Sometimes the most satisfying journeys are the ones that require relentless grit, determination and drive. That’s certainly the case for Northern California native and acclaimed comedian, Jo Koy. The performer’s now sharing his talent of showcasing both the affection and laughter of his family and their Filipino-American community on screen, after his 30-year stand-up career, in the new comedy film, ‘Easter Sunday.’
The movie was written by Ken Cheng And Kate Angelo, and directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, who also plays a supporting role in the feature. Universal Pictures is releasing the comedy in theaters today, August 5.
‘Easter Sunday,’ which takes place during the titular holiday weekend, follows stand-up comedian Joe (Koy) as he drives with his teenage son, Junior (Brandon Wardell), from Los Angeles to Daly City, the northern California town where his at-times overbearing mother, Susan (Lydia Gaston), and their relatives live. Numerous family troubles are soon revealed, from Susan’s bitter rivalry with her sister, Theresa (Tia Carrere), to his cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero) being $40,000 in debt to a local wannabe gangster, Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali).
While visiting his family, Jo must figure out how to balance the conflicts that arise between his relatives with his determination to secure a supporting acting role on an anticipated network sitcom. His agent, Nick (Chandrasekhar), urges him to immediately fly back to L.A. for a call-back audition with the network executives after his family’s Easter dinner. As a result, the aspiring actor contemplating what means the most to him in life – reconnecting with his family, or having the chance to finally secure his dream job.
Gaston and Carrere generously took the time earlier this week to talk about starring in ‘Easter Sunday’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the actresses discussed how they enjoyed not only working with each other, but also their co-stars, who are experienced comedians who shared their talents in improvising while they shot the film. The actresses also shared how they appreciated how the movie’s story authentically reflects how Filipino-American families embrace their long-held heritage in their new home country.
ShockYa (SY): You play sisters in the new comedy, ‘Easter Sunday,’ which also stars Jo Koy and Eugene Cordero. What was your experience like of collaborating with each other, as well as the rest of the cast, to build the family’s relationships?
Lydia Gaston (LG): I already knew two of the other actors from New York because they’re also stage actors, so I was very excited to work with them. With the movie actors around me, like Eugene Cordero and Tia, it was really great to be with them because they’re very experienced.
So I was learning from them as I was going along because I’m mainly a theater actor. That was really wonderful. Each of them was already very specific in their characters, so it was very easy to play off of them.
Tia Carrere (TC): Lydia is being very humble; she’s a very accomplished stage actress, and way more studied than I am. I just sort of stumbled into movies after I was discovered in a grocery store for my first film. So I feel as though I’ve been playing catch-up every since! It’s the only thing I’ve ever done.
So for me to be there with people from stage and improvisation was amazing. It’s such a specific skill set for these comics, who are fast and smart, and I was just trying to keep up with them as we went back and forth.
LG: That’s right; the comedians were very exciting to work with because they just came up with things off the bat.
SY: Speaking of the improvisation, did the film’s director, Jay Chandrasekhar, also entourage you both to create your own jokes during the shoot?
LG: Tia and I were allowed to extend our characters’ fight, so we found new things. Jay worked off of that, and asked us to keep going, and make it bigger and get angrier. So that was the kind of input we had.
TC: Before I got the role of Tita Theresa, I had to do a Zoom call with Jay. I told him my concept for the character to try to make her my own because they’re arch rivals. We had to figure out how to flush that out and find our own points-of-view for the character because it wasn’t exactly written.
So I asked, “What if my character is the one who always goes back to the Philippines to get a little nip and tuck? She’s very vain and set in her ways.” He said, “You know what? That’s funny and could work. Let’s go!”
So it was during our final Zoom call that he said, “Okay, I can see you in this role as the mom’s arch nemesis.” So he then let me come up with an angle for the character before I got cast.
LG: Did you also work with your make-up and hair person to develop a certain look?
TC: Yes; I wanted to make sure that my hair looked girly with curls and a bow because she wants to look young. I don’t think you should wear a bow in your hair past the age of 12, and maybe even 10! So yes, I also gave that kind of input.
SY: Speaking of making suggestions to Jay about your characters’ developments before you were cast in the movie, what was your experience like working with him throughout the production to further build their personalities?
LG: Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was doing enough…
TC: That’s true! He doesn’t emote much, and he had a mask on! He was so hard to read – he’d be a great poker player!
LG: Yes, I was going to say, he has a great poker face. (Gaston laughs.)
TC: That’s so funny. I literally asked him, “Jay, am I funny? Do you like what I’m doing, because I can’t tell?” (Carrere laughs.)
LG: He would push me; he’d say, “Make it angrier and bigger.” I’d ask him, “Really? Screaming and getting mad all the time might be unappealing to audiences.” He said, “It’s actually endearing.” (Gaston laughs.)
TC: It is! He’s very quiet and calm, so it’s hard to know if he’s pleased with what you’re doing. He’d then say, “Oh my gosh, I love what you’re doing; you’re hilarious.” I’d say, “Okay, cool, thanks. I’m not going to ask you anymore. Now I know this is your face where you’re laughing.” (Carrere and Gaston laugh.)
SY: Susan and Tia argue in part over how tough Susan is on her son, Joe. Why do you feel it’s important to reflect on the reasons behind why Susan places such high expectations on her son?
LG: Well, my own mother had four sons to raise; we were six kids all together, and four of them were boys. So she was constantly more frustrated with them than the girls. I think I pulled from that because boys don’t explain themselves.
So Susan is always frustrated with Joe because he says something and then it doesn’t happen. There’s always something going on with him.
I also appreciated how the roles changed because they’re always fighting at the dinner table. But finally at the Easter dinner table, there’s a switch there; they’re finally very honest with each other, and have to face that pain that they both experienced in the past. So I thought it was very beautiful in the way that it was written.
SY: ‘Easter Sunday’ is powerful in how authentically it reflects Filipino culture in the U.S. How important was it to you both to include that contemplation in the story?
TC: That was a key, integral part of the script. We jumped off from there with our argument.
Culturally, it’s important because it shows an immigrant family that moves to America and does well. It then has the duty to send back money or goods from America to the Philippines. Latinos and Asians all do that with their families.
LG: Right. I keep thinking about how the box symbolizes giving back your good fortune to your country. The contents in the box, including soap and shampoo, may be practical things that mean nothing to us here in America, but are very expensive, and considered luxury items, in the Philippines.
SY: The fact that Susan and Theresa’s family decides to leave the Philippines and move to California is a major, important theme in the film, which was shot on location in Daly City and Vancouver. What was the experience like of shooting the comedy on location throughout the production?
TC: Usually it’s great to film on location. But this time, with the state of the world being much different because of COVID, we didn’t get to see our families for two months because we were in strict quarantine; I didn’t get to see my teenage daughter for two months. It was really hard being isolated from them during that time.
But I think that led to us really bonding as a family during the film’s shoot. We really became a family because we couldn’t be with our own families. I think that helped the movie a lot, and allowed us to play like a real family.
But that being said, I love traveling the world, ever since I was 17 with my first movie. I then bought myself an inflatable globe and put stickers on the places all over the world that I’ve traveled to during my career. It was quite considerable when I looked at all those gold star stickers. So I love the traveling aspect of what we do for a living.
I’m hoping we do a sequel to this film, so that we all get to travel together again!