One of ReedPop's favorite guests, Dante Basco, is here at Florida Supercon to talk about his storied involvement in Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise. Titled Avatar: The Last Airbender Universe, this panel will talk about Dante's Zuko (in Avatar), word of him reprising his role in future projects, and more.
(We can't help but hope there's some Rufio talk, right?)
Basco has continued on the legacy of his character not just with convention appearances, but also with the official Avatar podcast, Avatar: Braving the Elements. Launched in 2021 with Janet Harvey (Korra), it is an episode-by-episode deep dive into the Avatarverse.
As part of Popverse's coverage of Florida Supercon in Miami Beach, we are liveblogging this panel - as well as several others throughout the weekend. So sit back and let us give you the live play-by-play about Florida Supercon's Avatar: The Last Airbender universe panel.
We are here at the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe panel with Dante Basco - and we have already seen several Zuko cosplayers!
Dante takes to the stage, and is asked about how he's enjoying Miami. He says its hot outside, but the a/c is blowing here at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
When asked how it feels to be a part of Avatar, "It's crazy! I did ZUko almost 18 years ago, but for a second generation ... it came out on Netflix, and led to a crazy resurgence. And then it found a whole new audience, and it's so wild."
Basco talks about the recent announcement of the three new Avatar: The Last AIrbender films, and when asked about if he'd like to be involved he said 'yes' but he feels like part of the Avatar family for life.
Basco says Jake Long in the American Dragon was a big role for him, as was Rufio, and then Zuko. "Jake is really like me - he was from NYC while I was from LA, and he was more a skateboarder and I was a breakdancer, but other than that we're alike - we both turn into dragons."
WHen asked if Basco got a lot of input into Zuko's vocal design, Dante says "I just talked! I don't know if I had any input other than just performing. In the first season they had alot of video cameras in the booths while we were recording. This was a character we're all creating together - us the voice actors, along with the animators, and the creators."
When asked about Zuko's redemption arcs, Dante says "It is so cool. When I went into it, I did not know. BUt little did I know somewhere book two things would start changing. Once I found out how he got his scar and his backstory, the Zuko became someone I understood much much more."
Basco said the first time he realized how important Avatar was for people is while filming Take The Lead, when a fellow actor geeked out when he realized Dante voices Zuko.
"I love making movies and is the medium we all love, but TV shows now it's almost like a 10-hour movie. SO you get to live with a character. For Zuko, I got to live with him for five or six years."
When asked why Avatar became so popular, Dante says "it just comes down to great stories. We're at a comic con with a lot of actors, but you only know them and care about them due to some great stories. Whether its animation or live action, they're able to tell great stories - we all just want to be part of great stories."
Basco says he's a fan, and mentioned he just binge-watched Umbrella Academy.
Basco talked about voicing ZUko's grandson in Legend of Korra, and says he's "Fire nation forever!"
The moderator then segues to talking about voice acting in general.
"Voice acting is great is because there's so much more at play with animation. A lot of time when you're doing a movie or TV show you have a budget for what you can visualize, but with animation you can almost do anything."
Dante talks about how animation has grown to be just a kid-oriented medium, and says it'll affect Hollywood tremendously in years to come. "There's an interesting thing that happened at New York COmic COn; a fan rolled up saying he was a fan of Avatar, and told us Avatar 'programmed our generation.' He said you guys programmed a generation - we fell in love with the story, and it led to us in real life trying to get the world back in balance. What I realized when I come to comic cons, you start to realize cartoons with heavier themes being watched by younger people affecting them as they grow up."
Whereas some animated products are "commercials for toys," others like Avatar are meant to be great stories - but told in animation, according to Basco.
The moderator then segues to talk about Dante's role as Jai Kell in Star Wars Rebels.
"I got to hang out with Dave Filoni outside of work, and Filoni will tell you everything your character is doing that's has never been told."
Basco says Star Wars is what he grew up, and mentioned Mark Hamill plays his dad in Avatar - which is amazing for Dante on several levels.
Dante says he's been acting for 35 years, and he's learned from everyone he's worked with.
Basco segues to talk about his role as Rufio in Hook, and working with Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Steven Spielberg. "I came in on my days off to see it all. I sat next to Spielberg all day to let it soak in."
"If you ever have the chance to be around greatness, these guys - Spielberg, Hoffman, Williams - it'd be like the equivalent of sit in the room and watch Picasso paint a portrait or Mozart conduct a symphony."
When asked what he learned from Robin, Dante says "magic can and will happen. WHat I learned from him, was that he was very loving and nuturing to me as an actor. He's really that person on the set that keeps the day going. When you're making movies its great, but its long hours - and if the main actor is having a bad day, everyone is having a bad day. He took it on his shoulders to make the filming great."
