Oscar nominated actress Stephanie Hsu feels liberated by her role as Jobu Tupaki : It's Been a Minute Everything Everywhere All at Once is the critical darling of the 2023 awards season. The film is up for 11 Oscars, including a Supporting Actress nomination for breakout star, Stephanie Hsu. Hsu, who played Joy Wang AKA Jobu Tupaki in the film, started her career in experimental theater, which eventually led her to meet the directors of Everything Everywhere All at Once. Stephanie joined host Brittany Luse to chat about her comedic roots, the freedom of nihilism, and how the film has brought intergenerational healing to the stars.

You can watch a video of the interview here.

You can follow us on Twitter at @NPRItsBeenAMin or email us at ibam@npr.org.

Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu is everywhere, all at once

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Hey, everyone. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse.


LUSE: It's officially award season, the time where we reflect on the most impactful performances of the last year.


ADAM GOPNIK: (As self) In 2013, Berlin elected Tar as its principal conductor, and she's remained there ever since.


VIOLA DAVIS: (As Nanisca) My king, the Europeans wish to conquer us. They will not stop until the whole of Africa is theirs.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) He's a young singer from Memphis, Tenn. Give him a warm Hayride welcome, Mr. Elvis Presley.

LUSE: Today, the Oscars announced all the nominees and the movie with the most nominations - the academy favorite, the people's favorite, heck, my favorite - is "Everything Everywhere All At Once."


KE HUY QUAN: (As Waymond Wang) Across the multiverse, I've seen thousands of Evelyns. You can access all their memories, their emotions, even their skills.

LUSE: It follows the story of a family on the verge of collapse in both their relationships and their laundry business. But then they take a surreal trip across the multiverse, where they battle and become alternative versions of themselves. The movie is stacked with a legendary cast, and one very notable legend in the making.


STEPHANIE HSU: (As Jobu Tupaki, screaming) Don't worry, Evelyn. It's organic.

LUSE: That's Jobu Tupaki, the world-destroying, multidimensional villain played by Stephanie Hsu. And, it being a multiverse, she also plays Joy, a daughter trying to find her way.


HSU: (As Joy Wang) I don't want to hurt anymore. And for some reason, when I'm with you, it just - it just hurts the both of us.

LUSE: Stephanie's performance is outrageous, absurd and sincere. It'll make you laugh, cry. It might even make you call your parents. She's already been nominated for a SAG award and a Critics Choice award. And today, she was nominated for the Academy Award for best supporting actress. In this episode, we'll get into how her background in experimental theater prepared her for this breakthrough role and why the film's success stretches far beyond awards season. Here's my chat with Stephanie Hsu.


LUSE: Stephanie Hsu, welcome to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE.

HSU: Thank you.

LUSE: Thank you so much for joining us.

HSU: Thanks for having me.

LUSE: And in studio, in person.

HSU: I know.

LUSE: I'm so excited to have you. And during this very ripe season right now...

HSU: Ripe.

LUSE: ...For you.


LUSE: Yes, yes, yes. You know, obviously, so many people know you from your dual role in "Everything Everywhere All At Once." But I want to go back to some of your roots and talk about how that might have influenced the way that you approached this role. You did a lot of experimental theater when you were getting started...

HSU: Yes.

LUSE: ...But you also were in a comedy troupe - a comedy troupe that was originally started by Donald Glover, I believe...

HSU: Yes.

LUSE: ...That you were encouraged to join by Rachel Bloom...

HSU: Yes.

LUSE: ...And who you were in with Bowen Yang.

HSU: Yes. Bowen was in the improv group. I was in the sketch group.

LUSE: Yes. But I wonder, what was one of your favorite skits from that time when you were working in this comedy troupe?

HSU: So Matt Rogers, who is also friends with Bowen...

LUSE: Right.

HSU: ...Also an incredible comedian. They host Las Culturistas together. I was sort of Matt's muse in our sketch group. He was a really prolific writer, and he would always write things for me. And I don't remember what happens in this sketch, but it was called "Flarge" (ph), and I was Flarge. And he wrote a lot of sketches like that for me. There was also one that I do remember called "Moose," and it was a bunch of bros kind of gathering around. They were like, oh yeah, Moose is awesome. I heard Moose can chug a six-pack and smash it on someone's head. And then it sort of heightens like that. We're like, yeah, I heard Moose, like, killed someone once. And then I walk out at the very end, and I'm Moose. And I'm this, like, cute little girl in a jumpsuit - in a polka dot onesie. And then I think I, like, eat someone's face - or something crazy happens.

