It’s officially Awards Season!
And whether you care about that sort of thing or not, what this means is sometimes films that didn’t do as much press before their buzz hits, take to the junket circuit yet again to chat up press to garner awareness. One such email I got was for a chance to chat with Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as “Daniels”, who directed my favorite film of the year, Everything Everywhere All at Once. This particular chat also included one of the stars of the film, and horror icon Jamie Lee Curtis, who’s been getting some buzz for her amazing turn here as the auditor antagonist in the film, Deirdre Beaubeirdra. What I didn’t expect, however, was that the night before not only would Everything win Best Feature at the Gotham Awards, but Ke Huy Quan would get his first Best Supporting Actor as well and decide to crash the chat.
For a film that premiered in the beginning of the year, it speaks volumes that this snapshot of the Asian American experience, which is also sci-fi masterwork with a comparable complexity and depth with something like The Matrix hasn’t lost one iota of steam. This is probably because as intelligent as this film is, at its heart it’s the story of a mother played immaculately by action legend Michelle Yeoh who just wants to connect with her daughter and not lose her family business. It’s that warmth that imbues this complexity with a soul as well as a mind that keeps fans coming back over and over again to pour over the many narratives that are culled together to make the film’s singular story.
Coming near the tail end of Covid, it was one of the first films that really brought folks back to the theaters for repeated viewings of the kinetic and heartfelt tale and is something that translates in this chat as well. It was a surreal experience, but also one that reminded me of getting on a zoom call with a family, blessed with one of the most badass matriarchs to ever grace the silver screen. And yes I snuck in a Halloween question.
So you guys had a big win last night, the “Daniels” you walked away with best feature and Ke Huy Quan, you got Best Supporting. What does that award mean to you that this film is still affecting so many people even months after its release?
Daniel Kwan: Two thoughts come to mind. The first one is like, we’re feeling a little shocked right now. When we premiered this film in March, we thought, you know, we’d be lucky if people even went to the theaters to go see it. This was right as the pandemic was allowing theaters to open up. So the fact that people are still discovering the film, still talking up 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 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 with high regard. So to be amongst them, even last night was so incredible. So, to win, I think we’re still processing. Cause now everything feels really real in a way that like, before yesterday we thought this was just kinda like a fun game.
Daniel Scheinert: I processed it, it’s easy. (Laughs) I saw it coming. 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 that it’s vague enough that I get to tell everybody who worked on it that this award is for them. So that’s kind of nice. (Laughs)
Jamie Lee Curtis: Can I just interrupt for a second? Ke being given that award last night is as far as I’m concerned, and I will weep (gets weepy) as I say it, a strong example of perseverance, of belief in oneself, of understanding the realities of the industry. At one point, Ke 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. Then 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”.
The 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. I just couldn’t be happier for him.
Ke Huy Quan: Oh my God. First of all, Jamie, you’re so, so, so generous.
Jamie Lee Curtis: (laughs) Ke, I’m not fucking generous. You’re fucking amazing. I love you. Shut up! (laughs)
Ke Huy Quan: (laughs) One thing I wanna say, what happened last night, because ever since our movie came out, I have not done one single interview where I haven’t gotten choked up. Again, seeing Jamie talk about me so emotionally, just now, it’s getting me very emotional. But my wife, all these months, she’s put up with it and then finally, I think in the last month or so she says, ‘Ke, I think you’ve cried way too much’. I don’t cry anymore in interviews. Okay? And then last night, when Emilia Jones was announcing all the nominees, and I thought there was no way that I was gonna win…
When she called out my name and I looked over to my wife, and she was crying. She was crying uncontrollably and I started to cry. Then I went over to hug “The Daniels” and I hugged our producer, Jonathan, and our daughter Stephanie, and they were crying (laughs). So even before I made it up to the podium I was a mess. It’s so incredible and I’m just so grateful to be here.
Isn’t that what this movie is all about? Living up to your ultimate potential — and Ke, that is what you did. It’s that perseverance, that every disappointment you had led you to this moment. You were all proof of what the movie’s message is.
Daniel Kwan: I’m so glad that that’s how you sum up the film. It’s not an accident that the main character, Evelyn, basically is a character who believes she’s the worst version of herself. 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, this world in which I could actually thrive, it totally changed my perspective on human potential and what we’re all capable of. This film in a lot of ways is me trying to open up this internal conversation 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 really does not allow us to harness our potential.
In fact, it actively is distracting us from our potential and dismantling our potential. I think this film is hopefully a way for people to forgive themselves for that, it’s not their fault. Then also for them to see another path forward and then hopefully rewrite their own narrative, rewrite their own imagination for themselves, in the way that I was able to. 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 for this film anymore. I thought we were done, a few months ago, but it continues to surprise us every day, what this movie is capable of.
Daniel Scheinert: 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. Meanwhile we’re just becoming, you know, rich, famous and successful.
Daniel Kwan: (Laughs) The contradictions.
