Another Basco rises—and she soars in ‘Birds of Prey’
LOS ANGELES—Ella Jay Basco—from the talented Filipino-American family of actors—rises, and soars as Cassandra Cain in “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.”Playing a major role in the eighth film in the DC Extended Universe, Ella, only 13 years old, makes an impressive feature-film debut. It’s a breakthrough part for a young Asian American actress in Hollywood.
Ella’s street girl “Cass” is a catalyst who unites the “Birds”—Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and Helena Bertinelli/The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
In the film shot by Oscar-nominated Filipino cinematographer Matthew “Matty” Libatique and directed by Cathy Yan, Ella holds her own amid her more experienced costars.
Also in the cast are Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina and Ali Wong.
Time magazine, in its review of the film whose full title is “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” cited, “Ella Jay Basco, in one of the movie’s most effortlessly likable performances.”
While the actress is only in her early teens, she’s a “veteran,” having begun her career at 6 months old in an Old Navy print campaign. Her TV credits include “Veep” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”Ella is the daughter of actor Derek Basco, whose siblings are all Los Angeles-based thespians: Darion, Dante, Dion and Arianna. The young actress’ mom is Korean-American Emily Cho, who’s also her manager.
Ella, who sings, composes and is a trained dancer, has three siblings who are also performers—Darryl writes and produces music with her; Deuce and Emerson are in commercials. Even Ella’s grandma Aida Basco acts, too, while her grandpa Darius models.As if starring in a Warner Bros. movie isn’t enough, Ella has released an album, “Middle School,” where she extols both her Pinoy (“The Filipino Song”) and Korean (“Grow Up Kid”) heritage.
The year 2020 is starting auspiciously for Fil-Am talents like Ella and Isa Briones, the daughter of another Pinoy actor, Jon Jon Briones. Isa costars in Patrick Stewart’s new series, “Star Trek: Picard.”
Excerpts from our email interview with Ella:
What was the audition process like? How long did it take before you got the role?
The audition process was about a month long. I went in every Friday and they would update me on Monday, letting me know how I did. I had several chemistry reads with Margot (Robbie) and Jurnee (Smollett-Bell). The whole thing was exhilarating, yet nerve-racking at the same time. My heart was beating out of my chest every time in the waiting room.
When did you learn that you got the part? What was your first reaction?
I first found out when my parents picked me up from school and my agents were on the phone. Both my parents were videotaping me, and I got really confused. They finally told me I got the part. I couldn’t believe it! It felt super surreal and I got emotional because I was so happy. How did you and the family celebrate that good news?We had a big family party at my house and ate Mediterranean food. I told everyone the big news and they all started screaming. We were all very excited.
You and Margot Robbie have such good chemistry. Did you spend time together before filming began?
Cathy (Yan, director) had Margot and I rehearse a lot of our scenes together beforehand. We were able to talk a lot and got to know each other outside of acting. Building that relationship made our friendship stronger onscreen. On my first day, we gifted each other the same thing—we got each other hats. It was an awesome coincidence.And during the filming, what was it like working with Margot?Margot is one of the nicest people I have ever met in this industry. She’s a great role model. I’m so grateful to have her as a friend. I feel like I can ask or tell her anything. I would love to work with her again.
How much did you enjoy the “girl power” vibe on the set with Margot, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Rosie Perez?
The on-set experience was super fun with the other ladies. Nobody had an ego. We loved to dance and eat burgers together. I felt safe around the other ladies. We had such a blast.
And how did having a female filmmaker, Cathy Yan, help a lot in your feature-film debut?
Cathy understood the movie and Cassandra Cain as a character. When working, she was super open to any of my ideas. Cathy pushed me past my limits and helped me become a better actor.What was it like working with a Filipino director of photography, Matthew Libatique?I was so honored to witness a master like Matty at work. He was super nice and felt like my hip uncle. I remember on the last day of filming, he gave me a big hug and told me that he was super proud.
I’m happy that Filipinos are being recognized now in the industry. It’s cool to represent more in the work space. Jojo Eusebio was one of the main stunt coordinators. He and my stunt double Marissa Labog took really good care of me.
What was it like growing up in a family of actors?
Growing up in a family of actors helped me become one. We all understand what auditions are like. To this day, we help each other with memorizing lines, making choices and going to auditions.
How did your dad, Derek, who’s your acting coach, guide you in your portrayal of Cassandra “Cass” Cain?
For every role my dad and I work on, we break down the character, ask questions and find the answers to those questions. For “Birds of Prey,” we watched a lot of movies and had multiple discussions on where we wanted to take the character of Cassandra. My dad is especially helpful with my improv and emotional scenes.
You’ve been all over to promote and attend the premieres of “Birds of Prey.” What have been your favorite moments so far?
My favorite moment so far is probably when we went to Brazil for CCXP (Comic Con Experience). I got the chance to meet so many of the fans and see their reactions when watching footage of our movie. I had such an adrenaline rush. I’m just so grateful to be a part of this experience.
Without giving the story away, can you talk about the mentor-mentee relationship between your character, Cassandra “Cass” Cain, and Margot’s Harley Quinn?
The connection between Cass and Harley is similar to Mathilda and Leon in the movie, “Leon: The Professional.” Margot and I built that relationship of hating yet loving each other at the same time. I’m excited for people to relate to Cass and Harley while also finding the humor in their friendship.
You also sing, dance, write songs, play the guitar, piano and ukulele. Is a professional musical career also your dream?Yes! Having a professional music career and mixing it with acting is one of my biggest goals in life.
How Filipino and Korean was your upbringing? What do you love about your Filipino heritage? And your Korean heritage?
My parents have done a great job of incorporating my Filipino and Korean heritage into my upbringing, especially when it comes to my music! On my new album (“Middle School”), I have a song honoring my Korean heritage called “Grow Up Kid.” And another song honoring my Filipino heritage called “The Filipino Song.”
Representing is super important to me. I want to use my platform for that reason.
Have you been to the Philippines?
Unfortunately, I’ve never been to the Philippines, but I am dying to go! I look forward to the food, the beaches and, of course, the $3 massages.
What kind of career do you aspire to have?I hope to one day be a producer and have my own production company. I also aspire to share my music and incorporate that into my acting career because music is one of my biggest passions.