You might already know Ella Jay Basco from her standout turn in last year’s colourful comic book movie Birds of Prey. But you don’t know her like this. A talented musician as well as actor, the 14-year-old from California has been busy writing catchy pop anthems for Asian American women. Her latest single, ‘Gold’, is a trap-flavoured bop that she co-wrote with her brother Daryl and Bay Area rapper Ruby Ibarra. Intrigued, we caught up with Basco to find out what makes her tick.
She wants to uplift Asian American women
Basco’s new single ‘Gold’ mocks harmful skin-lightening products and encourages people of colour to feel proud about their skin. “We thought it was very necessary to have an anthem for the Asian American community,” says Basco, who is half-Filipino and half-Korean. “I really want people to understand that they’re heard.” It was about moving beyond “model minorities and stereotypes” and practicing what you preach: the music video for ‘Gold’ had a 100 per cent Asian cast and crew in front of and behind the camera.
Billie Eilish is her role model
Music has always played a major part in Basco’s life. “I listened to a lot of Lauryn Hill, Regina Spektor, and Ingrid Michaelson,” she says. But her biggest inspiration career-wise is Billie Eilish – partly because of the pop megastar’s undeniable talent, but also because, like Basco and her brother Darryl, it’s all about family for Billie. “I fully idolise her,” Basco says. “Just because her career is super successful, and she works with her brother Finneas, which I relate to as well. I really love her music and all of her creative choices – she’s super inspirational.”
Acting is in her blood
“I was kind of born into the industry, just because I was surrounded by a lot of actors in my family,” says Basco. “My uncle Dante played Rufio in Hook, so I think it’s second nature to me, just because we were we were always doing auditions and acting exercises.
“I definitely did get a lot of advice from my uncle, just because he knew what the whole kid acting experience was like as well. He taught me to go with the flow and make sure you’re staying in the moment.”
She wrote a song for Birds of Prey
Cassandra Cain’s brown snapback and burgundy bomber jacket is already an iconic image from the film, but few people realised Basco was also to thank for ‘The Ballad of Cassandra Cain’, an audio love letter from her character to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. “I remember showing it to Margot and Cathy and the producers and they all loved it,” Basco remembers. “So every Friday at wrap, they would play it – and it was really cool watching the whole crew, Margot and Jurnee [Smollett] and Rosie [Perez] dance to my song.”
You might see her in a musical one day
Could Basco’s two skillsets (music and acting) come together in the future? “I remember auditioning for theatre a couple times,” she says. “So [doing a musical] would be a really exciting opportunity. I really love Dear Evan Hansen, I’ve seen that a bunch of times. And Hamilton, of course, that’s very iconic. But also something like La La Land would be really fun.”
She’d love to follow in Reese Witherspoon’s footsteps…
Ask about Basco’s biggest movie inspirations – and you’ll get a speedy response. “I really love Reese Witherspoon in Election,” she says, which she describes as a “very Type A, very nerdy sort of character.”
…but Wes Anderson is her dream collaborator
“The Royal Tennenbaums was really funny, and it looked so beautiful,” she says. Any favourites among the filmmaker’s roster of regular actors? “All of them! I’d just be so honoured to have any part in something like that.”
We could be seeing her DC character again
Cassandra Cain is also known as Batgirl in the DC Universe, and is considered a major player throughout the comic books. Surely Basco is itching to tell more of her story after Birds of Prey? “There was a lot of behind the scenes preparation that not only I did, but with Cathy [Yan] we really worked together to figure out what Cassandra Cain’s story was,” she says. There’s more about Cain’s life as a foster child, and her “very hard life at home”. Keep your eyes peeled for more stories about this young, independent woman on a mission.
‘Gold’, by Ella Jay Basco and featuring Ruby Ibarra, is out now