Daniel Scheinert: We’re not really learning the same lesson. Right? To just hang out with your family at your laundromat.
Ke and Jamie, how much fun was it to play so many versions of the same character? And was there any version that surprised you the most?
Ke Huy Quan: Well, first of all, it was a lot of fun. I couldn’t believe it when “The Daniels” offered me the role, and in a lot of ways, I felt like the acting gods were looking out for me and saying, since you haven’t acted in 20 years here, I’m gonna give you these three wonderful roles. When I got the script, I was really nervous because I felt the role was written for me, and I really wanted to do it justice. I grew up in a very traditional Chinese family where my parents taught me to internalize a lot of the emotions, which is quite contradictory to what an actor does. So I buried my emotions for many, many years. It was not until I got this opportunity that I told myself to release some of those emotions and to put ’em in these three characters.
In terms of what surprised me the most, I think there was plain Raymond, the “Tax Raymond” as we call him. Because he’s such a beautiful character, who is someone that I strive to be, who is, in a lot of ways, I think that’s what my wife is and I think that’s what Jamie Lee Curtis is, they both embody the same qualities that Raymond embodies. He’s kind, he treats people with respect, and generous and humble. I always wanted to be that person and I think, I don’t think I could have played him had it been offered to me 10 years ago, or had I not met my wife Echo. She changed me as a person and I’m so much better because of her.
Jamie Lee Curtis: I, like Ke, was born into a very traditional Chinese family. (Laughs) It’s weird because I was born into a family of actors, but at the same time had the same emotional life, which was to hide what I felt. I was raised in a very kind of conservative family and feelings were not particularly well discussed. So when you meet someone like Deirdre Beaubeirdra, I knew her. I knew how sad she was. I knew how much longing she had. I have known in my life people like Deirdre, and I also know what power can wield and what that does to a person, and how it can create a façade of strength and really kind of an impenetrability, which is what those jobs often do. For me, the joy was the exploration of all of it to be able to show all those aspects of her, which “The Daniels” wrote so beautifully.
And the other thing I wanted to say, because every time the Daniels talk, every single time the movie peels the layers of the onion of the complexity of the story. But I wanna let everybody know, they never said a word about it when we were shooting it. (everyone laughs) It wasn’t like we had had a big group meeting where Kwan sort of waxed poetic about what the movie really was about. We just shot and we shot in this kind of very fast, frenetic way. There was very little conversation, at least with me, about these bigger themes of the human existence, the human experience that Ke just spoke of so beautifully, that Kwan just spoke. So what’s so interesting to me is that you can have a movie like this with this level of complexity, but the truth is, we just made the movie in 38 days. It wasn’t this big esoteric brain meld, it was individual work on each character and then ultimately at the end, they’d have assembled something with Paul, their editor, that is just extraordinary.
Daniel Kwan: Absolutely. It’s worth mentioning, Jamie, that you came on very close to the start of our shoot. So you jumped in and we kind of, we pressed go. I think that’s one of the wonderful things about working with you, Jamie, is as long as you understand the character, you are so trusting. I think that was the strength of working with you, you told us I know this woman completely. I don’t need to know everything else because that’s not my job and you had so much trust in the process, and you had so much fun because of it, because you were very much like you said, you’re embodying this person and nothing else. That’s why when you become the wrestler version of Deirdre, you are just, you are just fully just an animal for a moment. Or when you become the lover version, you’re fully just a lover. I think that was such a, it was such a great collaboration with you because of that.
I think one of the tough things in the past with some of our work is it can be quite confusing and complicated and we, really cherish those kinds of relationships where there’s that kind of mutual trust.
Jamie Lee Curtis: I’ve been an actor for a long time. (laughs)
Daniel Kwan: Oh, really? (Laughs)
Jamie Lee Curtis: Fuck off! (Laughs)
That is my job is to understand who it is. That’s it. The rest of it really is none of my business, what you’re going for is none of my business. My business is did you believe that I was Deirdre, and did you believe her pain? And did you believe her longing? And did you believe her rage? And if you did that, and if I did that, boom, my job is done. The rest, as they say, is dross. So I’m just thrilled, thrilled that the movie speaks to all these levels and layers, and that I got to play with these guys, cuz I had a wonderful time.
Ke Huy Quan: I wanna add something really quick. You know, even though we only had like 38 days to shoot this, we start off the day, every single morning, “The Daniels” would gather the entire casting crew together and we would do warm up exercises. We would dance, we would stretch. We would do all that for half an hour and when we’re done with that, we would roll the camera and we would not stop until they get through their entire shot list.
If you look at it, I don’t think we could have made this movie if we questioned any, any of it. I mean, we show up, “The Daniels” were our leaders, and, and whatever they asked us to do, everybody was just so willing to follow in their footsteps, and I mean, some of the stuff that they asked us to do are quite insane, you know? But we just did it. We just trusted them.
Jamie and Ke how many readings of the script did it take for you to figure out what this movie’s about, where it’s going?
