Earlier this year, at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival, the world premiere of the Daniel’s Everything Everywhere All at Once blew audiences away, going on to being one of the biggest surprises of the year, as the film became A24’s highest grossing film. The indie sci-fi comedy gave us all one of the original films in years, the best performance of Michelle Yeoh’s career, the return of actor Ke Huy Quan, and an extraordinary breakout performance for actress Stephanie Hsu.
The young, Chinese American actress has primarily been known for her recurring work on the small screen in The Path and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In a guest role on Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens in 2020, Hsu got the opportunity to work with her Everything Everywhere directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Through this experience and connection with the dynamic duo, Hsu was able to land the dual role of Joy, the daughter of Yeoh’s Evelyn, and her multiverse alter ego Jobu Tupaki, who is looking to destroy the universe. In my review out of SXSW, I hauled Hsu’s part in this monumental achievement is “a role destined to make her a star.”
As we sat down at the Salamander resort at the 2022 Middleburg Film Festival, Hsu walked into the room where we conducted the interview, and this mega talented actress was so humble and down to earth as we spent a good five minutes trying to find a good spot to speak. We discussed the film’s journey since the premiere, her connection with Joy, her relationship with her co-star Michelle Yeoh, and what her favorite bagel is. It was an absolute pleasure speaking with someone who just loves talking about her craft and a film she loves, even to the point where she flipped my first question back on me. Curiosity, laughter, and future movie pitches filled in the blanks of the interview below that covered everything we could about the film and this vibrant, magnificent new talent.
Stephanie Hsu: Thanks for being here.
Ryan McQuade: Thank you for being here. First time here, right?
SH: It’s my first time.
RM: Yeah. Well, this isn’t the first time I’ve been at a film festival with you. I was at the premiere at South by Southwest.
SH: Ohhhhh, the most special day on Earth.
RM: It’s really where this whole journey sort of begin for this year, at least for you guys. Because obviously you’ve been trekking around the world with this whole film. I’m just curious how you have felt and how everybody with the film has felt since the premiere and what the reaction to the film, box office, the critical success and the fan base that this has grown from.
SH: Well, we like to keep it spicy over in the Everything Everywhere family. So, I’m going to be like, what’s your experience? I mean, that’s crazy. You were there right at the beginning-
RM: I was.
SH: … and I’m curious as to what your experience has been witnessing this whole journey?
RM: A phenomenon I would say, something that you rarely get to see.
RM: You guys are experiencing it. To be in that room, I mean, it was an electric feeling that night. Right?
SH: Yeah, for so many reasons. So, we started filming this … We filmed this movie before the pandemic. I signed onto the project in 2019, and our original wrap date from the beginning was March 13th, 2020, which as we all know is the day that everything shut down. So, we’ve been under some sort of cosmic spell from the beginning. That being said, I think I remember going to Dan Kwan one day while we were filming and I said, “This movie’s going to bring people back to the movie theaters.” Had no idea what that meant. And this was pre-pandemic. And even still, I still don’t know what it means, but I think what I meant by that was that I knew that this film was so special, and its heartbeat was so strong. But none of us could have predicted what has happened. And we are very much on the rollercoaster together.
But I honestly feel, I’ve been saying that this is the most honest handshake I could possibly make with Hollywood because I started from the world of experimental theater and my mentors taught me to make subversive art that would hopefully leave the world a better place. And somehow the alchemy of that was so in the heart of Everything Everywhere. And the fact that it worked, and that people are receiving it in this way has been such an affirmation to keep going and for all the imaginative weirdos out there for us to keep making because there’s an audience for it and people are thirsty for it. So even though this movie has been really healing for so many people out in the world, it’s actually been so healing for me as well, I think for all of us on a very personal level.
So, I feel really grateful. And I feel grateful to be getting to go on this journey of this film’s success with a family that is now my real family. And the Daniels are some of my best friends now. And to get to love each other so much and get to celebrate each other with other people is such a … I’m really realizing is a gift of a freaking lifetime doesn’t always happen. I’m like, “Y’all, this might be the only time it’s like this. So let’s soak it up.”
