Jana Morrison was celebrating her mom Rebecca's birthday when she found out that she got the lead role of Astrid in SyFy's horror-comedy TV series 'Astrid & Lilly Save the World.' The character was written as Filipino when Morrison was cast.
"The casting process started about April of 2021, and I've got the breakdown and it said plus-size girls, 16. She's feisty, smart, she loves science, which is really beautiful because Filipinos are so smart and love science and are so good at school. The breakdown didn't say specifically Filipino. It was just, ‘We need a girl who can fill this role.’ Eventually my agent called me and she said, ‘You got the role.’ So, we're getting pedicures and I told my mom and it was: maraming tears (full of tears)," Morrison shares.
Veteran Filipino Canadian stage performer Ma-Anne Dionisio plays her mother. Morrison is paired with Samantha Aucoin who plays Lilly and the story revolves around the two best friends who are outcasts dealing with monstrous bullies in their high school. But when literal monsters started popping up in their small town, they became the unlikely heroes tasked to save the world.
Morrison says the show is groundbreaking in its casting choices. "In American TV, I've not seen a Filipino daughter-and-mother relationship, and I think a lot of people are going to relate."
Morrison also appreciates her show's commitment to celebrating body positivity. She praises the recent statement by veteran actress Alison Tolman on Twitter, calling on writers to stop writing scenes where characters are on the receiving end of weight and body type bad jokes.
"Somebody’s physical appearance is not a joke, because that's who they are. It's very serious, and everyone is very special and because someone’s weight is a certain way doesn't mean that you're the butt of the joke. And I think a lot of writers and people at the tops making all the decisions need to really hear that," Morrison stresses.
Her mother grew up in Project 7 in Quezon City, Philippines while her father was originally from Europe. They settled in Canada where Morrison fell in love with theater.
"We’re a very Filipino family. We wear tsinelas in the house. I also went to Tagalog school, pero yung speaking ko is not amazing yet (but my speaking is not amazing yet)."
Morrison fought back tears as she reflects on what it means to be accepted for who she is and play a lead role in a TV series. She is mindful of how young Filipina girls like her can also sometimes endure the harshest criticisms from their own community.
"There's too many emotions, it's hard to put into words but I feel honored. I feel very privileged to be able to be alive for girls who are younger, girls who are even my age, Filipino girls, to just be themselves and to not be ashamed because Astrid is not ashamed of who she is, and what she stands for, and I think everybody should be that way and she's taught me that also. Sometimes, I would revert to just keeping to myself and what I think is right but I think speaking up is better for our community."
'Astrid & Lilly Save the World' premieres on SyFy this week.