Ke Huy Quan: You know, it’s weird. I was so hungry for a script like this, when I was scheduled to go into audition for “The Daniels”, they sent the script over for me to read so I can understand what the character is before I go to audition for them. When I read it for the first time, I understood it for some reason. I don’t know why, I read a lot of scripts that I don’t understand, but for this particular one, I don’t understand why, but I got it. I remember reading it until 5:00am and I was laughing so hard, I was crying so hard and my wife came out and I said, I think this role is written for me and then she went back to sleep and I was looking out the window and the sun was rising, and I was sitting on the sofa, and I was just imagining all these things, that I wanted to do for, for this character and all the other things the script was was about. I was having such a good time imagining just being in that space by myself. I guess it’s just because I wanted a role like this for the longest time. I wanted a script like this for the longest time and it finally came.
Daniel Scheinert: Then he prepared more than like any other actor and memorized his lines like weeks and weeks in advance. So then, anytime we did any rewrites on the script, those were the only lines he messed up because he memorized the older draft. (Laughs)
Jamie Lee Curtis: The person we should be talking about right now is Michelle Yeoh, because I mean, I read it once and I knew what I was supposed to do and did it. That’s how I worked. I’m not someone who spends a lot of time as I said before. As long as I know what I’m supposed to do, as long as I know who the person is, I’m done. Make sure I don’t look like me and I’m happy to go. Michelle had such a difficult job, I hope somebody has a photograph of her script. I’m sure Michelle has one. She has a script with 25 different color tabs on all the pages because her work was so intricate and so she had to shift between languages and characters in such fast, almost imperceptible ways.
I wish Michelle was here because, the thing I will never forget was one of these days we were doing a Zoom interview very early on and somebody asked her about Evelyn and she said, ‘Evelyn is a woman that you will pass on the street without noticing’. And it just broke my heart. I thought, oh, right. All those people that we pass on the streets that we just don’t even remark about them, that’s what this movie’s about. It’s those unseen human beings who are all still hustling and trying. They all have dreams. They all have hopes, they all have realities. Multitudes.
So as we see Jamie, your character is very much a part of the frustrating bureaucratic system that we all have to deal with. So when you’re on the other side, how have you dealt with that bureaucratic system.
Jamie Lee Curtis: By giving them this look. (Death Stare)
No, honestly, it is patience and honestly understanding that there’s a human being on the other side of it, even though their job makes you feel that they’re not a human being, that they’re a robot, that they’re into some sort of regulation and some dogmatic, bureaucratic, red taped, procedural life. They are human, their dog vomited, you know, when they woke up and now they’re talking to you, but they’re worried if their dog is sick. Every human thing that happens to all of us happens to those people too. And that was the glory of Deirdre, was that you, you got to see that because it humanizes people. And if we’re not all in the human condition, if this movie isn’t about the human condition, I don’t know what movies.
“Daniels”, I have to ask where did the hot dog fingers come from?
Daniel Scheinert: I have like an ex-girlfriend and her fingers were just … (Laughs)
The funny thing is, Dan and I started out in music videos, and we would chase after weird images and found that there’s something really fun about injecting heart into an absurd image and that people responded to, and it would sneak past their usual defenses. Because they wouldn’t expect to feel anything, because they’re looking at something absurd. So funnily enough, we got to the point in the writing process where we, we knew for a character reason, we wanted to push Evelyn to her most uncomfortable place. Then we invented the hotdog universe with that very strategic kind of storytelling goal in mind. It was just like, what would make her uncomfortable? What would look funny? And we, and we were like, oh, she would be in love with her auditor. They would have something wrong with their bodies. And it wasn’t until we came up with ketchup and mustard squirting outta the fingers that we were like, okay, that’ll be the thing that pushes her over the edge. That’s gonna work all because it kind of reminded us of music video storytelling.
Daniel Kwan: I think that universe in particular is an empathy challenge that we love. It’s like in a video game, like how much empathy can you have for different obstacles? That was like one of the big bosses of empathy. Like, can you empathize for Deirdre and Evelyn as they break up and, you know through their amazing performances, the answer is yes, you can. I think that’s really exciting to watch, audiences have to like stress their empathy in places they would not imagine they would have to.
Finally, Jamie. So, for your screen fights this year. Who was the more intimidating opponent? Michelle Yeoh or Michael Myers?
(Everyone breaks into laughter)
Jamie Lee Curtis: (Laughs) Please. (Laughs). Please. Michael Myers is just a dude with a mask on. Michelle Yeoh, I mean, I think it was day two or three, “The Daniels” had me on wires in this pose with my knee by my elbow. What is that pose called with the knee up in the arm like this? (makes fighting pose) What is that called?
Daniel Kwan: (Laughs) It’s called the Deirdre Beaubeirdra.
Jamie Lee Curtis: (Laughs) But the beauty of being able to fight with Michelle and learn from her, learned from her vast experience was really fun.
And of course, way more intimidating than Mr. Myers, you know.