RM: You have worked with the Daniels before. You of the main cast that night said that you had a taste into their world. Some audiences had obviously with Swiss Army Man and other projects, but this is really for a lot of people, not just the cast that hadn’t worked with them before, but a lot of people, their first taste of their filmography is with this film. So when you read the script, obviously you’d known them, you’re comfortable working with them before, but even you had to have a reaction to this thing and felt something when you read it. So, what was that reaction when you first finished the script?
SH: The Daniels and I met right before we started filming Everything Everywhere. I was living in New York at the time on Broadway, shooting Maisel, had finished that up, shot an episode of Nora from Queens and my directors were the Daniels. We fell so deeply in love that I basically followed them out to LA and was like, “I just want to meet young creatives who are doing exciting work like them.” And within a week of me getting there, they called me, and they were like, “Hey, we’re working on this movie, no pressure, but we think you’d be really great for it.” And that was Everything Everywhere.
I say that because I think in a weird way … They showed my audition tape recently at the Hamptons Film Festival and the first thing I said was, “I guess I really understood this movie.” So, it’s a testament to their writing because it really was clear on the page. But in a weird way, I think some of the big questions I ask as a person in this world, some of the type of art that I respond to, Eternal Sunshine was always one of my favorite movies. I love these sort of slice of life that then get exploded into a larger philosophical question type movie. And I think I just understood it. And because I had just worked with them, the hotdog fingers, the butt plugs, none of that surprised me because I was like, “Oh yeah, my weird friends folded this in because they’re weird and funny and silly.” But the core of it was so present in the script. And that really is such a testament to them and the work they put into this film.
RM: The movie is about, for me at least, about people’s acceptance and their ever-evolving change. And you’ve had this movie for three years now. You’ve signed on to this thing. Along with this cast, you’ve learned so much from them. And we’ll talk about your cast mates here in a second. You’ve worked with these directors. Like you said, you followed them and have worked with them for a long time now. In these three years, much like Joy in the film, you’ve had to change probably a lot with it. So, what has that process been like as through the character’s change and seeing it and how it’s affecting others? How has that affected you personally?
SH: Well, before the film came out, I think all of us … It’s so crazy. Imagine filming something that you’re so proud of, sitting on it for two years, not knowing how audiences are going to respond. But even before the movie came out, there was so much anticipation for it. And A24 was holding onto it so tightly so that we could have a theatrical release. But for a second, people kept asking me and the Daniels, they’d be like, “So what’s next? And what do you want to do next?” And all of our responses were like, “We just want the movie to come out.” But before the movie came out, I was joking that I unleashed my own Jobu Tupaki onto myself because I think I was preparing myself for the worst-case scenario. I was like, “What if people hate the movie? What if people hate my character?”
I’m a villain of sorts, but I’m also a daughter. And it is meant to be a very heart open but also ugly performance in the sense of that scene at the parking lot at the end. I remember when I was working on it, and I knew where Joy is in the beginning. And so, I wanted to get to stretch Jobu as far from Joy as possible because I also knew that we would get the reward of that cathartic experience in the parking lot at the end. But what I wanted to do in that parking lot was like, “I want it to all hang out. I want it to be ugly. I just want to open up the innards and explode them and see what happens.” But then you have to watch it and you’re like, “Oh shit, man. Yeah, that’s ugly crying right there.” So I was really preparing myself for the worst because I didn’t realize too how vulnerable I was feeling in millions of people getting to witness my work.
But as I was saying earlier, this experience has been hugely healing for me because I think I, all throughout my life, have felt like I kept getting into rooms on accident, just intense imposter syndrome that is magnified by being a queer person or a queer person of color, and also someone who just didn’t grow up in a household with the arts. And so, I think I’ve, for the longest time, being like, “I’m here on accident, I’m here on accident. How did this happen?” And the fact that this movie holds so much of what I want art to be, for people to love it has been a huge encouragement and permission for me to step into this further from a very centered place. But yeah, the stuff that I value, other people value too. I guess I have to keep going or get to keep going.
