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Stephanie Hsu Finds Beauty in the Chaos of ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’

Stephanie Hsu has it all.

She’s a talented singer with credits from Broadway. Her comedic timing on Comedy Central’s Nora From Queens and Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is perfect. She’s absolutely stunning. And, best of all, she’s humble and really a great person to chat with. 

The Everything Everywhere All At Once star is enjoying the praise and meaningful interpretations from her latest movie which is out now. The film has already grossed over half a million dollars on 10 screens in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco this past weekend and will expand to more theaters soon. 

After working with the EEAAO directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert aka The Daniels on Nora From Queens, Hsu just wanted to keep working with the duo because it was “so much fun”.

“I just want to work with weirdos like these boys,” Hsu told The Nerds of Color over Zoom before the film premiered. “They called me and [were] like, ‘hey, we’re working on this film. We think you’d be great for it. No pressure, but do you want to come in?’ I had no idea Michelle Yeoh was attached. I [knew] A24 was attached. I was just like, ‘I will follow you two to the ends of the Earth.’”

In the film, Hsu plays Joy, the openly gay daughter of Everlyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). While Waymond is supportive of his daughter’s choices in her life, Everlyn struggles to understand her. There is a disconnect between the two, which becomes even more distant with the reveal of the multiverse. Everlyn is tasked with trying to save the different universes, but realizes that she must also do whatever it takes to save her relationship with Joy. 

The film is chaotic, but absolutely beautiful in its meaning behind it all. Hsu absolutely loves the story and symbolism between mother and daughter.

“It’s just a story that hit home right away,” said Hsu. “It’s so rare to get scripts that already have such a soul to them on the page. I really just was so excited to even be considered and it’s been the greatest gift of my life to get to work on this movie.”

We chat more about the film and the deep significance of it all — including the idea of nihilism and what it means to just exist — and how working with legendary actors like Yeoh, Quan, and Hong reflect on her own career as an Asian American.

The film Everything Everywhere All At Once is chaotic, but beautiful. How was it for you when you first read this script?

I can tell that you get it — that’s life, right? I think I was very fortunate when I read the script because I knew their sense of humor and sensibility. The humor was very obvious to me, like the dildos did not freak me out. The butt plugs did not freak me out. I read it as “etc, etc, etc and was like ‘yeah, yeah, sure, sure, sure.’ But what I really was impressed by and felt immediately on the page was the story of this family and this mother and daughter desperately trying to find one another through all of the chaos of life — and also the multiverse. It’s just a story that hit home right away. It’s so rare to get scripts that already have such a soul to them on the page. I really just was so excited to even be considered and it’s been the greatest gift of my life to get to work on this movie. Truly.

Joy has so many layers to this character and it’s touching to see this mother-daughter relationship. Did you draw from your own personal experiences in this role?

Absolutely. I have a joke that I’ve been [recently] telling, which is that my mom says this about all of my projects, because she’s my mother and she’s an Evelyn of sorts, but I bet she’s gonna watch this movie and be like, ‘That’s not acting. That’s just you.’ But — definitely. Being the daughter of an immigrant and that is just a very specific experience. It was mostly just me and my mom when I grew up. Two women in one household is this [unexplainable thing]. You can’t even describe it. But everyone who sees the movie, and specifically women, I feel are mothers and daughters. They see the movie and understand it immediately. They’re ugly crying and don’t know why. And the movie finishes and everybody wants to call their mom or like everybody wants to hug their child because I think it’s really messy. The love is so strong, but their relationships and how we express our love for one another is so messy and imperfect. We want to say the right thing, but instead we say ‘you look fat’. We all want the very best for your family but it’s so hard to be vulnerable and parent your child in the right way. It’s not Hollywood at all. I think this movie does such a beautiful job of getting into the mess. It just feels so real. I love the parking lot scene so much. I am really proud of that scene. I’ll never forget it but another scene I really love is the kiss that Evelyn and Waymond have in the IRS building at the very end of the movie outside the bathrooms. Yeah, because it’s kind of like the attempt at a pretty bow finish. But it’s so kind of awkward and ugly and just not sexy at all. But that’s life, you know?

