Do not turn down the light to make other people comfortable: in conversation with Melody Butiu
Are you ready to read the best advice for aspiring actors / actresses? Yes, because Melody Butiu is not only a flawless professional, but she is also a really fantastic and sunny person, able to find light in any dark corner. From the Broadway stage to the big screen, Melody talks about herself and about her fun experiences on sets!
When did you decide to become an actress? Is there a particular Hollywood star that you admire and inspired you?
I’ve loved singing since I was a toddler, but did not really discover acting until high school, when I was blown away by the school’s production of Sweeney Todd. I was inspired to start take the leap from my involvement in choir to taking drama classes and immediately got involved in the school musicals. I started doing more plays in college and even toured the country with an Asian American theatre company. I would attend classes during the week and travel on weekends to universities all over the US for performances and workshops. I received my BA and MFA in Theatre and Acting at UCSD.
I’ve admired Sandra Oh for so many years. We did a play together called Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn at La Jolla Playhouse when I was in graduate school, and it has been a wonder watching her career skyrocket. The way she tackles scripts with wit, joy, intelligence, fearlessness, and abandon is so thrilling.
What have been your best moments on set so far? Also in reference to your appearances on TV programs?
Easter Sunday has by far been the most fun I’ve had on set. It was incredible to be part of the core ensemble, to create a family with all these brilliant actors. With my TV appearances, I’ve mostly been a guest, shooting for a day or two, or up to a week. Every set is different and it’s fun to jump in and play.
I remember an episode of Desperate Housewives I did years ago. I played a nurse who was bringing in a bunch of balloons for Teri Hatcher’s character, Susan, who had just had a baby. The scene required her to pop the balloons over my head, and the amount of experimenting we did to get the exact right quality of POP was so funny to me. Foil balloons, putting a pin in the pen used as a prop to pop the balloons, trying all the various amounts of air in the balloons, so that the bursts were satisfying…it took a lot of patience and time, and I admire the props department for tackling the challenge. Our director, Bethany Rooney, said she appreciated my focus and ability to jump right in with every take and still be funny.
About the theater, on the other hand, you have participated in many shows. What do you prefer for now? Theater or cinema?
They’re both so different! Being part of the Easter Sunday cast was an absolute dream come true. It was a joy to create this character, be part of a wonderful ensemble of artists, and be on set for two months. I learned so much and would be thrilled with the opportunity to do more films. I had to remind myself that once we were done shooting, everything else was out of my hands. So much more storytelling happens afterwards, in the editing process. With theatre, I am present throughout the rehearsal process, and certainly at every performance. There’s something terribly exciting about sharing space with an audience, hearing their reactions, taking them on a journey from beginning to end without stopping. Throughout the run, which can sometimes be four weeks or sometimes several months, the performances deepen and grow, and you continue to make discoveries along the way. It’s very special. Some of my most rewarding experiences has been in the theatre, so I would always want that in my life.
Can you tell us something more about your protagonist role in the Universal Pictures and Amblin comedy franchise “Easter Sunday”?
In Easter Sunday, stand-up comedy sensation, Jo Koy, stars as a man returning home with his son to their riotous, bickering, eating, drinking, laughing, loving family in this love letter to the Filipino American community. I play Tita Yvonne, Jo’s cousin. I am the eldest daughter of Tita Theresa (played by Tia Carrere), and part of the extended family. I’m a Tita (or Auntie) to Joe Junior (played by Brandon Wardell). I’m more of a supporting role, and part of a little Greek Chorus of Titos and Titas who are part of the Easter Sunday celebration. I’m the type of Tita that is ready to break out the karaoke machine, needle you about who you’re dating, encroach on your personal space a little too much, shower you with sniff-kisses, and fill the room with joy and laughter.
How was your experience making it? Do you have any funny anecdotes?
Every day was filled with incredible hilarity. We had so much fun making each other laugh, on-set, but so much of the bonding and closeness happened off set. Because we filmed during Covid, we spent most of our off time with each other in our own cast bubble. We would explore outdoor food markets, ride bikes along the waterfront, spend time in parks, and go shopping. One day, we had a big Filipino dinner to celebrate Jo’s birthday, and we broke out the karaoke machine, sang our faces off, Tiffany and Jo told stories about their early years at the Laugh Factory, we broke out into musical theatre numbers, danced, and screamed with laughter! Eugene Cordero and Asif Ali even jumped into an improv act where they were our cruise ship activity directors. It was one of our few days off, and we just wanted to spend it with each other, having the most Filipino party ever. Hours and hours of ridiculousness!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue the same career in film as you?
Embrace the things that make you uniquely you. Lean into the things that make you different. Always be curious. Live a full life of adventures, relationships, friendships, family, celebrations, interests, hobbies, explorations, big ol’ leaps and failures. All of these things will inform your artistry and give you so much more to draw from when working on your own creativity.
If you could go back and talk to a younger you, what would you tell her?
You are valuable and you matter exactly as you are. Your path is going to look so different from anyone else’s, so just keep doing what you love, keep being kind to and appreciative of those around you, and trust that you will have a full and beautiful life. Do not compare yourself to others, their looks, their paths, or their choices. Do not make yourself small or dim your light to make other people comfortable. You can challenge yourself. You can do hard things. You will surprise yourself with all that you are capable of doing. These are all amazing things. Keep going.
As LATEST is primarily a fashion magazine, this question is a bit of a must for us. Is there any fashion brand or designer that you particularly like and that you feel represents you?
For the Easter Sunday red carpet, Oliver Tolentino’s red hand beaded modern Terno for Tia Carrere, and Bessie Besana’s strapless lilac gown with sheer poncho and feathers for Lydia Gaston were stunning. For my own look, I considered a beautiful gown by RC Caylan, but ended up with a gorgeous gown by Fouy Chov. For day-to-day life, I gravitate towards bold colors, and have been loving Diane von Furstenberg, FARM Rio, and The Kit (those Instagram ads got me!). I also recently picked up Filipino inspired pieces from Vinta Gallery and TheMestizoLA. For more classic and casual choices, Madewell, Lucky Brand, and Free People are some of my go-to’s. For jewelry design, I’m a fan of Janna Conner, Luv AJ, and Kendra Scott.