Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Filipino American Costars in a Movie About Hollywood Ups & Downs

By Yong Chavez

LOS ANGELES-- Dion Basco comes from a showbiz family. Originally from Northern California, they moved to Los Angeles to follow the performing interests of the Basco siblings. Dion's first acting job at 8 years old was with the late great Michael Jackson in Moonwalker. His credits include NBC's City Guys, Biker Boyz, and The Debut.
Dion's latest movie is Why Am I Doing This?, a comedy depicting the trials and tribulations of struggling actors. Making it in Hollywood is a tough thing to do for anyone, but more so for Asians. In the movie, the subject is deftly handled with a comic touch and infused with realism as many of the scenes are based on the actors' and the filmmaker's experiences in La-la-land. 
"That scene where (writer/director/lead actor Tom Huang) was being asked by the casting director to say the lines in an Asian accent? That happened to me," Dion says with a laugh.
Dion and I talked recently about his movie, his dream role, and his upcoming trip to the Philippines.

Yong Chavez: Your movie asks, Why Am I Doing This? -- as an actor, do you ever ask yourself that?
Dion Basco: (Laughs.) Of course. All actors ask themselves that. But I have an answer: "I'm not good at anything else. I love it. I can't stay away from it." So I'm even more determined to grow as an artist. I'm going into writing and producing.
You're writing scripts?
Yeah. Basically, like our director Tom (Huang),  it comes to a certain point, especially if you're a Filipino actor or an Asian actor, when the roles that come your way are for things like "Sidekick #7"... I've been fortunate to have played a lot of roles but I've never had a lead role. So I'm, like, if I want it I'm gonna have to write it for myself. I wanted to have a role that's not the stereotypical Asian smart guy or the best friend.
What's your most memorable audition so far?
I've had a lot of good auditions. One was in Race The Sun which starred Halle Berry and Jim Belushi. They already hired an actor but they got me after my audition. There's also another one, in City Guys, where the role was originally for a Puerto Rican. So I had my test and there was this Asian young executive. He told me he thought to himself when I came in, "Oh, he'd better be good, I don't want him to ruin my people." (Laughs.) I'm glad I didn't because I got the part. 
Auditioning is tough.
Yeah, but sometimes you're just not right for a part. I'll tell you a horror story. I went to this dance movie audition. So they asked me to dance, but then my shoes were sticking to the carpet so I felt like the most uncoordinated person. Then they said they're actually gonna see me for another role, the older wise guy. They wanted like an Asian Morpheus-type. They asked me to read in an Asian accent, and I did a Filipino accent. They said, "That's not the kind of Asian accent we're looking for." Then they said, "We're gonna put a long, white wig on you and a Fu Manchu mustache. And you're gonna be blind. So read this like you're blind." (Laughs.) They asked me to return several times, each time asking me to do a bunch of other crazy things. And I didn't get the job! But honestly, at that point, I didn't want the job anymore. (Laughs.)
I recently interviewed your brother (Dante Basco, who was the voice of Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon series). We talked about the Last Airbender film, the casting controversy. What's your take on it?
I haven't seen the movie, but someone told me recently that even in the (script) breakdown, they even specified "Caucasian" for the roles, so that's interesting that they totally switched it around from the cartoon. Some of the Asian parts were made into East Indian, which is part of Asia, so I can't hate on that totally. (Director) M. Night (Shyamalan) is Indian so I could see why he did that, but I haven't seen the movie so I can't say if it's a bad choice. It's just tough to see things that are definitely Asian and they have a big, wide audience, and then Hollywood makes it a white version and they don't give the Asian actors a chance to do it. Unless you're a Jackie Chan or a Jet Li, but that's different.
There was a really funny line in Why Am I Doing This? that goes something like: "The cool Asian roles come only once a year, and John Cho usually takes the first pass at it."
Yeah. It's tough. Plus, casting-wise, John Cho is different from me. He's more strait-laced than I am... I have more of an edge. So they're writing roles for John Cho, and I'm not like him, so it's tough.
Your movie is sort of a funny cautionary tale. It might inspire and warn aspiring actors. What would you tell someone who wants to go to Hollywood?
You better love acting. It's "either you're gonna do this or you're gonna die" type of love. There are so many hardships, so much rejection, so this better be something you really love. And you better be good.
What's your dream role?
A lot. I'd love to play a doctor, a bad guy, a love interest in a great movie, like The Notebook-type character. The guy who falls in love, goes to war, struggles, becomes a man... It's a really good role. I'd also love to do a romantic comedy, an Asian leading role. We don't always have to be the best friend. We could be the guy that the girl wants. It happens in real life. (Laughs.) I have very good-looking Asian friends. We do get the women in real life so why can't it happen in Hollywood? (Laughs.)
I heard you're also shooting a documentary about a trip to the Philippines.
Yes. My brothers and I are going together for the first time. The project could be about our social lives there. Also, my grandmother is, like, the head person in a community in the middle of nowhere. I don't even know the name of the place but I wanna see that, and I wanna go to the beaches.
"Why Am I Doing This?" is now available on DVD at,,, and

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