It’s been a huge growth journey for all of us to also practice, including the Daniels. They just have this huge deal now with Universal, which is a really big deal. And I think all of us have felt ourselves have a stage or an audience that has gotten much wider. And with that great power comes great responsibility. And I’ve watched all of us rise to the challenge while still holding onto our values but realizing that keeping ourselves small isn’t going to serve anybody. So yeah, I’ve just been watching all of us really grow throughout this process and rise to the occasion. Yeah, this is a crazy phenomenon. It’s insane.
RM: It is.
SH: It’s really insane.
RM: It is. You talk about learning and changing and everything, but obviously that comes with also the work. It also comes with working with someone who I consider to be a legend, and Michelle (Yeoh). And I know that you guys worked so close together, and I could feel that that night at SXSW. I could feel that everybody can feel that love when it’s on the screen. What is something that you have learned from her on the set? And since then, what have you learned even more about Michelle that you have taken with you and admired about her?
SH: I think I first want to celebrate the Daniels in saying that part of the reason why I think that the film does work and has been hitting people in such a deep emotional space, or some people say it’s like a movie’s giving them a hug, the Daniels intentionally … The Daniels and our producer, Jonathan Wong, intentionally create a film set that feels horizontal, that celebrates not only the crew, but the props assistant. You know what I mean?
We do warmups, we do awards every day to celebrate all the people who are working so hard to make a movie come together. And I think that the reason why the film works is because the way we made it is also has the same integrity of the lesson or the message that we’re trying to offer. We’re not saying be kind and then everyone is an asshole to each other. Everyone is kind. And also, we’re like, “Please be kind.” We’re practicing it and we’re telling it. So, I want to … props to them and celebrate them. But with that, that would be impossible if you had a number one on the call sheet who was a total diva and a butthole, and … you can edit that out or not (laughs) We all have one. Or maybe you don’t, I don’t know. (laughs)
But Michelle is so incredible. And I think the biggest thing I admire about her and really in hindsight am just floored by, is that she is someone who is a living legend. She has worked in so many films that are singular. She’s worked with the best of the best, and yet she walks onto set, and you can forget that you’re even in the presence of someone of her caliber because she’s so humble. She’s so egoless, and she truly surrenders to the people she trusts or has signed on to trust, which is the directors, her scene partners. She completely gives herself. And I feel like she really taught me that no matter what happens, no matter how successful someone is or how many awards someone might have, that the way you carry yourself and open your whole self to your team and surrender yourself to your team defines the very project itself.
It’s a responsibility, and it’s inherent to her personality. And I think the biggest thing I feel like I’ve been learning, or witnessing is just she carries that all the way through. She’s still so humble, so joyous, still wants to have dinner parties. She really does open up her family every time she steps into a project. And I’m so grateful for it. And I’ve also been watching her practice receiving too. Because every single person is so excited for her and so grateful that it was her in this role because it couldn’t happen to anyone else. And that’s an overwhelming feeling. But we’ve been like … Yeah, we’re just happy to get to watch her soak it all in.
Interviewer: And she gets to soak it in with you and everything. I saw the … I think it was the video out of Toronto, if I’m not mistaken, and the award there. And it was just great to see you guys both together because you guys are so great in this movie together.
RM: With Evelyn in the film, we get to see so many different roles with her. With Joy, we do get to see the two sides of her. We get to see her, and we get to see Jobu in the film. But for you, obviously I think about more of what the Daniels could do with this universe, you ever thought about other versions of Joy that you would like to see and have thought about those over the time since the films come out? Would that be interesting to tap into that?
SH: Interesting. To include in the film or just, you mean even another project?
RM: Either one. Either one.
SH: Ooh, that’s a good question.
RM: Maybe a continuation?
SH: Oh my gosh. Well, we know that they’re never going to do that.
RM: Well, if they did though, it could be from your perspective this time around.
SH: Yeah, that would be very cool. I mean, I think it would be really not … I think the movie is just perfectly how it should be.
RM: Yeah, it should be. But you always think of, because this experience is so great, more-
RM: It’s something we always think about, right?
