Everything everywhere Everything at once: The actors behind the Oscar nominee for best picture reflect on racism and representation in Hollywood

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” features a dizzying array of plot twists when failing laundromat owner Evelyn Wang discovers that she is actually a superhero fighting to save her family and the world.

And the actors and creators behind the film share behind-the-scenes stories about their own lives as the film reaps honors and leads the way with 11 Oscar nominations.

In acceptance speeches and interviews, the stars of the genre-bending multiverse film have been open about their experiences with racism and representation in Hollywood, noting how important it is to receive this level of recognition in an industry that has historically been difficult to break into for non-white actors. They also talk about how their lives as immigrants and children of immigrants have shaped their work.

It’s likely we’ll hear from the film’s creative team again on Oscar night.

Here are some of the personal details they’ve revealed so far on the awards circuit.

Someone was surprised that she spoke English

In her Golden Globes acceptance speech, Michelle Yeoh said that Hollywood “was a dream come true until I got here.” Credit: Earl Gibson III/Shutterstock

Michelle Yeoh, who plays Evelyn Wang in the film, arrived in Hollywood after many successful years as an actor in Hong Kong.

She soon found out that the reality of the American entertainment industry was different than she had expected.

“It was a dream come true until I got here,” Yeoh said as she accepted a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. “Because, look at this face. I came here and was told, ‘You’re a minority.’ And I’m like, ‘No, that’s not possible.’

“And then someone said to me, ‘You speak English!’ …and then I said, ‘yeah, the flight here was about 13 hours long, so I learned that.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is her first time receiving top billing in a Hollywood film. Yeoh, 60, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that it’s been a long time coming.

“You get scripts. And as the years get bigger, the numbers get bigger, the roles seem to shrink with it. Like, you know, as a woman, as an Asian woman… somehow they start putting you in boxes . And it’s always the guy who gets to go on an adventure and save the world,” Yeoh said.

The part of Evelyn in the script from the writer-director duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert immediately caught her attention.

“This is a very ordinary woman, an Asian, immigrant woman, dealing with all the issues that we can all relate to,” Yeoh told Amanpour. “And what I loved about it, it was like this is an ordinary woman being seen who has been given a role to play as a superhero.”

No matter what happens on Oscar night, her numerous awards this season are a clear indication that Yeoh is also finally being seen in Hollywood as the versatile actor she’s always been.

“Maybe I’ve been practicing for 40 years for this ultimate role,” she says.

His phone stopped ringing because there weren’t enough roles for Asian actors

Ke Huy Quan accepts the award for Best Supporting Actor for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” at the Critics Choice Awards in January. Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Ke Huy Quan cried as he cradled the prize in his arms.

“This is a really emotional moment for me. I was recently told that if I were to win tonight, I would become the very first Asian actor to win in this category,” Quan said upon winning a Screen Actors Guild Award (SAG) for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the hapless and heroic Waymond Wang. “When I heard this, I quickly realized that this moment no longer belongs to me. It also belongs to everyone who has asked for change.”
Born in Saigon, Quan came to Los Angeles in 1979 after fleeing Vietnam and living in Hong Kong as a refugee after the war ended. He began his Hollywood career as a beloved child actor in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies.” He kept auditioning after that, but his phone stopped ringing, Quan told The New York Times.

“When I walked away from acting, it was because there were so few opportunities,” Quan said at the SAG Awards.

Rethinking his career path, Quan went on to study film at the University of Southern California and work behind the scenes as a stunt coordinator and assistant director. He would not have another film role for almost 20 years.

Seeing the Asian cast The 2018 movie “Crazy Rich Asians” made him realize how much he missed acting. And as soon as he came across the “Everything Everywhere” script, he knew he was the right person to play Waymond.

His comeback on the big screen has earned him rave reviews and numerous awards, including the Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards for Best Supporting Actor. And Quan, 51, says these days he feels more optimistic about the Hollywood prospects for him and other Asian actors.

“The landscape looks so different now than before,” Quan said at the SAG Awards.

He continued to offer words of encouragement to others who may be feeling the way he did for decades.

“To all those at home watching, struggling and waiting to be seen, please keep going because the spotlight will one day find you.”

His immigrant father helped inspire part of the film’s plot

Jonathan Wang speaks as the cast and crew of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” accept the award for Best Picture at the Critics Choice Awards. Credit: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

On a night full of joyous excess, producer Jonathan Wang’s speech at the end of the Critics’ Choice Awards offered a somber reminder.

When accepting the award for best picture, Wang invoked his late father and the characters Yeoh and Quan played.

“This award is dedicated to my father, a Taiwanese immigrant who worked himself into an early grave,” Wang said. “This is really dedicated to the Evelyns, the Waymonds, the immigrant parents who would kill themselves for us immigrant children, to give us a better life.”

