Brothers, lovers, cockfights: The Fabulous Filipino Brothers has it all, and then some. The new Netflix film weaves four different vignettes that give us a glimpse of Filipino-American culture punctuated with sweet-yet-naughty, occasionally raunchy humor.
Behind the lens of this film premiering on Netflix is actor Dante Basco — it is his directorial debut, and to make it all the more meaningful, his family is part of the cast. Siblings Derek, Dionysio, and Darion star as his siblings, while other members of his family like his sister Arianna, their parents, and titos and titas all make an appearance. In the film, four Fil-Am brothers reunite for a wedding and find themselves in very different situations and misadventures.
We got to catch up with the actor-director before ‘The Fabulous Filipino Brothers’ premieres this November 17 on Netflix. In a roundtable interview with Philippine media, Dante Basco shares all about his film starring himself with his brothers, and the importance of representation and sharing the Filipino story.
QUESTION: You witnessed Hollywood evolve from the nineties, from your role as Rufio up to now. Can you share your experience witnessing diversity becoming more and more important in cinema?
DANTE BASCO: Yeah, it’s been pretty wild. I’ve been an actor now for over 35 years, which is crazy to even say, but when I first got into Hollywood as a young Filipino actor, I would come in the room and they would ask you, “What are you?” And I would say Filipino. And they would have no idea even what that was. And so I was savvy enough to get a lot of roles, playing things. Various, all different Asians to various different Latino roles. And I used it to my advantage to a degree. But we’ve seen things change through the years and representation happening, where now, with things like my career, things like Manny Pacquiao, things like Jo Koy. We’re being Filipino, very prominent. So it’s a whole different era in Hollywood.
So this is the first time after quite a while that all of the Basco brothers are in the same movie. I’m curious how the chemistry and energy is on set since this is quite a family affair. Would you say it’s more challenging working with family and directing family in this film?
You know, it could be, but for us it was really amazing in a lot of ways. I said I’ve been here in my career for over 35 years, but my brothers have been there with me the whole time. And they’re great actors and they’ve had great careers in their own right. Now it feels like in a lot of ways our whole life and our whole careers have led us up to this point to make this movie. And as a first-time director, I really had a leg up on a lot of other directors because a very unique thing happened.
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My cast, my stars in my movie just so happen to be my brothers—actors that I know my whole life and studied with my whole life. And I’ve actually seen every single performance they’ve done in their life! I’d say almost no director in the history of time have been able to look up their stars and cast and go, I’ve actually seen every single performance you’ve done. From break dancing in the streets to the school play, to the lines on TV, to starring in this, and to the ballet dance. I’ve seen everything!
So our shorthand of what we were trying to do was very fast because every time I’m directing them, they know exactly what I want from them, from what moment and what time in our life would there be something professional and something you did in the play, or something you did at a TV show or that one thing you did over at, you know, uncle Donovan’s house, when that thing happened? And everyone was on like that! We know each other, the shorthand was that crazy. So I feel very blessed and very fortunate.
And I don’t know if I’ll ever get another experience like that, you know? But we really, really got to do some amazing things. And on top of that as being my first-time director and writing with Darion [Basco], we really got the right roles for each and every brother. As an actor in Hollywood, whether you’re Filipino or not, odds are you never really get to do what you can actually do. That’s just how Hollywood works, you know? And so if it’s my turn to write something new, especially for some people close in my life, let’s actually do some roles to really show Hollywood. Let me show you what these guys can actually do. And we had a great time doing it and I can’t wait! I love that with Netflix people can be able to watch it all over the world and see my crazy family do some crazy things.
For your character’s story arc you were able to shoot scenes with Solenn Heussaff. What made you cast her and what was the experience like working with her?
Well, Solenn is amazing. We were looking to hire one of the Filipino stars out there to play this role. And of course, Solenn was high on our list and I felt very fortunate as a director to work with her. And working with her, I mean, she’s the coolest. You guys know Solenn, there’s just this air of coolness to her that she kind of brought to the character, and it was just so lovely and she’s such an amazing actor. So I’m very fortunate that she trusted me enough as a first-time director to come in and do this film with me. I’ve got nothing but love for Solenn.
What were the real-life elements, events, quirks, places, or character details from your family, that made it into the film?
I don’t want to give away anything, you know, but the whole movie. We couldn’t put in front of the film ‘based on on true stories,’ because every story is based on true stories from my family and my extended family. If not one story, based on a few stories, all wrapped up into one. And so I just did what I advise all young filmmakers to do. Is write what you know. Write what you know, and this is what I know.
My family’s what I know, my community is what I know, where I grew up. The places we’re from. Even the stuff that we shot in Manila comes from the feeling of stories of me and my brothers going back home as adults and reconnecting with our homeland, trying to infuse some of those stories and those stories about the first time we went home and what that meant to us, what that felt like to us. The whole thing is based on true stories. You can’t reveal all of the true stories, but the other people would get mad at you, but yes, they know what we were commenting on for sure. And of course, it’s my Titos and my Titas and my parents. They were in so much trouble. They already watched the movie and everyone has a hard time, but it’s all moviemaking.
