Actress Lydia Gaston: Seeing herself as she plays Jo Koy’s ‘mother’

Lydia has worked as a NYC Teaching Artist and is currently an adjunct professor at SUNY Empire State College. Photo:

By Cristina DC Pastor

Whoa! Stage actress Lydia Gaston gets to holler the signature monicker “Josep”!

Josep is none other than Jo Koy – real name: Joseph Glenn Herbert — the celebrated Filipino American comedian who broke barriers and with crossover appeal boasts a massive following among Filipinos and mainstream Americans alike. He is co-producing with Steven Spielberg his biographical comedy “Easter Sunday” where Lydia is cast as his mother.

“In the movie her name is Susan,” shared Lydia in an interview with The FilAm.

Lydia, who began as a classical dancer and became a New York stage actress (“The King and I,” “Miss Saigon” on Broadway; “Dogeaters,” “Joy Luck Club” Off-Broadway), portrays Josie Harrison, the single parent who raised Jo Koy and his sisters Rowena and Gemma. “Easter Sunday” is Lydia’s first film.

Kept in suspense

In late February, Lydia learned about casting for the movie. “I was excited to hear there was going to be a Jo Koy movie,” she said. She sent a self-tape audition and got a callback. The film follows a FilAm family as it prepares for the Christian holiday celebration.

“Definitely there will be a lot of comedy,” she said careful not to give away the plot to the film slated for release sometime in early 2022. “We have a lot of similar stories about family, and there is immediate recognition of the jokes.”

Jo Koy (far left) and the mostly Filipino cast of ‘Easter Sunday.’ Director Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, Inc. is the film’s producer. Facebook photo

Lydia has been watching Jo Koy on YouTube  since 2015 and is hooked on his ‘crazy Pinoy life’ comedy. “He is able to show our crazy Filipino family lives and relationships. I know that Filipinos who live in the U.S. and in the Philippines, young and old, relate to his stories. Even my non-Filipino friends say that Jo Koy’s stories remind them of their own Italian and Jewish families.”

In 2018, she came to see Jo Koy in New York who was then doing a publicity event. “I said hello afterwards and asked to take a picture with him. At that point, I never imagined I would be on a film set with him.”


Lydia was born in New York City. Her parents, who got married in City Hall without the blessings of their families, were “disowned” Filipino style, “scandalous” in those days. They were asked to return when they learned a new grandchild had been born. Lydia grew up in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, a steadfast, full blooded Ilongga.

As Bloody Mary in South Pacific at Reagle Music Theatre in Greater Boston. Photo:

“My mom had been a ballerina in N.Y. She opened up a ballet school in Bacolod which endured for 50 years, until she passed in 2011. She was a harbinger of the arts in our hometown. I became the ballerina who continued my mother’s dreams in New York,” she said. Interestingly, in Bacolod she grew up listening to musical theatre, an influence from her parents who lived in NYC during the heyday of Broadway in the late 1950s. “I grew up listening to ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Pajama Game’ and imitating that old musical theatre style of singing. My mom also enrolled me in voice lessons.”

While in Manila she became a member of Ballet Philippines. She returned to New York when she was 18.  “I didn’t have an easy time getting into a ballet company. I didn’t have ‘the classic ballerina look.’ Also, most classical companies in the States rarely hired ballerinas of color in those days.”

Lydia’s dance training led to musical theater that kept her employed for many years. “I could learn multiple parts because ballet had trained me to pick up choreography quickly. This skill also helped in mastering blocking, learning music, etc.”  From starting out as a swing for chorus parts, she was eventually hired as an understudy to cover principal roles. “Being in a long running show like ‘Miss Saigon’ gave me the time and money to start studying voice and acting. I knew I couldn’t be a dancer forever,” she said.

Jo Koy’s real-life mom Josie Harrison; Lydia portraying her as Susan.

Her first professional theatre job was the 1981 national tour of “The King and I” with Yul Brynner. “I auditioned as one of the replacements for the tour and got in,” she recalled. “I didn’t really want to do it, because it felt like I was giving up on a classical dance career. But it got me my union card and a real salary. I did the tour for about 14 months before resuming a concert dance career for a few more years.”

She continued: “Around 1985 I started working with a modern dance choreographer in New York, Rachel Lampert. She was creating dances that had us also speaking, singing and acting onstage. This was all new to me and a far cry from classical ballet.  However, I discovered that I actually fit into this dance/theatre world much more easily.”

First movie

“’Easter Sunday’ is my first movie,” she disclosed. “This work, as opposed to the television work (“The Sopranos,” “The Path”) I’ve done before, gives me the opportunity to interact with more characters in the story and work more closely with the director.”

She delights in her role as Jo Koy’s mom. She said, “I see myself and my mother in it. The overprotectiveness, the threats, the rules, the importance of having a good reputation, what will people think, make something of yourself, etc. I am a mom myself, and although my daughter was raised in Brooklyn, she recognizes all of Jo Koy’s stories, and appreciates the humor he brings to them. After all she was raised by me, a Filipina.”

© The FilAm 2021

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