There is so much symbolism for the film on parent relationships, generational trauma/burden/guilt, finding your purpose in life, appreciating what you do have, and multiple meanings behind it. What did you take from this film?

My favorite thing about this movie is that we shot it over two years ago and when I was working on it, the lessons that it was giving me are so very different from the lessons I’m receiving from it now. Which, I think, is such a testament to a solid piece of art that teaches you new things everytime you watch it. When I was filming it, I used to say that nihilism saved my life. Because if nothing matters, then you literally can do anything. I think if you’re a big hearted person and you want to make good change in the world, and you live in a very chaotic time where there’s war, conflict, and horrible dictator presidents, there’s so much that you want to do to save the world or make it better. When you can’t, it can be very overwhelming and there’s something very humbling about this concept of nothing matters because maybe we’re all here just to try our very best. One person is not going to be able to solve everything, and it’s gonna be messy and ugly and chaotic. But we are for some reason here at this time to be together to try to figure it out. So it takes the pressure off in some ways. I think now when I watch the film, the thing that I’ve been really feeling recently is the world has gotten increasingly more chaotic and crazy since we filmed it. It was crazy, then, somehow, it got crazier — and it keeps getting crazier. I do believe for whatever reason, we are all here [at] this moment now to try to help each other. [To help] figure it out. You could be anywhere, but we’re literally right here. So we’ve got to just make the most of it and be with the ones we love and try our very best to be kind. It sounds cheesy, but I really think that’s it. There’s no other option. This is the planet that we have. This is the time that we’ve been born into. And there’s no going back. There’s no going back to pre-pandemic, pre-war. There’s just no going back. So we have to keep going and not give up on each other and not give up on the ones we love.

You’re working with generational legends – James Hong, Ke Huy Quan, and Michelle Yeoh. What was it like working with these generations of actors and did it make you reflect on really what they had to go through to weave the path for Asian American/diaspora actors like yourself?

I can’t believe how lucky I am. It [didn’t] really [hit me] until we did our first press event for the movie where it was me, Jamie [Lee Curtis], Michelle [Yeoh], and Ke [Huy Quan] on Zoom. I was like, ‘wait, I’m the youngest person here.’ How did I not realize this when we were filming? How did I get here? Why [are] Jamie and Michelle in my house? What’s going on? I’m so lucky. I am not worthy. This is crazy. I entered the process with so much courage because I knew how lucky I was. I was just excited for the task to be my very best around these legends. But I will say a conversation that really stood out to me was talking to James Hong, who [has] been in more movies than anybody in the whole world. He loves acting. He just loves it so much. He was trying to film a documentary about his life while we were filming our movie. He’s so playful. And, he comes from a generation that doesn’t really talk about identity politics the same way that we do now. It’s not because he doesn’t care about it. It’s because the ways in which he had to pave the way are what some millennials or Gen Z might think is stereotypical or insulting now. But, in talking to him, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, James, you’ve played so many roles that we may watch now and they might not be the most woke roles that exist, but it’s because there were zero people.’ So [he] chipped away with a little hammer and a nail — just slowly chipping away. And, in some ways, [he was] not even doing it for collective liberation. [He was] actually just following [his] core joy. And if we can now move through all of this and really get to a place where diversity and inclusion [are] so interwoven into our landscape that people can just do it because they love it [and] not because they’re trying to take down a wall. If we can get there and go full circle, that would be so amazing. It was really humbling to talk to him because every generation is going to think that what came before [them], we could have done better, but that’s just life, right? So [there’s] nothing wrong. There’s a line that ended up not in the movie, but it was my favorite line. Jobu [Hsu’s other character] says, “There’s no wrong, no right, only wrong.” But, in some ways, I think about that all the time where it’s just like in the path of collective liberation, it’s not one choice that changes at all. It’s so much of who comes before you to lay the bedrock or to break down barriers so you can continue to do the work. The work never ends. So it’s helped me really soften my own opinions sometimes and just be able to zoom out past my generation — past my time to kind of slow down and understand [that] progress takes a long, long time. I’m excited for all the progress we’re making.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is out in theaters now.

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