We have to talk about the wedding feast scene between David and the cousin. What was it like directing your brother doing all that? Who came up with that scene?
So Dionysio Basco is my baby brother, my youngest brother. And he’s crazy. He’s a wild one. And when you watch the movie, you know what I’m talking about. But him in the actress, Crystal Kwon, that was a storyline that comes out of theater, that comes out of something they did theater that inspired that moment. And so directing it in that scene was very easy because both of those actors are fearless and utterly out of their minds. And so they knew what we wanted in the movie. We knew what we wanted that character David to do, and actually, Dionysio wrote that scene.
So we, we all look at the film script together, the film together, and Dionysio knew exactly what I wanted in that scene. When I wrote that first in the script, and then Dion does this scene at the food table, and I’m like, “Dio, you know what you’re supposed to do, write this.” And Dion wrote the whole thing. And then we just had to set up and shoot it. Shooting it was crazy because we’re shooting in the backyard, this kind of potluck situation. Then a lot of people came to watch and then these kids came in and when they started the scene, all the Titos and Titas started ushering the kids, like “No, no, go back in the house!” and everyone was cracking up.
But I do know that that scene is going to be one of the most memorable scenes, for a lot of it. I think it burns images in people’s minds. But these guys, I mean, Dionysio, Crystal Kwon… It’s become an all-time classic scene for me and for many people who’ve watched it since we’ve been able to screen it. And so I can’t wait for the whole world to watch when it’s coming on Netflix. So people are going to see the craziness of my family and I can’t wait for them to see that particular scene for sure.
I love how you refer to Filipinos as ‘jungle Asians’ in the movie. It’s a hilarious inside joke, but only we can call ourselves that.
I know! [laughs]
The thing with Hollywood is that it tends to lean towards far east Asians, and ‘Asian’ is not one entire culture. So why was it important for you to spotlight Southeast Asians for this movie?
Well, it’s very important. You know, we really leaned into it. The movie’s called ‘The Fabulous Filipino Brothers’ because we are Filipino and we’re proud to be Filipino. Even though I didn’t set out to make the definitive Filipino film or even Filipino American film, I really wanted to represent us and really want to do well by our people in our community.
We’re in a golden era right now. Everything that I’ve done, and my generation did, and the generation before us, as far as Asian-American artists and what’s led to right now. Crazy Rich Asians, Parasite winning the Oscar. Countless other films going on. Shang Chi, the first Asian superhero in the Marvel universe. We’re at the highest-profile within, Asians in pop culture in Hollywood, in the history of Hollywood.
I’m a filmmaker. I’ve been here for a lot of it. I’m a part of that world, we’re all friends. We talk about our films. We inspire each other. We’re inspired by them, and everything. And so as a Filipino filmmaker, I have to make a film. You know, I have to put it down one time for us. I mean, what else would we do? This is our time to really represent.
People talk about representation. We must represent ourselves. We must tell our stories about us! With all the joy and energy and vibrancy we can. And so for me, it’s just adding Filipino stories to this golden era of Asian filmmaking going on right now. And I’m not the only one! Yellow Rose came out like a year or so ago…
And then, next year coming out, it’s going to be Jo Koy’s film Easter Sunday. So the Filipinos, they’re coming. We’re coming.
There’s this really great line from your character Duke, when he goes to the Philippines and bumps into Solenn’s character. You were telling her how you see the Philippines: that everything is new, but also familiar like a second home. Would you say a lot of balikbayans or Filipino Americans have that in common, or is this a very personal sentiment of yours?
It’s a personal sentiment of mine. It’s a line I wrote and it’s inspired by the first time going to the Philippines as an adult years and years ago. The air feeling different… everything. That feeling, that moment. But I don’t know. I would argue to say that a lot of us going home feel that way, because whether you’re Filipino from America or Australia or Canada or wherever in the world, we know we’re Filipino. We’re still brought up as Pinoys, as Filipinos. But you don’t really know what that is until you get home, and when you get home, a lot of things make sense that you didn’t even know were questions, you know?
And even though that vignette’s not necessarily ultimately about all that, I wanted to put and infuse that energy into it. Because it’s my story, it’s my brother’s story. We’ve talked about it. We’ve been home together and really just been so excited about the adventures of going home, and what that means. And I always urge the Fil-Ams that have not made it home yet, you have to go home, you need to spend time there. You need to let it change you because it will change you. And that’s what that part of that vignette’s about.
The Fabulous Filipino Brothers is produced by Cignal Entertainment and will be available on Netflix worldwide except for North America and Europe. The Fabulous Filipino Brothers premieres on Netflix this November 17.