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'HOOK' Star Dante Basco Reveals Secrets From the Set 27 Years Later

October 17, 2018

It’s been more than a quarter century since Hook, the story of grown-up Peter Pan returning to Neverland, hit theaters.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Robin Williams as Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, and Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell, the star-studded film boasts many memorable moments: Flight lessons, benevolent mermaids, epic sword fights, and a drool-inducing food fight.

And while it’s easy to attribute fans’ love of the film to the late and great Williams, it’s impossible to deny the appeal of Neverland’s resident hooligan, Rufio. Played by Dante Basco, Rufio was the leader of the Lost Boys until his demise at the hand of Captain Hook.

Before he perished, though, this punk kid left an irrefutable impression; he was the epitome of cool, of badass, of bangarang. But as the actor recalls all these years later, his first impression of Rufio — with his multi-colored mohawk and tight tights — was anything but cool.

“I’m 15 years old when I did the movie,” Basco said.

“Yes, I’m a serious actor, but I also just want to be cool.”

And, according to Basco, in 1991, the trendy look was “baggy everything.”

“They told me to put on these red tights, and I’m like, ‘huh?’ Then they told me to put on these skin-tight, ripped jeans … Then they’re like, ‘put on this T-shirt and let’s cut the midriff off so you can have your belly button out.’ I’m like ‘what is this?’”

Spielberg, however, was impressed.

“And I’m like ‘oh my god, my belly button is going to be out for the whole freaking movie.’ But now, when I see people cosplaying Rufio, if you’re not rocking the midriff, you’re not really doing it.”

Before Basco stepped into the feathers of Rufio, he had to earn the part (both he and one of his brothers auditioned for the role). When Basco got an invitation to Spielberg’s office, he was in for a glorious surprise.

“There’s a rumor that Spielberg has an arcade in his office. I didn’t know if it was true,” he said.

“So I went, opened the door, and literally there is an arcade in his office. It was a full on mall-sized arcade at Amblin Entertainment. I was amazed.”

When it came time for Basco to speak with his would-be director, he was lost in the games.

“I forgot for a minute that I was there for an audition,” he said.

As it turns out, he wasn’t. Instead, Basco and Spielberg talked about the teen’s previous roles and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy.

“I was finally like, ‘do you want me to read the audition?’ and he was like, ‘no, you don’t need to.’ I walked out and I told my mom, ‘I don’t think I got it. I didn’t even audition.’”

Two days later, Spielberg offered him the role.

The director, Basco said, had determined he was right for the part for one reason. 

“He said, ‘Dante, out of all the kids we looked for across the country to play Rufio, out of the hundreds — thousands — of kids, you were the only kid who scared me.’”

Playing opposite Basco in nearly every scene is Williams’ Pan. Though by the end of the film their relationship evolves to one of mutual respect, it begins antagonistically; Rufio is hesitant to accept Pan back into the Lost Boys’ camp, and Peter thinks Rufio is a disrespectful delinquent.

Behind the scenes, the pair couldn’t have had more admiration for one another.

“Robin is an amazing, loving mentor on set. He’s very giving,” Basco said. 

“I was a big fan of his before I got to work with him. I grew up watching Mork and Mindy, and one of my favorite films to this day is Dead Poets Society. He was a big figure in how I think about art.”

Basco said during quiet times on set, they talked about poetry.

“He knew how much I love poetry and that I write poetry and he was a big supporter of that,” he said.

Every positive thing fans think about Williams is true, according to Basco.

“He was funny, quick-witted, an incredible improv actor. He picks up morale of the whole set and knows everyone’s name. He was like Genie from Aladdin.”

What sticks with Basco most after all these years is how Williams made him feel included.

“There was a moment where Robin asked me where my family was from. I said I was Filipino and he says, ‘my wife, she’s part Filipino.’ He said I reminded him of his father-in-law,” he said.

“When you’re young in Hollywood, even when you’re cast in the biggest movie in town, you still feel like you’re on the outside looking in. He had a very cool way of going, ‘no, man. You’re part of the party. You’re with us.’ I’ll always love him for that.”

Though Rufio met his fate at the end of the film, the character has been celebrated in other iterations since.

A short film, Bangarang, written and directed by Jonah Feingold, tells the origin story of Rufio and how he made his way to Neverland. Basco has been heavily involved in the project and even has a cameo.

“We got a kick out of the new generation being inspired by something we did 25 years ago,” Basco said.

“[The short film] is being shopped around town right now, so we’ll see if the origin story of Rufio finds a home somewhere.”

Fingers crossed Rufio will make his triumphant return to the big screen, because what would be more bangarang than that?

Hook is out now on 4K Ultra HD.

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