Basco said during the filming he and Robin Williams talked about poetry. "We would talk alot about poetry. His favorite poets, and mine, and he was very supportive of me being a poet. He gave me Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass on our last day of filming."
The moderator mentioned how humble Basco seems to be, to which the actor quipped "the longer you're around, the more humble you get."
The moderator has asked Dante about the scene where Rufio is imagining the food. What was it made of?
Dante: It did taste good. It was heavy heavy cream. Now they'd use frosting, but back then they made it on set. So Steven had them making stuff right off camera for us to use. It was wild. If you notice, I was very upset - I was loosing my rank, my gang. My memories of the scene are not good. It was a bad day, man.
Basco says the lesson of Hook for him was that despite Peter Pan being around before he was born and years after he'll die, his Rufio character has been added to the mythos of PEter Pan. "This little brown boy with mohawks on his head! Wow, we infilitrated a fairytale. That's the power of storytelling."
Now it's time for fan questions!
Fan Q: If they were to call Dante today to do a new Avatar movie?
Dante: I'd love to. We have to wait and see. I definitely share this character with other actors like the live-action actors. I told Dallas, the Zuko actor on the Netflix, that we share a history and I'd be open to share whatever I can with him.
Fan HQ: If Marvel offered you the role of Human Torch would you play it?
Dante: Of course. I've got bills to pay.
Fan Q: Do you think Zuko ever learned to forgive his father?
Dante: I hope they dive into that a little more in the upcoming film. The Fire Nation family has some issues. I think Zuko has Uncle Iroh, so he was able to come to terms with a lot of things - I would hope.
Fan Q: If you didn't have fire-bebding, what would you do?
Dante: I'm fire nation forever. FOREVER.
A fan just asked Dante to renact the "That's rough, buddy" line, which he did. We filmed it- catch us later!
Fan Q: What do you think draws people to Zuko in the show?
Dante: I mean.... he's good lookin'. I just think he is one of those guys. People in the show, they're running from him for half the show - then he's part of the gang. Seeing a bad boy gone good is alluring. And... he's cool. He's brooding and angsty, but has a good heart... everyone wants to go on an adventure with him.
"I've always wondered why Fire Nation has a navy. We have wooden boats, we control fire - bad idea. Why are we fighting on water?! This is not good for us."
Fan Q: What was is your favorite quote or life lesson from Uncle Iroh?
Dante: There's so many. He's the GOAT. He is the show. The original actor, Mako, played my uncle and father in several projects previously. He was like a father figure for me; someoene I'd check in often. As far as advice from the show, it's 'now is the time to ask who you are and what you want.' It's not about what the world wants, but it's about you.
Basco talks about learning Mark Hamill would voice his father. He was told at first it'd be an actor named "Mark" and didn't realize it, but then when Hamill showed up he was in shock. Basco recounts it was a rainy day in Burbank, and the door opened and in came Hamill.
Basco says their first scene together was like the Luke/Vader scene from Empire Strikes Back, but with Hamill as the father and him as the son.
When asked about his favorite bit of animation from the show, Basco says its the dragon dance. "WHen we did it, it felt like one way... but when we watched it we were like '.... this is crazy...'"
Basco is then asked about breakdancing, and he says he was a b-boy... "And could still get down if he needed to."
Fan Q: What do you think of the original Avatar live-action movie?
Dante: Sometimes I tease and call it the VOldemort movie - the movie that shall not be named. But in reality, I've never seen the movie; and Mike and Brian told me not to watch it.
Fan Q: is there a fictional universe that inspires you to be better the way Avatar has for us?
Basco says the Harry Potter books moved him to tears, as did the Hunger Games. "There's so many great things to get invested. Like I said, Umbrella Academy I've been into heavy. Westworld as well."
Fan Q: What was your favorite scene in Avatar?
Basco: When filming with Mako, we always talked about playing it in live-action. I remember a scene yelling at the lightning to strike me - 'It never held me back before!' I loved all that stuff. But all the scenes with Azula, just the banter.... I mean, I hate Azula but I love Azula.
Fan Q: Have you read the Avatar comics?
Basco: Of course I read them. One of the latest episodes of the podcast is about the Dark Horse Comics, and how it's extended the story of the cartoons. Mike and Brian are overlooking the stories to keep in canon. I love the search to find Zuko's mother. I think its really wonderful; I think its great because it extends a story we love, and comics is part of the animation world.
"I love making movies. I directed a movie on Hulu called the Fabulous Filipino Brothers. But I also love working on new media. It's all about stories, and working with good storytellers."
And that's it for the panel. Thanks for following along!