Daniels – directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – return to theaters this week with a follow up to their feature film debut, Swiss Army Man, via the new A24 release, Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Michelle Yeoh stars in the film as Evelyn, a mild-mannered wife and mother who suddenly finds herself thrust into a battle for the very fate of the multiverse, discovering she is a key player in this conflict, as are her husband (Ke Huy Quan) and daughter (Stephanie Hsu).
Like Swiss Army Man, Everything Everywhere All at Once refreshingly doesn’t feel like anything else you’ll currently find in theaters – even as the basic idea of a battle involving the multiverse has become surprisingly mainstream, thanks to some very big comic book adaptations utilizing the concept.
Daniels spoke to Fandom about using the familiarity audiences have with the multiverse to their advantage, coming up with their own rules (and then discarding them), allowing an icon like Michelle Yeoh to reinvent herself, and working with the directors of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the Russo brothers, who are producers on the film.
EMBRACING THE MULTIVERSE
OF MULTIVERSE MOVIES
Daniels developed Everywhere All at Once for many years, long before multiplexes were regularly featuring the likes of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange also dealing with the multiverse’s potential collapse and before CW viewers had seen another multiverse Crisis spanning multiple TV series.
Scheinert said that when they first saw so many comic book-based multiverse stories hitting the screen while they were working on their film, “It was scary. You’re precious as a filmmaker. ‘No, that’s my thing! I’m doing that genre!’ But we’ve definitely come to terms of it. And I think it’s ultimately a blessing.” Having the multiverse dominate mainstream TV shows like The Flash or movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home means more people than ever have an understanding of the concept, and Scheinert added, “Now our parents are familiar with that terminology more and in a way, that’s the plot of the movie – a woman who’s not that familiar getting explained this concept and her getting it wrong.”
Kwan said he felt after multiverse stories from the likes of Marvel, DC, and Rick and Morty, “I think people are gonna be ready for this. When this trailer came out, so many people were like, ‘Oh, not another multiverse movie.’ And in my head, I’m like, ‘I can’t wait for you to see this movie, because this is not another multiverse movie.’ It’s trying to break that and I think we succeeded. We’re trying to break it and then bring it back in and give the audience a hug at the end.”
THE MULTIVERSE: DANIELS STYLE
When it came to figuring out the rules of their multiverse – which include Evelyn being able to draw upon abilities other versions of herself have (yes, martial arts included – this is Michelle Yeoh after all!) Kwan recalled, “The initial idea was just a map. I started drawing bubbles and I was realizing, technically, in a cosmic foam of existence where every bubble was another universe, the further away we got the more differences there would be. I started having a lot of fun thinking about probability and how the weirder things that we can do in this moment are improbable but still close to us.”
Evelyn must perform some very odd actions to access her other selves’ skills, which Kwan explained came from those early ponderings, where he asked, “What if we were able to use these strange, absurd acts to push us out to the outer rim of our cluster to slingshot us to other universes? I don’t know why I thought of this, but it’s really abstract.”
Daniels then spent a lot of time reading books exploring theories of the multiverse, but Kwan noted, “What I realized after reading all these books was that no one knows the science. It’s all over the place. There’s so many different versions of what the multiverse can be in so many different truthful, scientific observations that kind of point to it. And so we kind of read everything, and then threw it away and just realized, okay, we know what we need to know. Let’s just trust our instincts and have fun. So there might be some truth to how it all seeped into the movie, but it was mostly just really fun. And the fun thing is a lot of people so far have been able to follow it, even though it’s really complicated and messy.”
Said Scheinert, “We always knew that the goal of the movie was to not oversimplify the multiverse and to actually take the audience to the scary, far reaches of infinity where logic and cause and effect break down. Our rules were just a means to that end and so that was kind of freeing.”
Daniels have noted there is a bit of a metaphor for the internet in the way their film uses the multiverse, and Scheinert explained, “Early on, it wasn’t intentional, but it kind of just happened. Writing a character that’s our age, and then writing a character that’s our parents age, that instantly becomes one of the biggest chasms between them is just how different it is to have been raised on the internet, to have grown up on this somewhat wild west, very scary place. It’s hard to explain to your parents the things you accidentally watched in middle school!”
Added Kwan, “The multiverse just feels like a perfect metaphor for that. The main villain, Jobu, is a millennial who basically has seen too much and can no longer care or no longer has the threads to what matters. And I think a lot of people are feeling that right now. And so I’m excited for people to come in for the multiverse fun, but then leave with this multiverse vocabulary that connects them to their actual lived experience.”
Michelle Yeoh has been a star for decades now, which makes it a surprising fact that Everything Everywhere All at Once is the first American film in which she plays the lead. Daniels knew they wanted Yeoh early on, and Scheinert said they too were surprised realizing this, since for them, “When we conceptualized it, we were like, of course she’s gonna be our lead. She’s a leading lady and she’s such a badass.”
Added Kwan, “We didn’t realize this was a gift to her. We were ready to beg and be like, ‘Please, I think this can be really special!’ And instead, the way that we received it was she read the script and realized, ‘Oh, someone’s giving me a chance to really show my fans and my audiences what I’m actually capable of.’ It was a really beautiful thing to hear from an actor as a director. We’re constantly trying to create space for them to fully play in and to, and to show themselves and reveal themselves. And so for an actor to say thank you for this script was really moving.”
