• Television

“Blindspotting” Actress April Absynth and Creatives on Show’s Diversity and Inclusion

“The biggest struggle for me is just being faced with the question ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ every single day,” said April Absynth who is currently featured as Jacque in the comedy-drama Blindspotting.

In a rare portrayal of a Filipino family on mainstream television, April’s character and her father, played by Dante Basco, figure in an episode.

Based in Oakland and with both parents coming from Ilocos Sur in the Philippines, Absynth, who is also a singer, songwriter and recording artist, starred as Kim in the musical Miss Saigon and Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie. She was the lead actress in the action-comedy film turned comic book series, Lumpia with a Vengeance (2022).

The singer-actress recently participated in a panel discussion hosted by Lionsgate’s Diversity, Equality and Inclusion director Bianca Gervacio and moderated by HFPA member Yong Chavez.

Absynth was joined by her co-star Lance Holloway (Cuddie), showrunner-writer-actor and co-creator Rafael Casal and director-producer Jess Wu Calder as they talked about diversity and inclusion in the TV series. Co-creator and showrunner of the STARZ TV series is Daveed Diggs.


Absynth said, “As a first-generation Filipino American, I didn’t really come from money. And what got me here is just dreaming big and really believing in that dream. So, what keeps me going is interestingly, that devil’s advocate in my mind that keeps me hungry but also reminds me that I’m not just here for myself. I’m here to be a part of a bigger message to continue to do good work and to continue to be your authentic self. Even if the industry challenges you and says it’s not real, it is very real because it’s your experience and it’s what brought this moment here.”

Season 2 of Blindspotting, Episode 4 titled “By Hook or By Crook,” features for the first time her character’s Filipino dad. Basco’s casting is inspired because, for many Filipinos and Asians, his appearance as Rufio in Steven Spielberg’s Hook was a milestone in representation.

Actor-comedian Jo Koy loves to mention that when he was growing up, finally seeing someone (Basco) who looked like him on screen was a significant moment.

“Rafa and Daveed are both from the Bay Area. Rafa is from Berkeley and Daveed is from Oakland. And they based my character on their Filipino friends whom they grew up with in Oakland,” Absynth shared.

“And my family, when my Tatang (Grandfather) and my family moved to California from the Philippines, they set their roots in Oakland. So, it was somehow our experiences that brought us together full circle because they wanted to make a love letter for it.

“When I asked Rafa why he made Jacque specifically Filipino American, not only Asian American but specifically Filipino American, he said it was because he grew up with so many Filipinos. So, I guess in a way they had to write a story.

“I felt connected to it. I auditioned. They did auditions in LA first, and then they opened it to two open casting calls, and in the second casting call, that’s how they found me.”

Blindspotting, which is a spin-off sequel to the 2018 film of the same title, is about life in Oakland. The co-creators and showrunners felt that most of the cinematic portrayals of the San Francisco Bay area have constantly missed something, so they wanted to draw attention to the real issues of gentrification, police violence and racism.

Absynth said, “This industry has a way of challenging your authenticity and you just have to because as artists, we’re empaths. We just feel the world on a whole other level. And when you’re in an industry where there’s a lot of insecurities, you feel it and you absorb it. It’s like you just have to remember that you are a complete person in an incomplete place. That took me a while to get to that space.”

On getting Basco to join the cast as the father of Jacque, Casal disclosed, “I met Dante at a recording session and a buddy of mine told him that I was a big fan because Hook was one of my favorite movies as a kid. For a lot of us, we’d never seen a hero like that in a movie before. So, it stuck with me. I guess he told Dante that I was a fan. So, when he showed up, he brought the sword from Hook and he handed it to me. I just broke down like a kid. I held it over my head. I’m pretty sure I cried.”

He added, “So when we were thinking about this episode, we would all sit around and go, ‘Is there somebody that could anchor this episode to really bring people in?’ I didn’t feel like people knew that he was from the Bay Area, that he was a part of that history. So, we came up with this loose idea, ‘Well, what if Dante Basco is Jacque’s dad? What if he’s triggered by pirates?’ Which is so stupid but it was also just a great way for people to be like, ‘Oh sh**.’ It pays honor to his legacy of him as a kid. It introduces him as an adult, and people haven’t been following his career. It also just gave us a way into the home, which felt really exciting.

