Interviews / Movies

Melody Butiu Brings the Love to “Easter Sunday”

Melody Butiu Brings the Love to “Easter Sunday”

Melody Butiu views acting as an insight into our collective human experience. “I love embodying characters and telling stories that resonate with viewers, that connect, inspire, and highlight our shared humanity, and that enable audiences to more deeply understand the diverse, complex, and often emotionally challenging stories that reflect our human experience. I love making people laugh, feel deeply, and see a little bit of themselves reflected in the stories we tell. I am also passionate about collaboration and creation, so it’s a joy to work with people I respect and admire, ask questions, dive in, and explore new and classic works,” she enthuses. Her favorite role combined history with innovative artistry. “I originated the role of Estrella Cumpas in Here Lies Love at the Public Theater in New York, an immersive disco musical by David Byrne (from Talking Heads) and Fatboy Slim and directed by Alex Timbers. It told the story of the rise and fall of the Imelda Marcos and the Marcos regime and the People Power revolution in The Philippines. Many of my family members fled the Philippines due to martial law and the corruption of the Marcoses. The production was staged as a dance club, so audience members were standing in the immersive space, surrounded by thumping dance beats, projections all around, and stage elements moving throughout the performance. I played a supporting role, a nanny to Imelda Marcos, who knew her from her humble beginnings and called her out when she began to betray her people. It was a piece that started out as a party, until you saw the corruption and brutality take over, and ended up as a profound reflection on the dangers of unchecked power. To be able to explore this historical moment in such a creative form was one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.” She feels incredibly passionate about diversifying the landscape of Filipino representation in TV and film. “I want more stories to be told. I want to see diversity in front of and behind the camera. Having the opportunity to create complex characters, to be the heroes of our own narrative, to explore the wide range of all of our experiences is hugely important.”

She currently stars as the lively Tita Yvonne in Easter Sunday. “Stand-up comedian juggernaut, Jo Koy, stars in Easter Sunday as a divorced dad returning home with his son for an Easter celebration with his riotous, bickering, eating, drinking, laughing, loving family. It’s a funny, heartwarming comedy about family and love letter to the Filipino American community. It’s the first Hollywood studio produced film centered around a Filipino-American family. It features a wonderfully diverse cast, including Tia Carrere, Tiffany Haddish, and Jimmy O. Yang, and is directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (dir. of Super Troopers and Beerfest). I play Tita Yvonne, Jo’s cousin, and part of the extended family. I’m the type of Tita (or Auntie) that is ready to break out the karaoke machine, needle you about who you’re dating, and fill the room with joy and laughter,” she shares. Working with such a robust Filipino cast and crew signifies a poignant full circle moment in her career. “When I first started acting professionally, I was told that Filipino roles didn’t exist and that most Americans had never heard of the Philippines. I was told I was better off changing my name and learning Spanish, because I didn’t look very Asian. To be able to introduce audiences to a big, boisterous, multi-generational Filipino American family with diverse experiences (immigrants, American-born, mixed ethnicities), to share what makes us unique as well as what connects us, is a dream I never imagined I’d be a part of. To honor my own family’s experiences, with our laughter, joy, challenges, drama and hopes fulfilled was something I carried with me throughout the process of making this film. Our stories are part of the fabric of the American experience, and they deserve to be shared.” 

Although we’d like to think that we’ve all matured beyond childhood habits, we often regress upon returning to the nest, a truth that Easter Sunday puts on full display. “Gathering the family together for the holidays is always a big event. A community gathering at church also puts you under the microscope of the people around you, so there’s an awareness of the impression we are making on others. While there are wonderful things about returning home after forging our own lives and chasing our own dreams, it’s easy to fall back into the roles we had as children, roles we might have assumed we grew out of. We can find ourselves twisting with anxiety trying to make our parents proud, hiding things that might disappoint them, and having to face the reality that our family members are just as flawed and human as we are. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Family knows us best, and while they love us deeply, they also know how to get under our skin.” Tita Yvonne might not be the most dramatic auntie in the room, but she certainly brings the heart. “Because the other two Titas in the family, played by Lydia Gaston and Tia Carrere, are in an epic battle with one another, competing and comparing families, I wanted to bring a different energy to my Tita. My character is technically Jo’s cousin and Tia’s daughter, and in my mind, I was born and raised primarily in The Philippines, while my baby brother, played by Eugene Cordero, was born in the US. I found myself trying to be a peacemaker, wanting to focus on bringing big love, positive energy, and sniff-kisses to the party.”

Despite the chaotic, occasionally outrageous nature of family, what holds us all together is love and sacrifice. “While embracing the details of our culture and the things that make us unique as a community, I know it was incredibly important to Jo that people of all backgrounds see themselves in our story. A mom is a mom and family is family. As immigrants, our parents gave up the lives they knew to forge ahead and start a new one, and they worked tirelessly to make sure we were provided for and were able to create lives of our own. The fact that we are a large, extended family also shows how close knit we can be, and that no matter our differences, we will be there to support one another.” Wherever life takes you, your family will be waiting at home, keeping the lights on for you. 

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Melody Butiu Brings the Love to “Easter Sunday.” 
Photographer: Ben Cope | @ben_cope
Glam Artist: Caitlin Krenz | @caitlinkrenzbeauty
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