Stephanie Hsu as “Jobu Tupaki” in Everything Everywhere All At Once
2022’s wildest film was also it’s most unlikely mainstream success. For sheer invention it Everything Everywhere All At Once, outdid the animated Spider-Verse and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the suddenly flourishing subgenre of multi-verse hopping. At the center of its chaotic maelstorm, is Jobu Tupaki (Stephanie Hsu), the nihilistic variant of depressed Joy Wang, a young queer woman with a tense relationship to her overly critical mother Evelyn(Michelle Yeoh). Stephanie Hsu, 32, is not an overnight sensation but she is a sensation. 2022 essentially served as a mainstream coming out party for the gifted actress after years treading the boards in experimental theater and musical comedy, as well as season-long or guest episode TV gigs.
Back in October I had the change to moderate a Q&A for Everything Everywhere All At Once at which Hsu received a “Rising Star Award”. Over the course of the day we met three times and talked Broadway theater, being dramaturgy nerds, forgetting your lines, wild costumes, and various movies that are competing with hers at awards shows (off the record of course!). What follows is the conversation we had as we met, shortly before we went on stage [edited for length and clarity]…
Nathaniel and Stephanie at the Middleburg Film Festival earlier this year.
NATHANIEL: First of all I want to say that I have seen you twice on Broadway!
STEPHANIE HSU: Oh my gosh. What?
NATHANIEL: When I was watching you in Everything Everywhere, I didn’t connect it. People on stage are thisbig you know. Once you started getting attention I thought ‘Have I really never seen her before?’ so I’m looking it up and I’m like ‘ohmygod it’s Christine from Be More Chill and Karen from Spongebob!’
STEPHANIE HSU: In your defense, I have been told by many directors and photographers that my face looks different all the time. Which I guess is helpful for an actor. Even with The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, people are always like, ‘I can’t believe you’re the same person.’ So yeah. That’s something I’m even learning about myself along the way.
That brings me right to Joy Wang, your character. She’s one character but she’s also many characters. Did you approach it like that or I think ‘one person / many shades’?
A ittle bit of both actually! It was really important to me that both Joy and Jobu, the daughter and villain, hold the same core, the same emotional and philosophical core of nihilism. So I always say that they’re two very different expressions of the concept ‘Nothing matters’.
If nothing matters, that can really send someone, like Joy, down a very depressive path where they don’t see a way forward. Jobu is ‘if nothing matters, then I’m gonna smash this chair against the wall – watch me — and then eat a pie!’. Something I really explored with both of them was just an experience of hyper empathy. What does it mean when you can feel it all, right? For Joy that’s very overwhelming. It’s like you read the news and you’re like, ‘How do I continue even going about my day when I know everything that’s happening out there?’ And Jobu feeling everything gives her the space to transport, distract, float to different tangents, and kind of ride every impulse.
You worked with the Daniels once before this on Nora From Queens. Since you already knew them, did you see a finished script or just hear the concept?
There were a lot of changes once I came on board but the bones of the script were completely there. We work really well together. We like to explore. We like to improv. We like to throw paint on the wall and if it doesn’t stick, we’ll pick it up and try it again from behind.
People always ask ‘When you read the script, did it make any sense?’ And I’m like, yeah, it really did. It’s because they’re incredible and they worked really hard. Something big can actually be quite simple at its core.
Which helps it “play”. Because otherwise it would be like ‘What is happening?’