Born into the industry and armed with the drive to represent Asian Americans, 13-year-old Ella Jay Basco makes an explosive film debut in Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey.
Ella is a firecracker and a breath of fresh air all at the same time, with young hopes of diversifying the film scene. Playing the role of Cassandra Cain, she was first introduced into the comic book world when her fourth-grade teacher made them read comics every Wednesday.
“I didn’t have much knowledge on Cassandra Cain, so I had to do a little research when I found out I got the role,” she humbly confesses during our small talk over the phone. Regardless of her late introduction to the character, she is quick to call Cassandra “a sneaky, mischievous street kid” who “finds family through the Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn.”
There is something incredibly fascinating about the accidental parallels between her and the character. They both find some sort of make-shift family with the people they’ve met through Birds of Prey–Ella in particular thought of her time filming as a “fun summer camp” because they had been “all so close to each other” that “it definitely felt like a family.” And even more so than that, her friendship with Margot Robbie is something completely special and different; one that perfectly encapsulates the relationship between Cassandra Cain and Harley Quinn in this film.
Margot was one of the first few people Ella did chemistry reads with for her audition, and she spent both her first and last day on-set with Margot, in which they coincidentally gave each other gifts both days. “Margot was a great mentor-figure, and she was super helpful on-set. I think our relationship, Harley Quinn and Cassandra Cain, definitely showed off-set, too.”
Following the footsteps of her amazing mentor-figure, Margot Robbie, who is one of the many voices of feminism and equality, Ella Jay Basco stands proud beside her. She may be the youngest member of their merry little flock, but she is just as fierce and brave, with a lot to say about the lack of Asian representation in the Hollywood film sphere. “Growing up, besides looking at my family, I never really saw many Asian-Americans on television. And I think that’s super important for people to share their story and be represented in the industry.”
Ella is a newcomer in terms of acting, but she comes from a well-established family of industry professionals, and she is not afraid to use her presence and striking visibility to move forward the movement of diversity. She graced the Birds of Prey London red carpet premiere with an ethereal white Korean Hanbok, with inspirations drawn from the traditional Filipino Barong material. With one bold move, she made visible her heritage and carried with her the many hopes of underrepresented Asians just like herself.
“We are different, but we’re still human, and I think representing just that, and that we’re here too is super important.” But above representation of race and gender, and above her family lineage which she is so very proud of, she also wants to make a name for herself “I definitely think it’s something that I’ve been looking and wanting for.” She speaks with careful honesty. “I think that that’s super important, people knowing who I am as a person, rather than knowing my gender or race. And I definitely think that comes before any of that.”
With a successful film debut that opens more doors for her in terms of acting, her future dreams of making music and producing films, she admirably thanks Cathy Yan. Ella sees Cathy as another mentor-figure who has done so much to help for her throughout this journey; “She definitely helped me grow as an actor…I can’t tell you enough how much I care about her.”
And as many of us will be seeing this film on the big screen tomorrow and the of the following weeks to come, Ella wants the audience to take with them the lessons that can be learned from Birds of Prey; lessons of emancipation, freedom, and finding value within yourself. “It’s super important knowing your worth, and knowing where you are in life, and definitely breaking yourself off from bad energy.”
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) premieres tomorrow, February 6 in the Philippines, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.