Michelle Yeoh ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Interview


Let’s state the facts: Michelle Yeoh is an icon. A legend. A luminary. She is the Michelle Yeoh! Her stature is known far and wide, but especially to Asians everywhere. And over the course of nearly four decades, she’s led quite the career. We’ve seen her do everything from getting in on the action as a Bond girl to moving with grace and poise as a geisha, but now she’s truly done everything—and I mean everything you could possibly think of and more—in her new film Everything Everywhere All at Once. We see her as we’ve never seen her before.

Though Yeoh has been a headlining performer for many projects in the Hong Kong film industry, this is her first time being the top-billed star in a Hollywood movie. In the trippy sci-fi action comedy, she plays Evelyn, an immigrant housewife who runs a laundromat with her husband. She finds herself stressed as she tries to deal with an IRS audit, a visit from her aging father, her rebellious daughter, and her seemingly incompetent spouse. But then a multiversal being gets in touch with her, calling her to a greater purpose: to save her universe (and all other universes) from a supervillain named Jobu Tupaki.

This movie explores the metaphysical, the seemingly impossible, and the breadth of Yeoh’s acting range. Her performance in this mind-bending, genre-bending, epic film is truly something to behold, so obviously we asked her all about it.

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Cosmo: This film is different from anything else that you have ever done in your career. What drew you to this project? To this role?

I think first off the bat, the Daniels, Daniels, Daniels! The crazy, wonderful, smart, intelligent, brilliant [Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.] It was so bold and courageous to write a script like that, where it is a very ordinary aging housewife, a mother, who we don’t often see. We find her invisible and take her for granted that she has to carry out all these tasks and get them done. Keeping the family together, trying to be successful in her parents’ eyes…and then an opportunity to turn someone like that into a superhero!

When was the last time we had a character like that? And when it was presented to me, it was like, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. And I was very happy that people believed in us. A24 believed in us, Jonathan Wong, our producer believed in us. And then [Jamie Lee Curtis], she believed in us and [Ke Huy Quan] and [Stephanie Hsu] and James Hong as well. It was a labor of love. And I think all of us who read the script just fell in love and wanted to get it done.

Do you feel like you and your character share any similarities?

When I do a character, I don’t compare myself with that character. She is an immigrant with her husband who had the American dream. And as we all know, with the diaspora, the American dream is not always a beautiful dream. It can be your worst nightmare. But yet they live with great hope that they are going to have a better life, not just for themselves, but for their children, and how they struggle consistently, unendingly, endlessly to try and achieve that. So I must say, yes. My family was immigrant, but to Malaysia. But we were very blessed in the sense that our dream was easier to have been achieved.

What, then, were the challenges in portraying Evelyn?

Oh my God! The challenges were vast and multiple and continuous. Because we had a very short period of time. We had 38 days to film this movie. Eight weeks. I was in every single scene. But my directors the Daniels, Jonathan, my producer—they knew very clearly the path we were taking. We always held each other’s hands and said, “We’re in this together, we know what we’re doing.” And then sometimes I would look so confused. And they’d say, “Perfect. That’s exactly what you should look like.” Because that’s Evelyn. She is very confused.

And that’s the journey we want the audience to go on as well. You’re learning about the possibilities of being a human being. Every decision you make splinters off into another universe, and some of them may have evolved into such [odd] creations, like hot dog fingers. All these kinds of things that we cannot even [imagine]. But it’s a sci-fi movie, so we have the liberty to go for the things that you can only dream of. It was always very challenging, but I always felt very grounded because I knew who Evelyn was.

This film really is an absolutely wild and absurd ride. You were a hibachi chef one second, you were a dominatrix the next. What was it like shooting these scenes for you, and what were some of your favorite moments on set?

Oh, spanking my director Daniel Scheinert, of course. That’s the first time I ever laid hands on my director physically. That’s the beauty about this character. I worked in the business for so long. Now, in one movie, I’m getting to visit a lot of craziness that I’ve not done before and be still that one character who is allowed these superhero moments, right?

That was the first time I was a hibachi chef, learning to spin that egg with so many people watching, and it was like, “Oh, no. Oh, no, please don’t botch this up. I know what I can do.” And then, of course having Harry Shum Jr., who is the most incredible physical comedian ever, who is able to do all this without batting an eyelash. It was so wonderful to watch someone like Harry, and then try and keep up with him.

And then you know when we are thrown in this, this hot dog fingers universe. The beauty of the love that these two shared, though in the “real world” they were antagonists [to each other]. Miss Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) was a real piece of work. She was ready to throw Evelyn under the bus or throw her in jail or take away her laundromat. And then, suddenly, in this universe they’re a couple. If you looked at just the close-up of the two of them, we saw the couple in love. And then when you pull the camera back, it’s like “Oh my God, what’s that at the end of their hands? It’s hot dogs!”

But also what I really walked away with is the joy of working with someone like that. Who is fearless like the Daniels, they’re all courageous. Jamie, she’s fearless. We look at each other and go like, “Yeah, we have hot dogs, and we’re having to do a love dance. Come on, let’s just go for it!” And we did. I mean, if you had to do that with an actress who takes herself too seriously, it would have been a disaster. She empowered me to be out there, to throw caution to the wind, and just love every minute of it.

Allyson Riggs

As ridiculous as parts of it might seem, at its heart, this film a story about intergenerational trauma. And one that takes place within an Asian family. How do you hope viewers take this in?

When we look at our mother, it’s like, “Are you just continuously nagging me to do something?” And we always think, “I’m grown up. I know what to do how I need to deal with it!” And you because you’re from a different generation, you don’t know how to explain so well. Especially nowadays with the internet, with this fast world. The speed of what’s going on in your lives, even when I look at my niece or my godchildren, you know, when they show a picture to me before I can take in the picture, they will zoom past like 15 pictures. So we now we are coming to terms with the fact that there is a chasm because we can’t communicate as fast as you can. We cannot take in the information as you will have learned to do since you were born. And for us, it’s like, “Multitask? Forget about it.”

What I’ve heard is when people walk away from when they finished watching the movie, the instinct is to go, “I think I need to call my mom, I need to start a conversation. And don’t be so negative in the conversation.” Let’s not judge anybody in either generation, let’s just accept. Let’s believe that we can accept each other. Accept yourself, first of all. Accept the other person in kindness. And then, we have a hope of actually starting a real conversation. But we have to start somewhere.

It seems that despite your years in the industry, you’re still finding ways to grow—as demonstrated in this movie. What have you taken away from this experience?

I hope I am still growing. If you wake up and you think you’ve done it all, then there’s only one way to go, right? Down the hill.

Every day when I walk onto the set, I am in awe of the talent surrounding me. Look at Ke. He’s got the courage to come back after 20 years of having to stay away from something that he loves and is so good and so passionate about. And then there’s Stephanie—young, full of hopes and dreams. And watching that talent, the range of talent that she has, and thinking, “Wow, she is going to have such an incredible career ahead of her.”

But I think what I’m most grateful for is, right now, there are more opportunities for people that look like us. And it is about time, we need our stories to be told by good storytellers. This is our chance, this is our opportunity to push it even further. And I think that’s what we’ve tried to do in Everything Everywhere All at Once. We put all of our love into this crazy bagel and say, “Get sucked into it with us! Take the ride!”

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