While you may know Dante Basco best for his portrayal of Rufio in Hook, he has quite the body of work under his belt, both in live-action and animation. In the third season of Twitch’s Emmy Winning scripted series, Artificial, he joined the cast as Zander, a character who’s creation was influenced by decisions made by the audience. Earlier this summer we got the chance to speak with Dante about his role on the show.
Dante Basco Joins Artificial as Zander
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the audience of a show have direct control over certain aspects of a character. How has this experience been for you so far?
Dante Basco: Yeah. I mean, it’s a new experience for me, and it’s exciting. I’m a big fan of Bernie Su, the co-creator and showrunner and director of the show, from his work on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma. We’ve been pals for a while, and he’s such an innovative dude. So, for him to come up with a show like this for Twitch – and he won an Emmy for the show – I was definitely excited to join the cast. Especially in this time of the COVID pandemic, where he figured out a way to shoot something and put us all to work while a lot of us are sitting around, figuring out our next moves. So, I thought it was the perfect timing to do something new like this.
And as an actor, it’s new. It’s not every day you get to try out new things. It feels like going back to live action, livestream plays almost; that kind of acting, which is great. And then to be so engaged with the fanbase, and letting the fanbase really control aspects of the character development and even, I’m told, the direction of the show. As the show goes on, the audience at large gets ti pivet where they’re going.
I haven’t gotten through all the hurdles yet, but I’m excited to understand how the process works. Having to learn lines and different things about where we’re going in show. Going to be controlled by fans, which is interesting.
What do you think is going to be your biggest challenge in taking all this on? Do you think it’s going to be performing by yourself in your room just to the camera? Or the character aspects decided by the audience?
Dante Basco: Yeah, I think those two things are the biggest things, for sure. The audience, and understanding the process and learning lines and learning character story arcs of what’s going on, and how it’s going to pivot two or three times a show. You learn more dialogue than you’re going to use, which is interesting.
Beyond that, live acting within this whole pandemic time, and doing your work in front of a camera solo, but interacting with a handful of other actors and crew at the same time – I’m fascinated to see how it’s all gonna go down from an actor’s standpoint and from a production standpoint. But I think this is a really cool new avenue for filmmaking, and to be a part of this whole piloting process and the push of doing something like this – I’m up the challenge. It’s going to be exciting.
And also how audience takes it. Because the audience is very used to it; especially with livestreaming. I have a Twitch platform called Honor Society, on which we play games and do watches of Avatar and raise money for charity. How you interact with the audience on Twitch on a regular day is one thing, which has been very fascinating to build a relationship with the audience in one way. But then switch to actor mode and not be me but be this character Zander in this live form? It’s going to be interesting.
I don’t know how it’s all going to play out, but I have faith in Bernie and the last few seasons they’ve been on the show. I’m excited to be part of the storytelling process.
What can you tell me about your character? We know that you’re an ex-friend of Sebastian and you have a rocky history together. But what kind of person is Zander?
Dante Basco: I’m learning as we go on too. He’s the ex-friend of Sebastian… and there’s somewhat of a dark path between them, because they’re rivals. But Zander himself has a bit of dark humor and wit. He also has some superstitions and is a somewhat of a medium. He’s also a flamboyant kind of character, along with catchphrases and everything.
He feels like a juicy, fun character to play. And the way the world’s set up in the past few seasons I’ve seen, it’s definitely a sci-fi, almost soap opera-ish world. It’s been a few years since I’ve done a soap opera. I did some stuff in the 80s with Santa Barbara and stuff in the 90s with MTV, with the soap operas that they put together about young single cats in the 90s.
It’s gonna be fun to revisit some of that, and doing it in a new way. We’re fully engaged with the audience members the whole time. I look forward to the challenge and the excitement of it all.
Before you joined up with the show, how much of a tech nerd were you? Did you keep up with new technology in artificial intelligence, or is this all a new thing for you?
