Legacy of love

Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan on Everything Everywhere All At Once

by Jennie Kermode

Everything Everywhere All At Once
Everything Everywhere All At Once

It’s one of the surprise hits of the year: an independent, low budget science fiction film about a scatterbrained 60-year-old Chinese woman who works in a laundromat, which first hit cinemas in March and is still playing in some of them. Created by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who have worked together for so long that they are often treated as a gestalt entity called simply ‘the Daniels’, Everything Everywhere All At Once stars Michelle Yeoh as a woman whose self-esteem is chronically low because she messes up everything she does – until she discovers that she’s just one version of a person who, in other universes, has all sorts of exciting talents, and that she may, in fact, be the one person who can save the multiverse. Michelle, sadly, was unavailable on the day after the Gotham Awards when the Daniels discussed the film with the press, but they were joined instead by Ke Huy Quan, who plays assorted versions of her husband, and Jamie Lee Curtis, who is her girlfriend in one universe and her tax inspector in another.

Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All At Once

Excitement was high amongst the group that night because the film had just scooped the Best Feature prize at the Gotham Awards, along with a well-deserved Outstanding Supporting Performance award for Ke Huy Quan, right after receiving eight Independent Spirit Award nominations.

“Two thoughts come to mind,” says Dan Kwan, when asked about his feelings on it. “The first one is, we’re feeling a little shocked right now. You know, when we premiered this film in March, we thought we'd be lucky if people even went to the theatres to see it, so the fact that people are still discovering the film and still talking about the film already feels like such a win. But last night, we were not expecting this to happen. We have so much respect for the Gotham Awards, and any any institution that tries to uplift independent films, independent voices. Those are the films, honestly, that changed our lives, and those are the films that we really hold in high regard. And so to be amongst them was already, like, so incredible. So to win, I don't know – I think we're still processing, because now everything feels really real in a way that, like, you know, before yesterday, we thought that was just kind of a fun game. So we're really thankful, but also still processing.

“Oh, I processed it. It’s easy,” says Daniel Scheinert, prompting a loud laugh from Jamie Lee Curtis. “No. It was very nice to celebrate with a bunch of folks who worked on the movie, and calling it a best feature is like, absurd. But the thing I like about it is, it's vague enough that I get to tell everybody who worked on it that this award’s for them. So that's kind of nice. This category, we can tell everybody from the teamsters to the PAs like, ‘Hey, you know, this award includes you.’”

“Can I just interrupt for a second?” asks Jamie. “What you guys don't know, or what most people don't know, is the Party began in January in 2020, in Simi Valley, when we had a opening ceremony for the movie, when we were just about to start with a suckling pig, it was a traditional blessing for the movie, and it was a party to begin with. And what you also don't know is that every week the Daniels gave out crew awards to surreally unsuspecting members of the team who put forth supreme effort in this incredibly intense creative experience. And so I also need to let everybody know that awards are very much a part of what the Daniels do, because they understand how important the group is, that the experience doesn't exist without the group.”

Having said that, she’s particularly excited by Ke Huy Quan’s award.

“As far as I'm concerned, it is as strong an example of perseverance, of belief in oneself, of understanding the realities of the industry. And at one point, he stepped away from the industry because the industry rejected him as an actor, it didn't offer him any work. And he created other work for himself. And then he’s making his way back into being a performer, seeing a movie like Crazy Rich Asians and saying to his wife, ‘I think I can do this again.’ And then to be able to have this opportunity, this beautiful, multi layered, incredible role written, and then he won that role through an audition process with the Daniels. Last night's win is an example for every single person who's ever dreamed and lost the dream and found it again, that anything is possible. And that's, to me, the beauty of Ke and his expansive heart and great talent, and I just couldn’t be happier.”

Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All At Once

Ke has been sitting there looking more and more bashful as she spoke.

“Oh my god,” he says at last. “First of all, Jamie, you're so so so generous...”

“Fuck this, Ke!” Jamie declares “I’m not fucking generous. You're fucking amazing. I love you. Shut up.”

“Thank you,” he tries again, blushing. “Ever since our movie came out, I have not done one single interview where I get choked up. And again, watching Jamie talk about me so emotionally just now, it's getting me very emotional, but my wife, all these months, she put up with it, and then finally, I think in the last month or so, she said ‘Ke, I think you've cried way too much. Don't cry anymore in interview, okay?’ And then last night, when Emilia Jones was announcing all the nominees, and I thought there was no way that I was going to win – because, you know, sitting right at the next table was Gabrielle Union – I loved her in The Inspection – and all these wonderful actors. And then when she called out my name, and I looked over to to my wife, she was crying. She was crying uncontrollably. And I started to cry. And then I went over to hug the Daniels and I hugged our producer Jonathan, and our daughter, Stephanie [Hsu], and they were crying. So even before I made it up to the podium, I was a mess. But yeah, it's, it's so incredible, I can't thank our family enough. I mean, I'm staring at Dan and Daniel and Jamie, and I'm just so, so, so grateful to be here.”