SH: Right. I would love to see more of her relationship with Becky actually because they are this queer couple that’s not … What I love about our movie is that it folds in identity without it being the center of the project. Yeah. Because if you’re queer, if you’re a Chinese immigrant, you’re not waking up every morning being like, “I’m Chinese.” You’re like, “Where’s the coffee?” So, what I love about Joy and Becky’s relationship is that they’re not like hot New York L word lesbians. It’s kind of more run of the mill and quiet. And I also think Tallie is one of the most incredible actresses. And I just think that relationship would be such a fun … It would be so fun to be a fly on the wall for that relationship.
RM: I have to ask you, I think that this is a question that you probably get asked maybe a ton, or if you don’t, then we get to answer it now. But bagels play such a big part in the film. Are you sick of them? Are you sick of bagels?
SH: Bagels in general? (laughs)
RM: Yeah. (laughs) Have you been getting offered a lot of bagels throughout this film coming out? And if you have, do you have a favorite bagel, and what do you like on it?
SH: Okay, so I am gluten-free, but I used to not be gluten-free. And when I was not gluten-free, I’m a stinky girl. I’m like, “Give me the everything bagel with the scallion cream cheese toasted,” lived in New York and was like, yeah, I loved a bagel.
Have I been given a lot of bagels? It’s funny, one of my least favorite moments in the film, which everyone knows because it’s this moment where you’re going into the third act, and you want to feel good. It’s after Ke does his speech about kindness. You’re crying, you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m feeling all the feelings.” And then all of a sudden Jobu goes to Evelyn, “Bagel.” And it completely sucks you out of the feel good. And I fucking hate that moment. I mean, Paul, our editor, knows too, we joke about it all because I like sitting in the good feeling. But no, not a lot of people have been like, “Bagel,” to me. But interestingly enough, David Mullen, who’s the DP of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I saw him right after the movie came out, and he said to me, “Hey, Stephanie. Do you know what my favorite moment of the film was?” And I was like, “What, David?” He was like, “Bagel.”
But no, luckily, not everyone has been … But yeah, no, I haven’t been offered a lot of bagel roles. I’m not going to be in “Bagel Boy Underpants 2” or whatever. (laughs)
RM: We’d all see that though.
SH: Yeah. Honestly, actually that’s a pitch. Pitch it, pitch it. (both laugh)
RM: This is a monumental breakout performance for you. And this is going to open up doors and avenues for you that may have never would before this movie. So, for you, going forward now, what is something that is essential to you when picking out roles and the future now for your career?
SH: I think the thing that has been the most exciting for me since this has all happened is … My background is in developing work with people and devising work, otherwise known as collaborating. And I’ve always felt that my strong suit was as a collaborator, not just as an actress for hire. So, the thing that has been opening up for me since this has happened is a lot more people coming to me sooner with projects saying, “What do you think about it? How do you want to develop it?” Or having more space to develop my own stuff and feeling like it might actually happen. It’s kind of twofold when it comes to roles. I really believe in the power and responsibility of storytelling. And so, at its very best, I want it to do what Everything Everywhere did, which is to challenge the art form and the medium itself, while also giving us as a society something to move forward with and to help us come closer together or feel into something that matters greatly for our humanity. I recognize that not every project can do that, but I really care about the why.
And at the same time, on the flip side of that, I think I’m recognizing … There was this woman who came up to me the other day who recognized me at a coffee shop. And she was this Asian actress. And she came up to me, and she was like, “Hey, I just want to let you know I’m actually an extra, but I got to be an extra on the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And I just want to thank you because I feel like I got to be an extra on that show because your character, so thank you so much.”
And I tell that story because I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that even me just existing in our industry, in the landscape of filmmaking, if it’s a fun, silly role but honors my humanity or just is not making me a caricature, then that’s significant, right? We’re not at some point where the industry is so saturated by faces we haven’t seen, there’s actually still so much room to integrate that. So, when I get to choose the big, big art heart projects, I want to, and I’m also giving myself permission to have fun and still exist in the fabric of our industry, just being me and trusting that that is also significant in it of itself.
RM: Yeah. Well, you’re fantastic in this. I can’t wait to see what you do next. And all the best of luck the rest of the season.
SH: Thank you. I really appreciate it.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is currently available to buy or rent as well as stream VOD.