LUSE: (Laughter).

HSU: But, yeah, I'm Flarge and Moose and Jobu Tupaki. So, same same.

LUSE: (Laughter) I was going to say, I'm like, when you bring it - I'm like, hmm.

HSU: I know.

LUSE: Like, Moose, like, eats someone's face...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...Maybe killed somebody.

HSU: Yeah, exactly.

LUSE: I'm like, this is giving Jobu Tupaki vibes.

HSU: You know, like tracking (ph). Yeah. No, I mean, I do think that something that has always been true about me is that I do like to get weird. I like to be surprising, and I like to stretch myself and surprise myself beyond what I see on the page because that's the fun of it.

LUSE: I'm glad you bring up wildness because that reminds me of your audition video for "Everything Everywhere All At Once," which has gone viral.

HSU: Yes, viral (laughter).

LUSE: Yes, definitely. Viral, indeed. It was amazing. I mean, for me, just from my perspective, it was amazing to see how you had such a clear idea in your mind of how you wanted the character to come across. The video itself is mesmerizing, and you really do bring a real wildness to it.

HSU: Yeah.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Don't make me fight you. I'm really, really good.

HSU: (As Jobu Tupaki) I don't believe you. Say that again.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Don't make me fight you.

HSU: (As Jobu Tupaki) I don't believe you. Say it again.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You really want to...

HSU: (As Jobu Tupaki) I don't believe you. (Laughter) OK, look. Let me help you. Let me help you open up your mind, yeah? Open it up. Slide your fingers into mine.

LUSE: What did it feel like to do that audition? Like, how were you feeling in the room that day?

HSU: Yeah. You know, the Daniels showed me that video recently at the Hamptons Film Festival. I hadn't seen it. That audition video was from 2019, you know, and the...

LUSE: Wow.

HSU: Yeah, hadn't seen it.

LUSE: You hadn't seen it?

HSU: I'd never seen it. And they asked me permission. And I said, sure, surprise me, as long as I'm not terrible.

LUSE: (Laughter).

HSU: And it was quite healing, actually, to witness, like, oh, wow. I guess I really did bring something to this. And I know I knew that. But...

LUSE: Right.

HSU: Just to see the very bare bones of that performance and the magic that even happened in that audition room that day.

LUSE: Absolutely. I mean, you know, the Daniels have since said that it's one of the wildest auditions that they've ever been in.

HSU: (Laughter) There were even crazier things that happened. I remember, like, slamming my butt against a wall and a painting fell.


LUSE: Oh, my gosh.

HSU: It was crazy.

LUSE: I heard that you'd said things like, oh, wouldn't it be funny if I didn't get this part? Like...

HSU: Oh, yeah.

LUSE: ...Saying, wouldn't it be funny if I didn't get this part in an audition. There's all sorts of roles I can imagine that people need to really provide, like, an off-the-wall...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...Audition to nail, right?

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: But, I mean, you really went for it, though.

HSU: I did.

LUSE: You really went for it.

HSU: Well, I also had nothing to lose. Because, yes, I had been on Broadway. Yes, I was on "Maisel." I didn't know who Sarah Finn was. She's one of the biggest casting directors in Hollywood.

LUSE: Wow.

HSU: I didn't know Michelle Yeoh was attached. I understood sort of A24 - what the concept of that was.

LUSE: (Laughter).

HSU: But I didn't really get it, you know? And so for me, it was like, hey, this is what I would like to bring to it, and this is what I like to do. And take it or leave it, and I love you guys. And so no matter what happens, it's all good. But it was so wild and unruly that I was putting so much of my art heart out there that I was like, yeah, that'd be pretty funny if I didn't get this - huh? - 'cause y'all are seeing all inside me.

LUSE: Like, I have splayed myself open.

HSU: I'm a-splayed (ph). I don't know why I keep - I'm sleepy today. So I guess when I'm sleepy, I say a-splayed or...

LUSE: Look, your eyes are open, and that's the most important thing.


LUSE: Like, that's a good thing to do when you're sleepy. But you all had collaborated together previously on an episode of "Nora From Queens"...

HSU: Yes.

LUSE: ...They had directed. What about them gave you that feeling that, like, oh, we are meant to work together, like, we're soulmates in that way?

HSU: I think - well, we giggle really hard together. I think we have a very similar sense of humor, an unapologetic sense of humor. The thing about the Daniels is that they deeply want to make the world a better place. And coming from experimental theater, my mentors always taught me that if you have a voice, use it. And being an artist is a huge responsibility because you have to make work that is in communication with the world at large that you're living in, even if it doesn't reach millions of people. If it reaches 10, use your voice for good. And the Daniels deeply, deeply, deeply care about humanity.