“I am going to tell you one other thing,” says Jamie. “When I've been going around the world, saying that nobody had an idea that this movie would ever catch fire, that no one making it – like, when we were making it, there wasn't one day in Simi Valley where we were like, ‘Oh, this is going to be like a monster. None of that. It was beautiful work, we loved it, blah, blah, blah. Ke's wife Eko apparently did know. Eko, the woman who was crying, did understand what the Daniels had written and what they were going for. And she believed that the universe was going to receive it. So I did want to give Eko a little extra credit here.”

“What Jamie said earlier,” says Ke, “it was her idea to do the blessing ceremony. On the first day, before the very first shot, we gathered the entire cast and crew together. And I think in a lot of ways, our movie was blessed. From that day forward. It was just incredible.”

The message of the film, it’s suggested, is about living to one’s ultimate potential. Dan agrees enthusiastically.

“I think it's not an accident that the main character Evelyn, basically is a character who believes she's the worst version of herself. I think growing up, that was actually my narrative for myself. I did not believe I was going to amount to anything. And when I did discover film, and I discovered this world in which I could actually thrive, it totally changed my perspective on on human potential and what we're all capable of. And this film, in a lot of ways, is me trying to open up this internal conversation that I think a lot of people are having right now about their worth, right now. Because I think right now the current system, and just the way that our lives collectively have evolved, we're living in a system that that really does not allow us to harness our potential.

Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once

“In fact, it actively is distracting us from our potential and dismantling our potential, and I think this film is hopefully a way for people to forgive themselves for that. It's not their fault. And then also for them to see another path forward and and hopefully rewrite their own narrative, rewrite their own imagination for themselves in the way that I was able to for me...I think this film, not only narratively, was about unlocking the individual's potential, but also it's manifested and it continues to manifest in this way where I don't even know where the ceiling is anymore. I thought I knew. I thought we were done even like a few months ago, but it continues to surprise us every day, what this movie is capable of.”

“Although in the movie, you know, Michelle has to learn to love her life with her family and her laundromat and quit pining for, you know, fame and success. And meanwhile, we're just becoming, you know, rich, famous and successful,” observes Daniel. “We're not really learning the same lesson to just hang out with your family at your laundromat.”

The legacy of the film is love, says Jamie decisively.

“The legacy of this movie, no matter what happens, is love and reconciliation, and honesty, and family and failure and triumph. And the quotidian everyday parts of life that we are all struggling with. There's not a person alive that isn't dealing with it. And somehow these guys have made a movie that centres around love, and it makes me very, very happy that that's the legacy of this movie.”

“You know, ever since the movie came out, so many people have come up to me and told me how our movie changed their lives,” says Ke. “It changed them, it made them want to be a better person because of what our movie’s about. Not only about love, but also about kindness, and I hope our movie can make people be a little bit more kind to each other. I think that is so important, especially when, you know, what's happened to the world for the last couple of years. Kindness and patience, respect for one another. That's what I hope.”

“Now that I made a movie about kindness, I have to be nice to people or else come across like a real hypocrite asshole,” says Daniel, as the others laugh. “I'll disappoint all these fans, which is like a good thing to do to yourself. You know, I have this legacy, it's going to make me a nicer person until I die because I don't want to disappoint these people that love it so much.”

Everything Everywhere All At Once
Everything Everywhere All At Once

Dan nods, but takes a more serious approach. “I think one of the interesting things about films and legacy, from a creator’s perspective, is if you set out to make a film thinking about the legacy, you're going to make a crap film, right? You're going to be making something that is meant to be timeless but ends up not landing anywhere. And honestly, this film was made to be a very quick burst of energy for this very moment, you know, a quick reflection of what's happening right now. It's a snapshot. And so honestly, I hope the world has changed in 15, 20, 100 years, in a way where our film no longer feels relevant, if that makes sense. Because the film is a reaction to this awful, tumultuous collective rite of passage that we're all experiencing, and I think that's why it's so effective and that's why people are responding to it. And it's so beautiful that people are responding to it. But if people are still responding to it in the same way in 50 years, that means we haven't actually grown as a society.”

“Yeah,” says Daniel. “I hope in five years, we fix all the algorithms, stop pitting each other against each other and like, just divisively driving ourselves insane, and instead we're this collective that looks back at this as a period piece about how scary it was in like the early days of Twitter.”

“In some ways, I hope the legacy is that this film feels dated and specific to right now,” says Dan, “but either way I'm so grateful that for right now, in this moment, the world is reflecting this film back at us in a way that we are still learning.”

“But love won’t be dated,” Daniel assures him. “Love’s going to be cool forever.”

“Exactly,” says Jamie. “By the way, Twitter is like so old and over. RIP Twitter.” She nods affectionately at the Daniels. “You guys had a lot to do with it.”

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