A Fil-Am actor’s life: Dion Basco | Inquirer Entertainment
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A Fil-Am actor’s life: Dion Basco

By: - Columnist
/ 01:09 AM August 12, 2016

DION Basco

DION Basco

(This is fifth of a series on the struggles and triumphs of Filipino-American actors in Hollywood.)

LOS ANGELES—For Dion Basco, finding roles for a Fil-Am actor like him is hard. But to have to compete for the few parts available against his brother, Dante, especially when they were kid actors, was tougher.


“When I was younger, it would eat me up,” admitted the youngest of the four actor-brothers: Dante (whom we featured in the fourth installment of this series), Derek and Darion. He learned to take it in stride. “Handling rejection has become a part of my life,” Dion said.


He has carved a career of his own, after starting as a break dancer with his brothers, who performed as The Street Freaks in the streets of San Francisco.

Dion’s credits include NBC’s “City Guys,” where he was a series regular as Alberto “Al” Ramos for five seasons.

Both he and Dante costarred, not competed against each other, in several films: “The Head Thieves” (completed and to be released February next year), “Biker Boyz” and the award-winning Fil-Am indie film, “The Debut.”

He is cautiously optimistic: “I have to believe that it’s getting better for actors of color, or else, what am I doing here? The industry has changed a lot in recent years.”

Excerpts from our conversation:

How would you describe your journey as an actor so far?


I’ve been in the industry for 30 years, so I’ve had my share of ups and downs. When I started, I was a child, so all I wanted was to have fun—and I did. It wasn’t a career yet.

In high school, something changed. I fell in love with acting. I was always in a class, studying the craft, watching classic movies and doing scene study.

I left high school to shoot a movie called “Race the Sun” with Halle Berry in Hawaii and Australia for four months. I thought I was well on my way to becoming a star. Then, I didn’t work for a year. There were no roles for Filipinos.

I auditioned for a show that took place in New York. Casting was looking for a Latino, but when I went in, they had no idea what I was. I ended up getting the role and when I got fan mail, it was from different ethnic people—Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, Puerto Rican, Filipino, etc.—thanking NBC for hiring one of their kind.

The show was “City Guys,” and we shot 105 episodes. Those are the highs—working and getting paid well.

But there are many times when there’s no work and money is tight. That’s the life of an artist. You have to be able to enjoy the highs and lows. Luckily, I come from a tight family that supports each other, even if we’re in competition. It’s a blessing and a curse to have three older brothers who are also actors.

How do you prepare for an audition? Any good luck rituals, etc.?

For auditions, I try to be as off-book as possible. When rehearsing the lines, l do different accents and line readings.

I also tape myself to see if I like my performance. If I’m having a hard time finding the character, I’ll have my brothers help me out or get coached by a friend.

What is the most frustrating part of trying to land roles in Hollywood?

Not enough roles for Filipino actors—now, we’re no longer Latino or Asian enough, sometimes. We have to wait for an “ethnically ambiguous” casting.

What’s even more infuriating is that the roles we’re reading for have no character arc. It’s never the lead and rarely a supporting [role]. Also, they want an accent or “must speak (insert foreign language here).” We’re seen as foreigners in our own country. They don’t get that the face of America has changed. And it is diverse.


How do you handle rejection?

Handling rejection has become a part of my life. When I was younger, it would eat me up. Especially when I lost the role to my brother, Dante. I was mad, but then I had to be happy for him.

Now, it’s a bit different. I see an audition like a performance. You do the best you can.  I try not to think too long about whether I’m going to get the job or not.

Have there been times when you almost gave up? What motivated you to keep trying?

As I get older, the thought of quitting sometimes creeps in my mind, but I quickly dismiss it. I live an artist’s life. I’ve travelled the world, met amazing people, and made people laugh and cry through art. It’s an amazing feeling.

Do you, as an actor of color, feel that opportunities for minority actors are improving or getting worse?

I have to believe that it’s getting better for actors of color, or else, what am I doing here? The industry has changed in recent years. Asians are finally in lead roles on television! And the shows are successful.

What’s your stand on whitewashing—or the casting practice in which white actors are cast in nonwhite character roles—in Hollywood?

Whitewashing should have stopped a long time ago! But I fear it will continue. The Hollywood system says it needs a stellar name to get a movie made.

But the system doesn’t give star-making roles to Asian actors. Now that there’s the Internet and everyone’s voice can be heard, maybe it’ll change.


To people who are planning to pursue acting, what should they prepare for?

I say, study. Find a teacher who tries to bring the best out of you. Don’t try and be someone else. There’s always going to be someone better than you.

Study film. Watch the classics. Find out why stars are stars. Start observing the world as an artist. Don’t chase fame because fame fades.

You will have highs and lows in this industry, so surround yourself with a great support system. And stay humble.

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TAGS: Dante Basco, Fil-Am actor, Halle Berry, Hollywood, Movies

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