The One Note Steven Spielberg Kept Giving Dante Basco On His Hook Performance

30 years ago, director Steven Spielberg’s Hook provided a new spin on the classic tale of author J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. With Robin Williams playing a version of Peter that grew up and stopped believing in fairies, he would have to work hard to reclaim his title as the leader of the legendary Lost Boys. Standing in his was their new leader, Rufio, played by actor Dante Basco. As a fairly fresh performer, Basco’s experience on the film taught him a lot about filmmaking, and left him with a very unique note from Spielberg himself about his performance. 

I was able to speak to Dante Basco recently, on behalf of Hook’s 30th anniversary, as well as to promote his Twitch live streaming drama Artificial: Factions. As we discussed the boundary pushing experiment of the series that allows users to vote for outcomes in real time, the conversation did turn to Basco’s first major film role in his career. It was an experience that, as you’ll read below, led to Steven Spielberg providing a major piece of feedback during their Hook experience: 

One of the crazy things, memory wise, he wrote on my script ‘Stop imitating Brando. Basco is an original.’ As a young actor, and even now, I wear my heroes on my sleeve. And I guess a lot of that was, as a 15 year old kid, imitating Brando as I’m playing Rufio, which is pretty funny. He’d always be like, ‘Cut! Stop! Dante, stop imitating Brando. Back to the top.’ and we’d go back to the top of the scene and do it again. So there was a lot of this conversation of me imitating Brando, but I think I tried to explain it to him one day, ‘Actually, I think I’m imitating Pacino who is imitating Brando. But it’s still maybe coming out like Brando.’

Coming from a family of actors and performers, it’s no surprise that Dante Basco would count Marlon Brando as one of his influences. Auditioning for Hook at the same time as his younger brother Darion, Dante was eager to work with Steven Spielberg and saw an opportunity to do so with this particular project. Seeing as the iconic director had already added films like Jaws, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, and three Indiana Jones films to his resume at the time Hook was getting underway, you couldn’t blame Basco for being as hyped as he was about being a part of this movie. This was, after all, the same movie that saw Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Mazzello trying out for parts themselves. 

Though what makes that fact even less surprising is the fact that when landing his role in Hook, Basco was even more excited about the fact that he’d be working with legends like Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams. Top that with the fact that high profile visitors like Demi Moore, Phil Collins, George Lucas, and Carrie Fisher were either eager to stop by, or even play cameo roles, in Steven Spielberg’s Hook. It sounded like this particular set was the center of the universe, and even at 15, Dante Basco understood that fact. 

But even if those stars didn’t visit the set of Hook, you probably would have still seen Basco showing up to the Hook set on any given day. Telling another story about how, and why, he’d spend his days off watching the production, Dante further fleshed out his credentials as the sort of actor that doubles as a movie buff. And from the way the then future star of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender describes it, it was the opportunity of a lifetime:

My days off I would show up to set, and sit next to camera, obviously to watch [Dustin] Hoffman work and to watch Robin Williams work, but also to watch Steven Spielberg direct a movie. He would start explaining to me aspects of directing, like lenses and he’d have the camera moving all the time, what his idea of directing was. It was really, really wonderful.

Though Steven Spielberg may have admitted to his lack of confidence when it comes to pieces of Hook’s overall narrative, the film has inspired actors and viewers alike to keep its legacy alive for three decades; even if some still see it as a missed opportunity. Watching Dante Basco talk about the experience is a joy, because you can not only see how much fondness he has for the finished product, but you can tell how influential the experience was to his career. Though now fans are probably going to want to go back through the movie, trying to spot where the Brando/Pacino impression may have slipped through into the final cut. 

If you’re a Hook fan that wants to celebrate in style, there’s a brand new 30th anniversary edition of the film that’s been released on 4K UHD. Also, if you’re a huge fan of Dante Basco’s role as Rufio, you can catch him playing a special role in Bangarang, the crowdfunded prequel to Hook. And if you want to get in on the live streaming fun and drama that is Artificial: Factions, you can catch Basco every week as the show airs live every Friday at 5pm PT, only on Twitch. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.