LUSE: Oh, and it was definitely felt. Like, the impact definitely lines up with the intent. But I want to touch on something you just said about you all having a similar sense of humor. I guess, without my knowing, my first impression of the Daniels came from the video of "Turn Down For What."


DJ SNAKE & LIL JON: (Rapping) Another round of shots. Turn down for what.

HSU: Yes.

LUSE: Which was, like, a huge song, maybe, like, nine or 10 years ago. The video was completely off the wall. It's complete mayhem. I wonder, like, was that something you saw, and you were like, oh, yeah. Like, these are the guys for me (laughter)?

HSU: Well, the first day that we walked onto set together, you know, they were blowing, like, a leaf blower on my face. And at the end of the night...

LUSE: On set for the film?

HSU: For "Nora From Queens."

LUSE: For "Nora From Queens."

HSU: Literally the first time we ever officially worked together, yeah. Someone was, like, blowing a leaf blower at my face so that the camera could catch my cheeks in slow motion, so they looked wiggly and jiggly. And then at the end of the day, Daniel Scheinert, like, climbed onto a ladder and dumped mud on my head just, like, in slo-mo, so it looked like - you know, anyway, very crazy. But it was actually Day 2 or 3 when Harry Shum Jr., who plays Raccacoonie in "Everything Everywhere."

LUSE: Yes, yes.

HSU: He was also in that episode. And...

LUSE: Wow.

HSU: Harry Shum Jr. was like, do you remember that music video "Turn Down For What?" Those are the guys. I was like, no.

LUSE: And you were like, what?

HSU: I was like, what? And so I went home that night and rewatched it. And, you know, there's a lot of gyrating and a lot of body that is in that music video.

LUSE: Yes, yes.

HSU: And I remember going to work the next day. And in the middle of a take, I just started breaking out laughing because Dan Kwan, one of our directors, is the main guy in "Turn Down For What."

LUSE: Yeah.

HSU: And I was like, Dan, I can't stop seeing a lot of craziness that happened in that video.

LUSE: Right. Because there's a lot of body.

HSU: A lot of body.

LUSE: A lot of body in the video.

HSU: Again, correct. I'm giving you NPR version, but there's a lot of body. And I couldn't stop seeing the body.


LUSE: You know, I want to touch back on how you portray Jobu Tupaki. I mean, you know, one of the things I noticed - I was rewatching the film last night. And there's a completely different physicality...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...Between Joy and Jobu. Like, Joy is - she's a young woman. She's strong-willed. She's having this tension with her family, and that comes through in the way that she moves. But she's still a lot more relaxed...

HSU: Totally.

LUSE: ...Than Jobu is.

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: Jobu has such sharp joints and such sharp edges. I wonder how your experimental theater training came in to how you used, like, the instrument of your body...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...In approaching the - specifically the Jobu portion of your performance.

HSU: Thank you for noticing. The body is where I enter, for sure. And with a role and dual role like Joy and Jobu, it's so - it was so important to me to differentiate them. I knew that Joy was going to become Jobu, so I wanted to start Joy as unassuming, kind of swallowed in her sweatshirt and just almost invisible, you know?

LUSE: Yeah.

HSU: Because I knew she was about to get to come out in an Elvis suit, walking a pig, smoking a - you know what I mean? Like...

LUSE: Swaggering. Swaggering.

HSU: ...Swaggering hard. But I also knew that same villain was going to have to become the daughter again, and it would have to be big enough that the end scene catharsis would be satisfying and also surprising in a different way. But I remember when I was preparing for the role, I was doing a workshop of a show at MASS MoCA, actually, and the Daniels really let me into their process. So they sent me a look book of images that they had pulled for the movie. They sent me a playlist that was inspiration for the film.

LUSE: Oh, yeah.

HSU: And bubbles were a really big thing. And there was a light installation at MASS MoCA. And I did this, like, physical dance, this kind of, like, worm dance.

LUSE: With the light installation?

HSU: With the light. Yeah, exactly. So I did a lot of kind of just experimenting and sending them videos of, like, what if Jobu moves like this? And we wanted her to be as sharp as she was also like Jell-O. Because if she can verse jump or become anything at any moment, she is as tough as she is completely malleable.

LUSE: After the break, Stephanie tells us how the nihilism of her characters liberated her, and we get into the catharsis of intergenerational healing.


