How Avatar: The Last Airbender's Dante Basco And Janet Varney Are Honoring Late Voice Actor Mako In New Project

avatar the last airbender pilot uncle iroh mako screenshot

Avatar: The Last Airbender won a loyal following during its original three-season run on Nickelodeon, and that following only grew when the show found a whole new audience courtesy of streaming on Netflix. Now, Avatar franchise voice stars Dante Basco and Janet Varney have a new Last Airbender project on the way, and they’re honoring late voice actor Mako, who brought the beloved Iroh to life, with it.

Dante Basco and Janet Varney, who respectively voiced Prince Zuko on Avatar: The Last Airbender and Korra on Avatar: The Legend of Korra, have joined forces for a Nickelodeon podcast called Avatar: Braving the Elements. They spoke with CinemaBlend ahead of the podcast launch on June 22 about what’s on the way, including what it has been like to use their podcast rewatch to revisit the legacy of the legendary actor Mako, who passed away in 2006 after two seasons. Basco shared:

Well, it's great. I have a personal relationship with Mako because he's played my uncle or my father several, several times in my career since I was a very young kid. I think the first time he played my uncle was like, I was 12. And then just being Asian American actors in Hollywood, he was truly Uncle Iroh to me. He was someone that I got to go through throughout my career on sets, and check in with him every few years and someone who's been through it all that gave me advice throughout the whole thing and even inspired me in his passing as I went on to kind of create an Asian American film company and produce Asian American films as he created an Asian American theatre company, East West Players, which I grew up in and a lot of actors, Asian American actors in Hollywood have gone through. So going back to hear his voice, it's eerie. It's cool. It's like hearing a family member and reminiscing about all that is really, really beautiful.

Of all the relationships between characters on Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the most poignant was between Zuko and Iroh, and fans may not have known that there was a bond between voice actors Dante Basco and Mako before the series even launched in 2005. And it's safe to say that Zuko's journey would have gone very differently if not for his uncle, with Iroh becoming a fan-favorite for the heart and humor that he brought to the Fire Nation from the very beginning.

Mako's final episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender was the Season 2 finale, and the show paid tribute to the actor in a Season 2 episode, with an "IN HONOR OF MAKO" card after a particularly emotional arc for Iroh. The character did continue on Avatar: The Last Airbender, with veteran voice actor Greg Baldwin stepping in. Dante Basco spoke about Baldwin taking on Iroh:

And of course, Greg Baldwin comes later on and fills in his shoes really beautifully. And I've become close to Greg also throughout the years. So I mean, for me, revisiting the whole show is like going back through old photo albums.

Iroh as a character met Janet Varney's Korra in The Legend of Korra, set decades after his journey ended on The Last Airbender but able to play a part thanks to the Spirit World. (In fact, Dante Basco voiced Iroh for Korra.) Varney, who was wearing a fan-designed shirt featuring Iroh during the interview for Braving the Elements, never met Mako before he passed away, but she shared her own feelings about revisiting the impact of Mako's Iroh years later with the podcast:

Yeah, for me, I remember the first time Dante was talking about Mako. We were at a con together and I am a big crier. I cry happy, sad, everything in between. But that has been consistent, every time he brings up Mako I start to almost cry. And so that just happened again. I was like, 'When am I going to stop doing that?' At what point am I going to be like, 'I'm good with this. I'm not gonna let this – no, here it comes. Here it comes!' Because [to Dante] you just had such a beautiful relationship with him and I never got to meet him. So I feel very lucky to have Dante at the helm with me on this podcast, because that's like, really, the closest that I'll get to that, and I love the relationship that they had together.

Of course, even fans who haven't started a rewatch of their own will undoubtedly recall that the relationship between Zuko and Iroh wasn't the easiest thanks to Zuko's early need for "honor" at all costs, but revisiting Mako as Iroh is a great excuse to circle back to those episodes. After all, even though Mako passed away before the end of the series, his performance made that character such a favorite with fans and key to the series as a whole.

You can dive back into Avatar: The Last Airbender (and eventually The Legend of Korra) along with Dante Basco and Janet Varney with the Avatar: Braving the Elements podcast, as the stars rewatch every episode of The Last Airbender to break down themes, battles, and behind-the-scenes trivia, with the help of some special guests ranging from cast members like Jack De Sena (Sokka) and Jennie Kwan (Suki) to co-creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, to name just some.

The podcast premieres on Tuesday, June 22 and will be available across iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and more. If you want to start a rewatch of your own, the full series of both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra are streaming on Netflix and Paramount+ now.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).