The comedy, which Steven Spielberg helped get made, is the first studio film to center on a Filipino American family

Comedian Jo Koy famously shot his 2017 comedy special Live From Seattle himself after Netflix passed on it—and then turned around and acquired it after watching Koy's set, filled with hilarious impressions of his Filipino mother. Two more hit specials followed, 2019's Comin' in Hot and 2020's In His Elements, both drawing heavily from his heritage for laughs. So, it's no surprise that in Koy's first starring film role, he plays a man returning home for an Easter celebration with his loud, loving Filipino family. The comic, 50, currently on the road for his Funny is Funny standup tour, talked to EW about why Friday is an inspiration, how Steven Spielberg put Filipinos on the cinematic map three decades ago, and the ubiquitousness of roast pig.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I'm Filipino and when I saw that this movie was happening, I was so excited.

JO KOY: Coming up as a kid, we didn't have anything like this to get inspired by. When I was watching movies, you had to wait for the credits to find out if anyone was Filipino. When I saw Dante Basco in Hook, going through the credits, I'm like, "Oh, he's definitely Filipino." But that was our way of being inspired indirectly when I was a kid. And now I have that opportunity to provide this inspiration and this opening.

Easter Sunday
Comedian Jo Koy's upcoming movie 'Easter Sunday' is the first studio film to center on a Filipino American family
| Credit: Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures

Can you tell me how the movie came about and how it got made?

It's kind of like a dream thing that happened to me. It really is. I had to actually shoot my Live from Seattle special myself. Because Netflix passed on me. And then after I shot it myself, I brought it to them, and they loved it. They took it. If I didn't do that, they would never have given me the second one, Comin' In Hot. And that's the one Steven Spielberg watched. Like, what? Steven Spielberg watched my hour? You're kidding me right now.

They brought me in for a meeting over at Amblin and I got to meet Holly Bario and Jeb Brody, the two execs over there, and they went, "Steven loves you, and he wants to know if you have an idea for a movie." And I literally pitched this movie idea to another producer named Dan Lin with Rideback Film. And they were [all] like, "Yeah, we'll take it." Eight months later, we're in Vancouver, shooting the movie.

What was it about your special that you think Steven responded to?

He just loved the stories about my mom and our relationship…He just enjoyed that dynamic, and he enjoyed the storytelling, and he was like, "I want to make this story a reality." And it's not about making fun of Filipinos. It's about a family first that just happens to be Filipino. And you're going to relate to it. No matter what ethnicity you are, a mom is a mom. They all do the same mom stuff. 

[It's about] a family that lives in America just like everybody else. And you're going to relate to this family because you know them. And oh, by the way, you're going to learn some stuff about Filipinos on the way too. So that's kind of cool too.

One of the Easter Sunday photos features you and your character's mother in front of a table full of food. Can you tell me a little bit about what's going on in that picture?

The one thing I said the most when we were writing is "I'm not making fun of my family, and we're not going to make fun of our food and our culture." That's not what we're doing here. We're going to represent my family, and we're going to represent my culture. Of course, we had the big lechon. We had to. So yes, there's a big pig on the table, but that's what's there every birthday and every Easter. If I didn't put that there, [Filipinos] would've been mad. But on the other side, I wanted to show adobo. I wanted to show pancit. I wanted to show our egg rolls. I wanted to show what a spread looks like on our table and how delicious our food is.

Easter Sunday
Credit: Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures

Did you have a hand in any of the food styling? What was your input? Because it looked delicious.

Oh, that's my input all the way. I mean, there were items on the table. I was like, "Bye. Get that off the table right now."

Like what?

Look, if I'm giving one minute to you to represent your family, you're going to pick the best things that your family has to offer, right? So I'm going to put the best on that table. I'm not going to put dinuguan up there, even though that is a staple, but I'm not going to do that for the joke factor.

Did you introduce Steven to any Filipino food?

Not yet, but I will. I didn't realize this until I really started thinking about it, but this man loved Filipinos because he put Dante Basco in [Hook]. And that was in 1991. He let Dante run with it and no accent, no nothing. He just hired him because of his acting skill and he crushed that movie. It was Dante up against Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, and Julia Roberts. That's pretty bad ass. I don't know if he meant to, but he put Filipinos on the map.

Has your mother or your family seen the movie?

Not yet. They're going to love it. They have to. It's beautiful. And the woman Lydia [Gaston] that plays my mother, she's phenomenal. She was a beast. Destroyed it.

What do you hope audiences take away from the movie?

One thing I try and express a lot is when we turn off the light, we're all the same color. We're all laughing at the same thing. My story is relatable to you no matter what color you are. For some reason when we turn the lights on, we like to separate ourselves and not get it. And I just don't understand what that is.

You're going to see a lot of different ethnicities in this movie. We got an Indian guy, we got a Black woman, we got Filipino people. We got an Indian director for God's sake. And you know what? No one cares. It's just a movie about a family. And once Hollywood sees that this is the norm, this can be done without always having to be so specific. A mom is a mom, a son is a son, a grandson is a grandson. And we can all relate to it. I want this movie to open other doors for other people, other ethnicities to celebrate their culture. 

The movie takes place over the course of one day, Easter Sunday. Why?

Well, Easter is just that day when Filipinos all come out. I mean, it's more packed than Christmas. That was the significance of that day. I felt like it's like an indirect way of saying this is for Filipinos. I don't think that many people celebrate Easter as hard as we do. And then I also wanted to do the framework around one day because I was such a fan of Friday the movie. They did it in one day. Let's do it in one chaotic day.

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