What Are You Up To Now? is a recurring Pop Culture feature designed to check in on actors from our (and your) favorite movies and TV shows from back in the day who haven't been heard from in awhile. What's that guy from that show doing these days? We bring you the answer.
Think about all of the foils Robin Williams had over the years—Pierce Brosnan in Mrs. Doubtfire, Will Hunting, Flubber—did any of them have nearly as much charisma as Rufio in Hook? Sure, Williams was technically the movie's hero, but the red-tri-mohawked, "Bangarang"-screaming leader of the Lost Boys was far cooler than the over-the-hill Peter Pan. That's why the beginning of Hook is so tense—you knew you were supposed to root for Peter Pan, but every thread of Rufio's being appealed to kids in 1991—and why it's so rewarding when Peter and Rufio finally team up to take down Hook.
Everyone knows who Rufio is. What people may not know is that Dante Basco, the actor who played Rufio at 15, has been hustling in Hollywood ever since Hook turned into a cult classic. The grind has never stopped for Basco, though these days you'll likely hear him rather than see him. We caught up with the hardworking actor to talk about his memories of Hook, what he's working on now, and the next generation of Rufio.
I get the impression that you’re still really proud of your role in Hook.
Yeah, man. Rufio is a cool character. I mean, it’s been so many years now. I’ve always been proud of the character. Now that there’s nostalgia, I can have more fun with the character. When I was younger I wasn’t as close to it, it's kind of like you’re moving on with your career and doing other stuff. But it’s been like two decades now. This represents a fun, rebellious time in my life. It’s super cool.
Are you surprised that Rufio has carried on through generations?
Yeah, it’s become this weird character. Of course it’s gonna be a pretty big film because it’s [Steven] Spielberg—and Robin Williams, and [Dustin] Hoffman, Julia Roberts—all that stuff. But, for it to kind of become this iconic thing? Here’s the thing, I’ve done acting for thirty years, and so many people come to this town and hope they do something that somebody will remember them for. [Laughs.] And [for me to have] a character as cool as Rufio, I’m like, I guess I’m doing pretty well.
What’s your fondest memory of making Hook?
Well, I was 15. It’s one of those things where the memory of just being a teenager in Hollywood, our generation in Hollywood at that time. Of course, working with Steven Spielberg. I used to come to the set every day—even the days I wasn’t working—and do my schoolwork and work with Dustin Hoffman. That was really big. And then my relationship with Rob—such a sweet, sweet man. I was such a big fan of his from Mork & Mindy, and Dead Poets Society was a big film in my life. He was great in all things. Just hanging out on the set and being funny with him was great, but also having the quiet time and talking about poetry with him is a really, really special memory for sure.
In the movie there’s initially a ton of conflict between you and Robin, so you must have spent a lot of time with him.
Totally. We bounced off each other for hours and hours—rehearsal, me and him sparring and learning to sword fight together. So fun. He’s just a great dude. I said it in that little thing I wrote, how I felt. Not just for me, but for our whole generation, it was kind of like losing a hero.
Probably my favorite part of Hook is the food fight. I’ve been dying to ask you what that stuff was made out of.
So there were two things. The food fight stuff when we’re throwing the cream around, that was like real thick, colorful, crazy Cool Whip kind of stuff. But all of the food on the table was real food. It was like $50,000 of food and it was just spread out for us to have a food fight. We had to do it twice. It was hilarious. And the crazy thing when I tell the story about that is—it’s a fun scene for everybody because it’s a food fight and all that—remember, it’s a scene where I kind of get called out. I’m in a bad mood. So everyone has great, fond memories of that scene and my memory is that I’m in this disturbed, emotional state for that whole week. That’s the irony of that scene.
In that piece you wrote about Robin, you mentioned leaving Neverland. So let’s talk about after Hook.