Daniels said Yeoh was incredibly game for anything they threw at her, noting she’d often tell them “I’ve never done this before.” That included simply physically depicting Evelyn as a very normal, unglamorous woman and Kwan recalled how when they began filming, “Her longtime assistant Kit, who had been working with her for a decade or so, on the first day of shooting, she came up to us and was like, ‘How can you make Michelle look so ugly? How dare you? She’s beautiful!’ It was a very funny thing to see her have to warm up to the fact that we were, in some ways, really undercutting what Michelle Yeoh’s image had become. That’s when we were excited. ‘Oh, this is gonna be really shocking to people. And we’re going to really show a different side of her.’ Every day, there were little bits of hesitation here and there. But I think that nervousness and the energy we kind of funneled into making something really exciting.”
Playing an important role in the film is Jamie Lee Curtis as Deirdre Beaubeirdra, an IRS inspector who – thanks to multiverse shenanigans – has her own physical confrontations with Evelyn. When it came to putting Curtis, a movie icon herself, in this role, Kwan remarked, “We knew once we cast Michelle Yeoh, we had to find someone who could stand up to her in stature, both literally and culturally. Jamie was just perfect for the role because she’s done it all. She’s done so much, so many genres, and also full on silly comedies that she fully commits to, like Freaky Friday. And so she was perfect for this movie, because she gave Michelle courage, and Michelle gave her courage.”
Kwan chuckled, recalling that during the oddness they were throwing at Yeoh and Curtis, “Both of them would text each other behind our backs and be like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. Should we just run away together?’ It was very much like a playful love affair that they had the moment they started to work with each other.”
Added Scheinert, “From week one, they were taking turns doing crazy things. And they got to high five each other and be like, ‘Your turn to do something crazy.’ And I think the rest of the crew and cast also saw that and was like, ‘Great, let’s take risks, because those two icons are taking such risks.’”
STEPHANIE AND KE
A huge part of the film are Evelyn’s daughter, Joy, and husband, Waymond, and the two actors playing them stand out as well – one for giving a star making performance, the other for making their return to the big screen after a very long absence and in the process reminding us why we loved them in the first place.
Playing Joy – and her multiverse alter ego, Jobu – is Stephanie Hsu, who previously had a small role in another film Yeoh was in, the hit Shang-Chi, but is mostly an unknown. Joy’s uneasy relationship with Evelyn is integral to the film and Hsu gets to really go for broke and delight playing some very different sides of this woman across the multiverse, making a very memorable “Who is this girl?!” impression in the process.
Said Scheinert, “Stephanie came into the audition and it was like she had put on Jim Carrey’s The Mask loaded into this wild, weird, unpredictable version of what we’d written. We told her ‘You don’t have to be super loyal to the script’ and she was not! And her audition was unlike anything we’d ever seen.”
Kwan elaborated, “There’s something about her where she is classically trained as an actress but she also has clowning experience. She was on Broadway in SpongeBob the musical! There’s something about all of those abilities kind of being harnessed by someone who fully understands how they all work with each other that was really beautiful to see. We auditioned quite a few actresses who are incredibly talented but there was always something missing because of how how many layers we were asking of them and Stephanie was one of the first people that really showed us what this character could be, because she has such a technical proficiency matched with a depth of emotion that she can tap into whenever she needs to. People are going to go nuts over her. Any director would be lucky to work with her and I’m very excited to see where she goes next.”
As for Ke Huy Quan, if you were a kid in the 80s or just a kid shown 80s movies at some point, you definitely remember him – here was a kid who was both Indiana Jones’ sidekick, Short Round, and Data from The Goonies! However, Quan had stopped acting for many years, with Everything Everywhere All At Once marking his return to movie theaters as the kindly Waymond and his more openly tough personas from other worlds.
Said Kwan, “I’ve been reflecting on the fact that there’s a documentary, Searching for Short Round, where they interview a lot of other Asian American men who auditioned for that role. It’s really fascinating because thousands of different children auditioned for his role and out of all of them, Steven Spielberg picks Ke. And now that I’ve worked with him, and now they’ve seen him in this movie, I’m like, ‘Of course he picked Ke!’ Ke is not only hardworking and passionate, but he’s also got this extra factor that is so unique and so special. I think that’s something we’re always looking for in casting is that extra ingredient that makes them surprise us, because as directors always looking to surprise ourselves. And if we can find collaborators who can do the same for us, that means we’re going to surprise the audience too. Ke just had this quality where you watch him and you just want to smile. The whole time you’re watching him, you just fall in love with him. And that’s something you can’t put it down on paper. It doesn’t make any sense. But he’s the secret heart of the movie.”
DANIELS MEET RUSSOS
Serving as producers on Everything Everywhere All At Once are brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who of course spent several years heavily involved in the MCU, directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.
Daniels said that background making those massive movies was certainly of note, but it was in fact the Russos’ earlier days, directing many episodes of a couple of very acclaimed TV comedy series, that was arguably even more beneficial. Said Scheinert, “One of the things that attracted us to working with them is that we’re fans of Arrested Development and Community but then they’ve got this experience of shooting the biggest budget version of action. And so we got to kind of pick their brains about both of those worlds and, in some ways, learn what we didn’t want to do. With a Marvel film, it’s so huge, and you have second unit directors and previs. We tried to invent our own process where we could still have our fingerprints on the things we wanted to be.”
As Kwan explained, “We wanted to shoot the action and on most big action movies nowadays, there’s a second unit director who gets to do that. Selfishly, that’s why we made this movie.”
Said Scheinert, “We talked to them about how they shot Arrested Development, where they had to carefully schedule their days and build really s**ty sets right next to each other so that they could just shoot tons of scenes and cutaways. And we were like, ‘Oh, that sounds more like our speed!’”
Everything Everywhere All At Once opens Friday, March 25.