“From the butchered film titles to the unapologetic Chinglish, a touch of my father lives on in this film,” Wang wrote on Instagram last year, shortly before “Everything Everywhere” hit theaters.

The producer has said that his father helped inspire one of the film’s many wacky plot twists — a movie-within-the-movie called “Raccacoonie,” which features a raccoon sitting on a cook’s head. It is a reference to “Ratatouille” and a tribute to his father.

“Anyone with Asian parents knows they’re famously bad at movie titles,” Wang told The Hollywood Reporter. “My favorite is, he said, ‘Let’s see ‘Beyond Good People Shooting.'” That, Wang said, was his father’s name for “Good Will Hunting.”

“After the commotion about nomination day died down, I finally got a moment to shower and have a second to myself,” Wang wrote. “As the water ran down my stunned face, I sobbed tears of joy—deep tears of joy—and finally felt a release and acceptance that my father was and is so proud.”

She feared becoming an actress because of what she did not see on screen

Stephanie Hsu, shown here as supervillain Jobu Tupacki in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film. Credit: A24

When Stephanie Hsu took the stage to accept a “breakout in film” award at the Unforgettable Gala, which celebrates Asians and Pacific Islanders in entertainment, she thought back to a memorable moment in her childhood.

Hsu had been selected to act out a fake lemonade ad in front of her school. She held the empty lemonade carton the same way she held her award at the glitzy LA ceremony in December.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘That was really fun and I think I’m pretty good at it, but I should probably find something more practical to do with my life.’ And that was at a very young age,” Hsu said, her voice shaking with emotion. “And I think it’s because – I know it’s because – this world and the world of storytelling felt so far away and so – that if you don’t see it, you can’t possibly imagine that it’s ever going to be you or your friends up there or people who look like you.”

Despite her doubts, Hsu went on to study drama at New York University, became a Broadway star in “Be More Chill” and the “SpongeBob SquarePants” musical, and landed a prominent television role in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

But even so, she says that she found it difficult to imagine that she could be successful. That’s starting to change in the whirlwind of recognition surrounding her powerful “Everything Everywhere” dual performance as downtrodden daughter Joy Wang and ruthless supervillain Jobu Tupaki.

“I’m so excited,” the 32-year-old said at the unforgettable gala, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. “I feel like I’ve never really allowed myself to love doing this because I’ve been so afraid that it would never be possible. And I feel like this year has given me so much permission to really love what I do and I hope to make you guys proud and I’m so excited to continue.”

Hsu has said that her own experience growing up as the daughter of a Taiwanese immigrant helped inform her performances in “Everything Everywhere”.

“What I was blown away by was the heartbeat of the story and this mother-daughter relationship,” she told Women’s Wear Daily. “It was almost as if the dynamic needed no explanation or discussion. There was just something about it that I knew deep in my bones.”
“Listen, this trip is amazing, but it’s real. We haven’t outgrown this moment, have we?” Hsu told the Times. “James Hong (who plays her grandfather in the film) started acting at a time when people wouldn’t even say his name, they would literally just call him ‘Chinese’ and say ‘Get your mark.’ Michelle waited almost 40 year on his first chance to be No. 1 on the call sheet, and Ke left acting for (almost) 20 years. As successful as this film has been, the biggest fear on the other side is, “What if it’s my last chance?'”

When he started acting, producers said “Asians weren’t good enough”

In “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” James Hong plays a demanding father to Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang. Credit: A24

James Hong has hundreds of acting credits to his name, but it took nearly seven decades for him to take center stage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

“There’s one of us who’s been supporting ensembles for longer than any of us have been alive,” Yeoh said as the cast of “Everything Everywhere” won the best ensemble award and handed the stage to Hong, which is 94.

Hong noted the first film he appeared in, starring Clark Gable.

“Back then, the main role was played by these guys with taped eyes, and they talked like that,” Hong said, mimicking the offensive accent written for Asian characters at the time.

“And the producers said the Asians weren’t good enough. And they’re not box office,” Hong added. “But look at us now.”

“I ended up in the early career playing laundry, or chasing Chinese people … it was hard, very hard, to get out of shape,” he told Great Big Story in 2020.

Opportunities for Asian actors were so limited early in his career that Hong co-founded his own theater company, the legendary East West Players.

“It started the industry noticing who we were,” Hong told Great Big Story. “We weren’t just extras or gimmick people. We were in a play that we organized. We were the main characters. We were the actors. And we got attention.”

Once again garnering attention and drawing a standing ovation from the crowd at this year’s SAG Awards, Hong noted that he hopes to be on the awards circuit for years to come.

“I hope I come back when I’m 100 years old,” he said.

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