Dante Basco: I’m pretty up to date on things. I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m a tech nerd; I have an IT guy that runs a lot of my stuff. I’ve been learning more since COVID, especially on my streams. Some of the tech stuff, I’ve had to head on my own just due to social distancing orders and all that kind of stuff.
But also just as a techie kind of cat that’s been involved in the whole digital media scene for years now. I keep up on TechCrunch and Gadget and everything, so I’m pretty abreast on what’s going on. But definitely, being involved in a sci-fi show like this, I’m more keen to things like AI and where we’re going with the pros and cons of it all.
Between you as Dante and you as your character Zander, what are what are your feelings on AI in the future? Matt said, early on in the series, that AI can be a real force for good or it can be the downfall of humanity. Which camp are you in?
Dante Basco: Fascinating. One of the questions that the fans chose is that Zander is against it. It was for or against AI, and he’s against it, which I think would be a good foil for Sebastian, as Sebastian is the tech company owner that is funding and driving all of this whole AI thing to happen. That’s gonna be great for the character.
As far as me personally, I’m a little bit on the fence. Of course, I have an Alexa. I have Siri on my phone; I use them all the time. Where is it going to go? I watched Terminator 2; it’s been a haunting thing in my life for many years. As I’ve said in other interviews about this, Skynet ends the world on August 29, which is my birthday. As a young kid watching the original Terminator, I was like, “Oh, no, that’s crazy.” It’s always been in my head somewhere; around my psyche somewhere.
I think technology – I’m a generation now, in my 40s, we’re a generation that kind of know of the world before all this technology. Whereas a lot of kid growing up with computers and everything like that, it’s just regular to them. I’ve done talks on social media and digital tech at SXSW, and talking about it from the generation that’s the last generation connected to what a lot of new kids are calling traditional filmmaking as opposed to digital filmmaking. I think we’re the bridge generation; we still understand the things that haven’t changed, and the things that have changed. There’s so much that we’re learning from what the new kids are doing without even thinking; it’s just fluid for people to communicate on different platforms and create media.
A lot of people from our generation are so reluctant to join it or to use it, or are scared of it. I think my generation is that bridge generation that is trying to bring the best of both worlds; kind of teaching the new generation other things that haven’t changed but at the same token, learn and digest what the kids in the new generation are doing. Sometimes we see the darkness in things that they may not be seeing, you know? It’s still up in the air for everybody.
Where do you think this type of storytelling is going? Do you see more things popping up in the style of Artificial, where there’s more audience control? This is a little bit more than a Choose Your Own Adventure. We had Bandersnatch that came out a couple of years ago that did something similar to that.
Dante Basco: Yeah, Bandersnatch was very cool. I think it’s a new avenue. I don’t know if it’s going to ever take over the entertainment industry in its entirety. I think a lot of people in our industry are afraid of all that; social media and all these things. But what we’ve come to find out – and I’m in conversations with a lot of executives – is that it’s not replacing our industry, but it’s a new avenue to our industry. It’s definitely a form of entertainment; it’s kids or adults on media on their phones, iPads, tablets, whatever, and more hours than watching their favorite TV shows and films. They’re being entertained by their social media platforms.
Something like this, Twitch Artificial, is like a hybrid thing. There’s narrative going on that they’re totally involved in. The very interesting thing about social media that we’re finding out is, especially when we’re dealing with companies and doing branding deals and the people that are funding a lot of media, that it’s very unlike what we grew up with. Film and television is a very passive entertainment, where we are being given something all the time.
And what we’re finding out is when people are engaging in social media, even Twitch here, it’s less of a television and more of a telephone. The things that they’re watching, the things that they’re commenting on, the things they’re sharing is saying something about them. As opposed to just them receiving passively entertainment. I think it’s very powerful and interesting, and we’re all students of it right now.
KEEP READING: ARTIFICIAL’S BERNIE SU DISCUSSES EMMY WINNING SERIES