“So, we were in the writers’ room and I was like, ‘Let me just call him and make sure he is not going to be really offended by this.’ I called him, and I was like, ‘Look, we got this stupid idea but I swear we’ll do right by it. But it’s like you’re Jacque’s dad and you’re Dante Basco, you’re kind of stuck in your character still and you hate pirates, and her boyfriend shows up as a pirate and you fight him to death.’ There was a long pause, and he went, ‘I like it.’”

“‘Really?’ I replied.

“He is like, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t ordinarily do this but I like it and I like you and I like the show. I’m in.’ And he was full on. He got there and it felt like one of your uncles was there.

“And you also could feel at the party [scene] because there were so many Filipino artists who were at the party who looked up to him. There were rappers Ruby Ibarra and P-Lo. There were Filipino artists from the Bay Area. A lot of the music that we’re using throughout is like Bambu de Pistola’s, and there’s great art in every touchstone. A lot of them were like, ‘Oh, he’s doing it? All right, we’re in.’ You could feel that there was this generational admiration there. So, I think it just was a gift that kept giving.”

Absynth said of working with Basco, “Dante is so awesome. First and foremost, he was so sweet to work with, and I’m sure you get this a lot but in my family, we grew up watching him in Hook and I’m pretty sure we watched it with my cousins and in my grandpa’s house in Oakland. So, to be in that same space with Dante, it just brought my life completely full circle.

“I felt like being in that room with Dante as my dad, and I don’t know if I can say it but the other family members in that scene, it was almost like my Tatang (Grandfather) and my Nanang (Grandmother). They’re no longer with us anymore but I felt like in that moment they were there with me and it was just the future and the past coming together in that single moment. We all got to share that family moment together. I’m still in disbelief that it happened.”

Asked about how he felt getting integrated into that particular Filipino episode and doing the scene with Basco, Holloway commented, “I used to play basketball in my freshman year and there was a tall Filipino guy named Alex. He was cool but he would brag that he was Dante’s cousin. I’m like, ‘No, can’t be.’ So, he’s always been a myth to me since high school. So, when I first stepped in the rehearsal, I didn’t even say hello. I’m just like, ‘Is Alex your cousin?’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Okay, cool.’ So, from that point forward, it was just great.”

Holloway’s Cuddie and Basco engage in a sword fight scene that is a treat to Hook and Rufio fans.

“Obviously, the fight [scene with Basco] seemed very well choreographed and we spent half a day in between. I think the most special part was just in between takes, he was talking about his 20, 30 years in the industry and talking about being with Robin Williams and stuff like that. I really took heart to that.”

As for Calder, she expressed how proud she was being in the same room as the cast and creatives of Blindspotting. She said, “I feel so proud to be able to be in this space with you all today. The fact that we got to be here is because of the experiences that Rafa had growing up, being surrounded by so much love from our community.

“It just says that love is so powerful because had we not been in your life growing up, we would not be sitting here today. Oakland’s got such a bad rep since the day I was born and beyond and the fact that such a place got to spark such a beautiful piece of art and get to be a catalyst of such a powerful discussion beyond representation, beyond being seen.

“But if you watch the rest of season one, and the second season is so powerful, you really get to not only experience people being seen and people being heard but people being felt, which is so powerful with the work you do and the dance portions of this because I feel like for the first-time people going through these experiences can actually be felt.”

She added, “I just feel so honored to be able to be a part of something that really has the potential to move humanity forward a little bit, especially in this time when there’s such an echo chamber of so much hate and so much negativity and so much division. This shows so much diversity and so much inclusivity and it’s like Oakland got to spark that communal thing.

“I know there was a time when cell phones didn’t exist and we were living just fine. In the same way, diversity and peace can exist, we just don’t know. Not everyone knows. We know, but everyone else beyond a three-hour radius between LA and Oakland, they don’t know. So again, I just feel so honored to be a part of that.”