I cannot stop thinking about Stephanie Hsu’s expressive face all throughout the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once. As Joy, a lonely, only child who has given up hope of earning her mother’s respect, Hsu leans into the emotional abandon. As Jobu Tupaki, the film’s shape-shifting, unpredictable force of darkness, she harnesses the recklessness of someone with nothing to lose. Hsu delivers a heartbreaking, ferocious performance, and she absolutely deserves attention and consideration for Best Supporting Actress.
No matter how many times I have seen Everything Everywhere, I find something new when I watch it. The Daniels are very visual storytellers, and the editing of this film is also a stand out. How does that feel when reading the script? Hsu reveals that she responded to a feeling when she read the words on the page.
“I was just texting the Daniels, because I’ve been reading a lot of scripts lately,” Hsu said at the top of our conversation. “When I met them, I shot an episode of Nora From Queens, and we felt like artistic soulmates. I was trying to distill what kind of filmmakers that I was drawn to, and what was it about the Daniels that made me so excited and passionate. I re-watched one of their shorts on Vimeo called Interesting Ball which is about a red, bouncy ball that wreaks havoc, and it feels like a miniature Everything Everywhere. It’s about chaos and randomness and the cosmos through the lens of this ball, and it’s so weird. I can feel their vision through their words. They truly are auteur filmmakers, because they have a very clear point of view. When I read the script, not only could I hear the heartbeat of the story and the story of this family from this large concept of the multiverse, but I knew it was going to be beautiful. They have an uncanny ability to be unafraid to show completely idiotic and make it stunning and make you want to cry at the same time. It’s their superpower.”
Most of the characters in this film physically transform from one iteration to another (especially for Michelle Yeoh and Hsu), but Jobu wears the film’s most elaborate outfits. Costumed by Shirley Kurata, Hsu felt that it was important that Jobu felt powerful no matter what she was wearing. On the flip side, Joy only wants to physically disappear, her hoodie pulled over her head and her sleeves swallowing her hands.
“I am a very physical actor, and that is a very important entry point for me,” she revealed. “I really wanted Joy as swallowed up as possible since I knew how explosive Jobu was going to be. I remember when I first did the movie, I was doing a lot of theater at the time, and I was doing something at MASS MoCA. The Daniels were very welcoming for me into the process. I am a ‘big picture’ kind of performer where I like to know the soundscape and the visuals. There was an installation at MASS MoCA that was all bubbles where these glass lightbulbs looked like the cosmos, and I did a video for them as Jobu walking through this hallway. I filmed myself being this cosmos worm, so that helped me. The reason why I say that is I wanted to make sure that despite all the incredible costumes that I got to wear, I didn’t want to create a villain that is phased by any of it. Jobu’s superpower is that she is so powerful that she doesn’t have to acknowledge it. The challenge for me was to not lean into the costumes in some way but carry them with a lot of power. I didn’t want to be dressed as Elvis and do an Elvis impression–Jobu wouldn’t do that. I wanted it to be part of her chaos.”
As the film begins to reach its climax, Yeoh’s Evelyn swipes a baseball bat and begins smashing as much glass as she can. Hsu smirks as her mother’s path of destruction begins–almost as if Jobu is transmitting her glee through Joy. This is the first time that Joy sees her mother acting in this way, and we can almost feel Joy feeling a change in the air. How does Hsu calibrate the amount of Jobu and the amount of Joy in every moment?
“Joy–and Jobu in particular–is a very complicated role,” Hsu said. “We had a lot of conversations about carrying everything, and part of that conversation, in the laundromat, is about being impressed by Evelyn’s understanding of the chaos. For that to translate is so affirming, because we put a lot of work into those textures. In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, there is a character named Lauren who is a hyper-empath. She feels everything, so I used that as a starting point of both depression and this see-all, feel-all, omnipotent villain. If you can access everyone’s emotions, then that scope of feeling is available to you at all times. As a performer, on a less abstract level, it was about making your body available at all time. If a crew member makes a sound, that is part of the alive-ness. One of the most fun things about playing her was being able to live on that tiny line where your frequencies can hop into any feeling at any moment. I love being available to that, and it required a lot of presence.
I’m not sure if anyone has written about this yet, but in that laundromat scene, it was fun to come to the realization that Evelyn is starting to understand everywhere-ness. The worlds are colliding, and when we started filming, I ran to Dan Kwan with this crazy idea. If Evelyn can now be everywhere and so can Jobu, and she is showing up as Joy, what if I was in the background floating around in every shot? It was about this presence breaking into the omnipresence, and the Daniels did it. Sometimes it’s very brief like me sitting in the back reading a magazine or Joy just walking out of the frame, but it’s in there. I told them, ‘I swear this isn’t about me getting more screen time!”
Joy and Evelyn have a breakthrough, but no one should mistake one important conversation as the end of the strife between this daughter and mother. The emotional parking lot scene is now a guidepost for these women and can be used as a jumping off point for the future. Ripping through years of resentment, anger, frustration and disappointment was one milestone, but now they can look forward to the next one.
“What I love about the ending, especially when we see them back in the IRS office, is that Evelyn and Waymond have that awkward but sweet kiss outside the bathroom,” she said. “It is a real ‘where do we go from here?’ kind of scene. It’s not a tidy bow. If Joy comes back for a holiday with her family, something else will come up, and they will get into fights and arguments. What I love about that parking lot scene is that it is the conversation that we never get to have with our parents. Our lives are not written. It is the best case scenario in terms of that parking lot scene. They now have language–a love language–and a shared moment to say, ‘No matter what…I want to be with you.’ That being said out loud is so important, and a lot of audiences have reflected on that. Life is so much more vulnerable to say something that profound to a loved one. In this imaginary world, these characters can come back to that scene. Because I knew the parking lot scene was coming, I wanted to start Joy at the opposite end of the spectrum since I knew how crazy Jobu would get. It helped me identify these pinpoints of where I wanted the character to go. I wanted Joy to really explode in that scene, and I wanted her to be a mess.”
Everything Everywhere All At Once is available to rent and stream.