During one of the first scenes Stephanie Hsu filmed opposite the legendary actress Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All At Once, Hsu was dressed as Elvis and walking a pig. An NYU-trained Broadway veteran, Hsu was ready to go big and strange and give the directors-a duo known collectively as the Daniels-what they want. But she was slightly worried she might unnerve the revered actress known for Crazy Rich Asians and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
“I knew the Daniels knew how weird I get and can get and how weird they wanted me to get, but I had never acted with Michelle before,” Hsu recalls over Zoom. “Every time they wanted me to get weird, I was like, ‘You have to promise me that before you’re going to give me that direction, you have to tell the whole room that Stephanie’s going to get weird now because I don’t want to scare Michelle. I don’t want her to be freaked out by me.'”
Of course, Yeoh had already signed up for a movie in which she and Jamie Lee Curtis have a romance wherein their fingers are made of hot dogs, so she likely wasn’t fazed. Hsu, however, was born for this. In Everything Everywhere, it at first seems like Hsu is merely playing Joy, the depressed daughter of Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang, a distracted laundromat owner. But when Evelyn is summoned into the multiverse by a version of her husband (Ke Huy Quan) to battle a world-ending threat, it turns out that all-consuming enemy is actually an evolved version of Joy who goes by Jobu Tabacky. Jobu is a nihilistic force with a penchant for ridiculous fashion-see: the Elvis outfit-who, having seen the scope of time and space, has concluded that nothing matters except a void in the shape of a bagel symbolizing the great nothingness.
It’s a role for an idiosyncratic actor who is willing to go there, and that’s Stephanie Hsu. For a long time, the 31-year-old California native never thought she’d be on Broadway-where she has starred in two productions, including the Spongebob musical-much less in an A24 film. After graduating from Tisch School of the Arts, she expected to bartend while making experimental theater at famed downtown institution Dixon Place and doing improvisational dance. She still has loyalty to that side of her skill set, choosing a hybrid Brooklyn space co-run by friends from her college days for Thrillist’s photo shoot. (During the daytime, it’s Companion Cafe, which serves coffee and vegetarian food; at night it turns into Shaka Shaka Tiki Bar.)
She landed on Broadway by chance, after being cast in an early table read of Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical, the surprisingly avant-garde adaptation of the Nickelodeon show, directed by Steppenwolf Theatre Company veteran Tina Landau. That led to Be More Chill, an Off-Broadway sensation that gained an army of teen fans thanks to its cast recording and eventually transferred to Broadway proper. Hsu then landed on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, playing Mei, the new girlfriend of the heroine’s ex husband. (Hsu and Rachel Brosnahan also went to college together.)
She came into contact with Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a.k.a. The Daniels, when they directed her in an episode of Awkafina’s show Nora from Queens. (The Daniels broke through with Swiss Amy Man and the dizzying “Turn Down for What” music video.) Kwan was struggling to cast the part when Hsu walked in. “We pitched her the different tones,” he remembers. “And she just took a moment. I saw her computer brain just go da-da da-da da-da da-da. And then she went, ‘Really?’ We’re like, ‘Yeah.’ The moment we said action, she was doing this incredible accent on top of this very specific, proper tone in an older dialect of English. She was able to bring this very impossible thing to life. And it was funny, and it was alive. Everyone in the room was like, ‘Who is this person?'”
The duo was writing Everything Everywhere at the same time and knew she would be perfect for Joy, in turn pushing the producers to get on board. “She’s not a big name yet, but she’s going to be,” Kwan recalls saying. Indeed, she will next star in Crazy Rich Asians writer Adele Lim’s still-untitled studio comedy produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
Working with the Daniels on Nora tripped something in Hsu. After they wrapped the episode, she decided to “basically” follow them to Los Angeles. (When we talk, she’s staying in Scheinert’s house.) “I was like, ‘I just want to work with young creatives who are weird and unafraid like that, and I know that they’re out there. So I think I’m ready to pivot,'” she says. Within a week, they asked her to be in the movie.
Hsu had little prep time for the task of playing Jobu and Joy, but she did work with Wushu trainer Li Jing, who appears in the film. “There was something about the philosophy of Wushu and the embodiment of power in the body that I feel like I really got from that training that definitely really influenced Jobu because it’s that thing of, when you’re really powerful, you don’t raise your voice,” she says. As for the oddball energy coursing through Everything Everywhere? She had a handle on that, and the Daniels let her run wild. They encouraged her to sing some of her lines. Sometimes she would throw props. “We didn’t write it to be quite so over-the-top, and she just like broke our brains in the audition, which is kind of like the point of the character-to kind of break Evelyn’s brain,” Scheinert says.
But Hsu also wanted to get to the unglamorous heart of the story the Daniels were telling, whether she was in rhinestones or Joy’s flannel. “What I really wanted to do with the movie and the role was to be as honest as humanly possible in all the ugliness of family dynamics,” she says. “I think that Joy and Jobu not only have a sense of nihilism and despair, but there’s an ugliness, right?” She was shocked when she watched the final cut of a climactic scene where Joy and Evelyn confront each other in a parking lot. “I was like, ‘Wow, I was really committed to letting myself go,'” she says. “People pretty-cry in Hollywood, and I’m straight-up ugly-crying.”
It’s the kind of unconventional performance that makes complete sense when you spend time with Hsu. Growing up outside of Los Angeles, she never imagined she was going to be an actor at all. “I thought drama geeks were uncool,” she says. “I wanted to play basketball because I’m 4’11” and three-fourths, and so obviously my career really had a lot of longevity there.” But her impulse to make “weird videos” with friends guided her toward what would ultimately become her career. She says she still sometimes hears her mother’s voice questioning whether art matters, but the past years have cemented her path. It helps when you’re not afraid to get a little-or a lot-weird.
“I am the luckiest person in the world, and I’m continually affirmed by the people and the artists who come into my life that we want to make the world a better place, and we want to make art that leaves this place a little bit better than we found it, and it’s just one step at a time and that does exist,” she says.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.
Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.
What is special about the year of the Rabbit?
As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.
What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?
There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.
New South Wales
Darling Harbour Fireworks When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.
Dragon Boat Races When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.
Lion Dances When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.
Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.
Auntie Philter When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.
Lunar New Year Festival When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.
BriAsia Festival When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.
Chinatown Adelaide Street Party When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.
Crown Perth When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.