LUSE: How did you build out that characterization, understanding that she was so linked to Joy? Our intern, Jamal, pointed out that because of the expectations that parents place on their children - even if they're, like, hopes - right? - they're - those are still expectations. You kind of have no choice, as the child, to kind of become Jobu Tupaki to your parent. Whatever their hope, their dream for you, almost nobody in the world ever hews to that 100%, right?

HSU: Totally.

LUSE: And so you kind of become the Jobu Tupaki, the villain in their story to a certain degree.

HSU: Totally.

LUSE: Is that resonating with you?

HSU: Yeah. I always say that Joy and Jobu are two very different expressions of the same core, and the core is nihilism. Joy is a version where, if nothing matters, then you can feel at the end of your rope. There's no hope. There's no reason to continue. And if Jobu thinks that nothing matters, then you can be the ultimate creator of chaos. And I feel like when you look at it in the version that you're kind of speaking of, Joy feels like she's failed her mother. And there's no way for her to be the daughter that her mother wants her to be. And so Jobu's like, you know, well you think that was bad? Well, watch this. Watch me scare you even more and actually show you what's inside and how messy and chaotic and wild it is.

But I also think, like, I said to the Daniels when we were - we were thinking a lot about nihilism. And that was kind of the first time I ever deep dived on that concept of nothing matters. And I said to them, you know, I think nihilism has saved my life in a way because it's completely liberated me. I care very deeply, and sometimes I perhaps care too much. My new truth is that nothing matters. None of us know anything. We don't know what we're doing. We're all trying our very hardest to figure it out together. And that's kind of nice and opens up a new space for compassion in a very confusing time where we don't have answers. I have no idea what the world is going to look like in five years. You know, I don't know...

LUSE: Five months.

HSU: Tomorrow - I don't know. But I do believe that we're all doing our best to try to figure it out.

LUSE: It reminds me of how, like, beautifully sincere the film was. These moments of the film, I would be in the theater. I was laughing my butt off and then would turn around, like, 22 seconds later, and I had tears streaming down my face. When I was rewatching the film last night, the first frame comes up - it was like sense memory. I just - immediately my eyes sprang with tears...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...Because, you know, we see Joy with her parents singing karaoke. And I'm like, oh, my God, I'm already there. It feels like there's this wackiness but also sincerity that's, like, at the film's center. I mean, those are two kind of almost opposites in a certain way. I wonder, like, how does that combination of, like, wacky or bizarre and sincere - why do you think that resonates so deeply with viewers?

HSU: You know - and I haven't talked to anyone about this, but it does remind me of clowning work that I did back in the day. And...

LUSE: Clowning work?

HSU: Clowning work. And so some of the funniest clowns are actually the most tragic ones. And I do feel like on a larger level, our movie kind of makes you laugh so much that it kind of softens the muscles in your heart so that you can be available to hold that vulnerability and also to show you, hey, we're not afraid of being strange. Like, we're not afraid to be wild and weird. You're safe with us. Now cry.


LUSE: I mean, that's exactly how it happened. Also, that's how most close relationships are developed, right? Like when you meet your partner or your closest friends...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...You're not, like, immediately - well, hopefully, if you're practicing good boundaries...

HSU: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

LUSE: ...You're not immediately meeting people and, like, going deep.

HSU: Like, trauma bonding. Yeah (laughter).

LUSE: Yes, trauma bonding and crying. It happens. You get close enough through good times, through laughter, through joy...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...To then feel comfortable...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...Being held in those moments when you want to completely let go and cry.

HSU: And, you know, I'm sure you've had moments where you're laughing so hard that you somehow start tearing up or you cry. In a clowning exercise, sometimes they do - it's like you just have to keep laughing. And it's actually, like, a muscular exercise where you laugh so hard that you end up crying. Drama school is weird, I guess (laughter).

LUSE: No, it's OK. I used to go - I'm a - I've been to a lot of breathwork classes in my day.


LUSE: So definitely the laughing or deep breathing to start crying thing is...

HSU: Well, yeah.

LUSE: ...Something I'm familiar with.

HSU: Well, it's all body.

LUSE: But that's interesting.

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: To go back to some of the hilarity in the film...

HSU: Yes.

LUSE: ...You've said that your favorite scene to shoot was the hallway scene.

HSU: Yes.

LUSE: I mean, and the hallway - I mean, I say hallway scene. In this film, the hallway scene is - like, it stretches on. You've got multiple costume changes. At one point, you've got, like, these big rubber models of genitals in each hand.

HSU: (Laughter) Body.

