actors over the years. Depending on the type of production they’re in, some of them have never met their co-stars. Did you record together during the production of Avatar?
Basco: I think the way we were doing it with Nickelodeon Avatar, they try to get as many of us together.
Varney: And that's true for all their shows.
Basco: Especially the first few seasons. We were kind of like, getting the vibe together. But of course, people's schedules-- and people work other jobs , but more than that, we tried to get together.
Varney: For sure. That's the vibe of Nickelodeon, whenever possible, anything I've ever done with them. The ideal is to let all the actors kind of play together, although that means more cat-wrangling for the director. But it's fun to get to perform. It's a really wonderful community.
Basco: It's fun to hear the story through the other actors as well.
Varney: If you're just kind of going through and reading your individual parts, you're not getting the texture of the actual episode the way you are when it's everybody.
So would you record it radio play style, with all the scenes in order?
Varney: Yeah, whenever possible. If there's someone missing then Andrea Romano, our amazing director, would read. She would bring major A-game, and everybody else would rise to her level.
Basco: It was good too. Sometimes we would be going through it, and someone else was messing up a little bit, it gets a little pressure off you.
Varney: I like that. I like to throw a little blame around.
Basco: Not blame! It just makes me feel more comfortable. Not everyone’s perfect. Everyone can’t be Mae Whitman.
Varney: You get real comfortable with having a professional say, 'Sounds like a little spitty there. Do you have a little spit in your mouth?' It’s almost like being at the doctors. You’re just like, well, we all gotta face what we gotta face.
You mentioned Andrea Romano. She’s one of my favorite voice directors. All of her shows are winners.
Varney: She’s the real deal.
Basco: She’s a legend.
Any Andrea Romano stories? What’s the weirdest direction you ever got from her?
Varney: I've already mentioned saliva.
Basco: I'm the 'slow down' guy. She always said, 'Can you slow down?' I'm talking too fast all the time. During COVID, we got to do an Avatar reunion on Zoom. It was a lot of actors there, talking to a lot of fans and whatnot. And then we brought Andrea on. She just took over. Well, not took over but...
Varney: - She directed! -
Basco: She directed, and all of a sudden, all the actors just stood in the line.
Varney: Because she was doing what she would do.
It’s like going back to high school, and then your teacher is there, and your teacher just starts directing, and you fall into those old relationships.
Varney: I would get up on a desk for Andrea.
How has your working relationship changed now that you’re doing the podcast? Do you spend more time together now than you did back when you recorded the show?
Basco: I mean, we are very much in a lot of contact with each other for sure. But we've done a lot of it separately because of COVID. We're online with each other, and then we got to do these podcasts live at Comic-Con, which is just amazing.
Varney: We do see each other a lot. You're one of the people I saw the most the last calendar year. Once we saw each other again, we started seeing each other a lot. We love traveling together.
Basco: It's crazy, as much time as we spend together on Zoom, and other actors that we've had on Zoom. It is strange, even though we haven't seen each other. It's like 'We were just hanging out on Zoom.'
Varney: We've all made the adjustment to that. That still has to count, that has to mean something because for a while that was all we had..
Basco: And it’s different to really know the person, so it feels very intimate.
Has the podcast brought you two closer together as friends?
Varney: (playfully) I would not call us friends. We don't like each other. That being said, we are colleagues.
Basco: We are colleagues.
Remember you did swear in at the beginning of this interview.
Varney: (laughs) I'm lying! We are friends!
Basco: You're right, it's very different than just acting with someone because when you're on a podcast, you just kind of get to know each other. I guess there is a happy and natural repertoire with each other. You kind of get to know things about each other. We know each other significant others, we travel together, and there's more travel that we get to do in the future. Thankfully, everyone likes each other.
Varney: Yeah, for real.
Basco: I think that's part of the deal. I think sometimes when you're acting behind a character, you're just kind of based on that character.
Varney: What do they call that? Parasocial relationship? Where it's like we work together, but we are working together as ourselves. So when we hang out together, it's all sort of feeding back to the work, but in a good way. All of that closeness translates into the podcast.
How has it changed your relationship with the Avatar show? Do you now look at the show through a new light and have a different appreciation?
Basco: Deeper! Way deeper!
Varney: We knew the depth, but could we dissect the depth with fans at Q and A's?
Basco: This was years ago for me! I mean, further away from me than you. It was a blur. You don't really remember the details of everything.
Varney: Voiceover is different, because you're not living in it. We're used to being on set for a project. And it's like for that six weeks or eight months or whatever, that's your life. Now when someone asks us a question, we'll start getting into a whole conversation. And then it's like, oh right, you had a different question, but we just went off and started talking about three other episodes of Avatar, which is actually really fun.
Basco: It’s like going back to school, but actually paying attention in school this time. Like, you can’t ask me about high school, but if I was to go back and do high school I’d probably be a better student than I was then. Don’t ask me about economics or biology. I don’t know what any of that stuff does. But I passed those classes.
What is the craziest fan theory that you’ve ever heard about the show?
Basco: Oh, I have a crazy fan theory I've got to talk about! Do you have one?
Varney: I'm trying to think of one that's really crazy and out there. I don't feel like I hear that many that are out there, because everybody has superb logic.
Basco: I heard this crazy theory. You know the scene when Zuko's like 'hello, Zuko here.' He doesn't know any of their names. He only calls Ang the Airbender. He doesn't know Qatar's name, and he doesn't know if they know his name. So when he's actually introducing himself, he actually doesn't know the gangs names until that point.
Varney: Really? That's not true!
Basco: I don't know!
Varney: We've got to bring it up on the podcast!
Want to continue the conversation about the many joys of Avatar? Listen to Avatar: Braving the Elements here.
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