Landing a major role in a super-sized Steven Spielberg spectacle at only 15 years old is stressful enough. Just imagine how much more stressful it would be if one of the stars of said movie seems to hate your guts. That’s the position Dante Basco found himself in on the set of Spielberg’s Peter Pan sequel, Hook, which premiered in theaters 30 years ago, on Dec. 11, 1990. The Filipino-American actor was cast as Rufio, the new leader of the Lost Boys, who alternately clashes with a grown-up Peter (played by Robin Williams) and the eternally old — and irrevocably evil — Captain James Hook (Dustin Hoffman).
And as Basco tells Yahoo Entertainment, Hoffman was pretty evil to him throughout the first few weeks of production. “There was a long time where he was very adversarial to me — very adversarial,” the now 46-year-old actor reveals. “And I remember going: ‘I’m stressed out! This guy is Dustin Hoffman. Why is he in my ear being very adversarial!’ He would say things, and I’d be like, ‘Why would you say that to me? I’m just trying to be a good little actor.'” (Watch our video interview above.)
Eventually, Basco’s acting coach at the time explained to the distraught teenager that there was a method to Hoffman’s madness: specifically that The Graduate star was a Method actor. “My coach said, ‘He’s Captain Hook, and you’re Rufio. You’re his adversary, and he’s setting that dynamic up right now so that when it’s time to do scenes with you, he’s not going to play around. He’s serious, you know?'”
Basco’s coach also gave his pupil the secret for circumnavigating Hoffman’s Method taunts — unleash his inner movie nerd. “He said, ‘Do what James Dean did with Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando: he could just follow them around and his them questions.’ So I would be on set [with Dustin] and say, ‘I just watched Lenny last night,’ or I’d start talking about Midnight Cowboy and he’d start looking at me and understanding, ‘Oh, this kid’s an actor!'”
Sure enough, Basco’s approach paid off. When the time came for him to film Rufio’s big death scene, he turned to his former offscreen adversary (and onscreen killer) for help. “He became my acting coach for those days on set,” he remembers now. “We literally filmed it for like two or three days, and he was there everyday directing me through the death scene. When you get to act that intimately with one of your heroes, it’s phenomenal.”
And here’s the even crazier thing: Rufio almost didn’t die. According to Basco, at one point the plan was to let the Mohawked warrior survive the final battle with Captain Hook so that he could star in a potential Lost Boys spin-off TV show. “We were in contracts … and it didn’t go through,” he says, adding that for a long time he wasn’t sure whether he effectively signed Rufio’s death warrant by stalling on signing the TV show contract. “But years later, I talked to [Hook screenwriter] Jim V. Hart, who said, ‘I always wanted Rufio to die, because it represented the darkness and the danger of Neverland. In order for Peter Pan to go, ‘I need to get my kids out of Neverland,’ there needed to be something dire.”
And for the millions upon millions of young viewers who have grown up with Hook, it’s hard to get more dire than watching the swaggering Rufio die in Peter’s arms. “It freaked out a whole generation of kids,” Basco says, proudly. “But I also think that’s one of the things that makes Rufio iconic. The death of Rufio solidified him as this thing that you always remember. I’m a version of Bambi’s mom!”
Compared to Hoffman, Basco says that acting opposite Williams was a breeze. “Robin was very loving towards me,” he says of the late actor, remembering how they bonded over their shared love of Filipino culture and food. (Williams’s second wife, Marsha Garces Williams, is part Filipino.) “He had a way of putting his arm around you and being like, ‘Welcome to the party.’
Speaking of parties, Basco remembers Hook‘s famous food fight scene being a real rager, especially when Rufio and Peter had their iconic insult battle. “I did exactly what they wrote because I’m the kind of actor that just needs to know [my lines],” he says. Williams, on the other hand, had a different approach. “He would do what was scripted brilliantly. And then he’d look at Steven and go, ‘Can I [improvise] one line?’ And then he’d just go!
“When you’re acting with him, you’ve pretty much got three choices,” Basco continues. “You can say your lines and then you get steamrolled. Or you can try to improvise with him, but he’s like the Marlon Brando of improv! Or you can be like, ‘I’ll let him talk and then cut him off.’ I tried lots of different strategies, but I was just a 15-year-old kid trying to keep up with one of the masters! But it was great man: it’s definitely a memorable scene and something that people want to talk about all the time. When I’m at conventions, they want me to write those things on Funko boxes, you know? Fart factory, slug slime, cat vomit — all that stuff.”
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee
Hook is currently streaming on Sling TV.