LUSE: Body parts.

HSU: I got body, yeah.

LUSE: Yes, body in each hand.

HSU: I'm holding body (laughter).

LUSE: You're holding body, waving it around. You're slapping a security guard in the...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...Face with it.

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: I'm seeing, like, the costumes are going from, like, full Comme des Garcons-inspired stuff...

HSU: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally.

LUSE: ...To, like, a total, like, Muffy, country club prepster (ph), like, golfing outfit.

HSU: Yeah. Golf girl.

LUSE: I wonder, like, how much input did you have into the filmmaking process? Like, how much input did you have into, like, some of the just wild antics that you were able to get into in character?

HSU: It was a really collaborative process. Shirley Kurata is our legendary costume designer.

LUSE: She's amazing.

HSU: Amazing. And it's actually crazy. Did you - did she mention Comme des Garcons in an interview? Because she loves...


HSU: ...Comme des Garcons.

LUSE: That was just what I noticed from looking.

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: I mean, from watching the film. But yeah.

HSU: Good eye. OK.


HSU: You know, the movie was built in a very scrappy way, in the way that it was all hands on deck - very collaborative. You know, I describe it like Shirley and I would go off into a little corner and start trying things on and be like, hee-hee-hee (ph). What if we put on that one, too?

LUSE: (Laughter).

HSU: And just kind of a hat on a hat, on a hat, on a hat.

LUSE: Yeah.

HSU: And we wanted to take every look to its infinite extreme. And it was so fun. It was so fun. And the biggest challenge for me was to not lean into the costumes. So it was actually to resist them - and get to be so fabulous but unfazed by how fantastical the costumes were. Because, again, she's so powerful. Like, of course, she's dressed as Elvis. Duh.

LUSE: (Laughter).

HSU: You know, like, of course. Of course it's Comme des Garcons.

LUSE: Right.

HSU: Good for you, you know?

LUSE: Of course, she's changing wigs every...

HSU: Yeah.

LUSE: ...Thirty-eight seconds.

HSU: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

LUSE: This film, "Everything Everywhere All At Once," obviously, you're incredible in it, but there are so many actors in that film...

HSU: Yes.

LUSE: ...Between Michelle Yeoh, James Hong, Ke Huy Quan, who have had these incredible careers and contributed to cinema history, contributed to Hollywood, contributed to acting in so many ways that, you know, you've even said have paved the way for your career to even exist.

HSU: Totally.

LUSE: What was it like to get on set and have your co-stars be these people who had carved a path for you to do this work that you love?

HSU: You know, it's pretty wild because, you know, as I'm sure you've seen, this is the first time Michelle's ever been No. 1 on the call sheet. Ke left acting for over 20 years...

LUSE: Right.

HSU: ...Because there were no roles available for him. I honestly rejected the mainstream for so long because it felt like the type of artistry that I was capable of or wanted to express, there was no space for me to show that or hold all of me.

LUSE: Right.

HSU: And James Hong, you know, he started acting when people would just call him Chinaman. Like, they wouldn't even...

LUSE: Gosh.

HSU: They - he didn't even have a name.

LUSE: My gosh.

HSU: And here we are playing a family in one movie together. And I've been thinking a lot about how our movie is so much about what we're now calling intergenerational trauma. And there's something about the success of this movie - oh, now I'm getting well-y (ph) - the success of this movie and us getting to be there together that I'm feeling this - oh, my God. I'm so surprised. Don't worry. I'm used to crying.


HSU: I cry all the time. Every awards show, I'm crying.


HSU: Where I feel like there is intergenerational healing that's happening - us getting to be there together and go on this journey feels like we're helping a circle complete and fix some wounds that have happened to each and every single one of us at different points in our lives. So that's important too, right? Like, we want to talk about the trauma, but it's very important to also recognize the moments of healing and name that as well.

LUSE: Well, Stephanie, thank you so much for joining. I'm so glad that you came. This was so much fun.

HSU: Thanks for having me.

LUSE: And I'm really glad that I got to talk with you during this just incredible time.

HSU: You got me squishy. You got my squishy side.

LUSE: (Laughter).


LUSE: That was Stephanie Hsu, Oscar-nominated actress and star of "Everything Everywhere All At Once." To see a video version of this interview, check out NPR Podcasts on YouTube. This episode was produced by Jessica Mendoza, Jamal Michel, Alexis Williams and Barton Girdwood. Engineering support came from...



LUSE: It was edited by Jessica Placzek. I'm Brittany Luse, and we'll be back Friday with another episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.


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