After Hook, it was so sad for all of us to watch the set get destroyed. We were at the end of Hook, and we’re walking off the Sony lot and we’re literally seeing the boat get destroyed. That was the sad thing, seeing that go.
Do you get nostalgic about that time in your life?
It’s weird because I grew up in this town, so the things I really dug, I was constantly around them. Like Alyssa Milano—I had the biggest crush on her from TV, but I also saw her around town at parties. It’s just funny. I [recently] saw this billboard of Jenny Lewis. Then I remembered this movie we did—I got cut out of this movie called The Wizard with Fred Savage—and I have memories of being in junior high and sitting in this jacuzzi with Jenny Lewis, kicking it. Some memories in your mind you’re like, wow, life is so weird.
Even though you haven't had another Rufio, your IMDB page is full, especially with unexpected stuff like voice roles in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra.
I’m one of the fortunate ones who's been able to keep my butt afloat in this town, you know? I don’t even know how it happened. I know part of it is because I’m a poet. I kind of got popular as a spoken word artist, and I ended up doing some ads and audio stuff for Nike and Sprite. Then one thing led to another. It’s kind of like anything in this town—doors open up that you don’t have planned. You just gotta walk through them, and you don’t know what’s gonna happen. Sometimes things happen beyond your wildest dreams, like Avatar.
Have you bumped into people who find out that you’re Zuko on that show, and they’re like, “Wait, that’s Rufio!?”
Yeah, all the time! People make the connection. People have written about it online, on Tumblr and blogs. Their minds explode. [Laughs.]
Speaking of Tumblr, you're pretty up on social media. What made you get into that?
I remember meeting with two YouTube stars, KevJumba and AJ Rafael, two years ago. We’re at a bar and I’m pitching this film to them and they were like, “You gotta get online, Dante.” And, literally, I was like, “Nah, man. I’m not online.” They looked at me like I was a dinosaur. They were like, “Dante, Google yourself. You’re online." They said, “If you don’t control this, and you don’t create this, you’re missing out on this opportunity of what’s going on.” I came up in the '80s and '90s—there was no engagement with the fan base. So it took me a while to get my mind around how that works, but now I’m really enjoying having this ongoing conversation.
You're really keeping busy with your production company, Kinetic Films.
I’m a partner in the company. What we do is Asian-American/Pacific Islander films. I put together a four-film slate, and we’re doing the fourth film right now. I’m really passionate about the writing and the producing, and out of the first four films I co-wrote two of them, starred in two of them, and co-starred in another.
Where did the desire to focus on Asian-American stories come from?
I got into this conversation with a lot of big artists like Kev, AJ, Timothy DeLaGhetto, all these guys, and I asked the question, “Why are we the most affluent ethnic community in America with the least representation in mainstream media?” Ultimately, our goal now is to highlight new and old media in America that’s Asian-American and to find our own voice and create our own genre.
Now that we live in a culture that loves the reboot, do you see Hook ever getting remade?
Maybe. It would be cool to do a reboot, but Robin Williams was so perfect for the character it would be hard to think who could do it.
But what about Rufio?
Rufio kind of lives on. There’s this thing called Homestuck, and the author and creator, Andrew Hussie, gave Rufio a cameo in it. So this whole generation of kids—teenagers and whatnot—are exposed to Rufio for the first time. He’s been rebooted in his own weird way.
I’m also co-creating this other thing—these guys wrote a prequel to Hook and wrote the Rufio [origin] story as a play. They came to L.A. and somehow found me, and now we’re in development. We’re developing it as this animated piece—a reimagining of the Peter Pan story, but just Rufio’s story. It’s pretty amazing. And it's a musical too!
Wow. So in a really weird way, Rufio lives on.
Rufio lives on, man! Rufio’s all over the place. I’ll always be attached to that guy. The reimagining could be amazing. That’ll be me solidifying the character in American culture for the next generation.
Andrew Gruttadaro is the Complex Pop Culture news editor. He tweets here.