Dante Basco talks Avatar reunion, Netflix live-action, and how Zuko would handle a pandemic
Just like his character Zuko did on the show, Basco tells EW he had to track down Aang in real life for the Avatar: The Last Airbender reunion.
While news on Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action adaptation has been slow, fans were reenergized with the announcement of a cast reunion on Jan. 9. Dante Basco, who voiced Zuko in the beloved animated series, has rounded up Jack de Sena (Sokka), Grey Griffin (Azula), Michaela Murphy (Toph), and more to join him for the virtual event.
Basco tells EW the reunion came out of a desire to alleviate his feelings of boredom and helplessness during the pandemic. He started with Twitch streams to rewatch Avatar and brought on former costars. Their efforts have raised over $30,000 for COVID relief and the Trevor Project. It was the perfect opportunity, as Basco says he's "never watched the whole thing from the beginning to the end."
Capturing the Avatar (in real life)
Since the streams were basically mini-Avatar reunions anyways, Basco thought a formal gathering was a natural transition. The final piece of the puzzle was enlisting Aang's voice actor, Zach Tyler Eisen, who left acting after the series. The familiar parallel of tracking down Eisen in real life was not lost on Basco, who jokes that his journey mirrored the Fire Nation prince's own goal to capture the Avatar in the series.
"Once we got Zach, then let's just do the reunion because everyone else we're connected to one way or the other in L.A.," Basco says. "And it's funny because I mean, Zuko is looking for the Avatar. The little inside pun is 'I found him!'"
After a photographer friend of Basco's found an email connected to Eisen, the former costars got on the phone. Basco says he hopes the reunion will only be the start of Eisen rejoining the Avatar world.
"When we did the finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender on my Twitch, he just popped in for a second. And so I was like, 'I really want you to reunite with the whole Gaang,'" he adds. "A lot of us, we do cons together around the world and we're all still in industry working… and so I was like 'You gotta join the world. It's really fun.' He's like 'I'd love to." I was like 'Cool, let's do a reunion. And then once you do the reunion, just run with it. Welcome back. We're back, the Gaang's back together.'"
Basco says he's also reached out to Mae Whitman, who voiced Katara, and hopes she can "pop up and say hello" during the reunion. Overall, he says fans should expect "somewhat of a con experience."
"We haven't seen each other for months and years now," he says. "And to really be on the same panel together to talk about the show, to answer questions, to talk about our experiences, to talk about the resurgence of the show, what it means 15 years later, and what it means in this time of pandemic and this time of unrest."
The Last Airbender in 2021
Thanks to streaming, fans have recently flocked to the show, which originally ran from 2005 to 2008. But according to Basco, the show's resurgence is also due to its themes, which he says are more pertinent than ever.
"If you look in the show, it's a time of unrest and imbalance in the world of Avatar," he explains. "It's this group of kids trying to find the balance in the world. And I think collectively, the world, we're all in the Gaang, we're in this group of kids going, 'How can we find balance in the world right now?' And that's part of the charm. There are so many lessons that still are relevant today."
As for how his character would fare in a pandemic, Basco says with a smile that Zuko would thrive "for sure."
"He'd wear a mask, a COVID-approved Blue Spirit mask but he'd be out there with some mischief and some adventure and save some lives," he says, referencing the classic Book 1 episode.
In the early stages of the live-action series' development, ATLA creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko stoked hopes by announcing they wanted to involve Basco, one of the most vocal champions of the show. But when the two revealed in August they were stepping away due to creative differences, it left a lot of questions up in the air.
Basco clarifies to EW that he "was never fully involved," but was in talks with the creators (affectionately dubbed "Bryke" by fans) about consulting in the live-action adaptation.
"Who knows, down the line I may be involved if it makes sense. So we'll see what happens. I think like the rest of the fanbase, my fingers are crossed for the best stuff to happen with the project," he says.
On the bright side, Basco has talked about future collaborations with Bryke, whom he calls "brilliant filmmakers, brilliant animators, brilliant storytellers." They've kept in touch and are set to catch up via Zoom soon. But no matter what happens, Basco says he will always be part of the Avatar history and family.
"As actors and as filmmakers, you always want to do something that hopefully people remember," Basco says. "To be a part of a project like Avatar that, in its own way, is like its own Star Wars universe, that's very cool. It's something that I never expected coming out of doing an animation from Nickelodeon."
The Avatar: The Last Airbender cast reunion will take place Saturday at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT. Tickets cost $10.
Avatar: The Last Airbender