Dressed as Elvis and nonchalantly walking a pig on a leash, Stephanie Hsu made a memorable big screen impression this year.
Hsu actually had two roles in Everything Everywhere All At Once, playing both a sullen teen and an intergalactic supervillain for a film that can best be called a fantastical science fiction comedy-drama.
With Michelle Yeoh joining Hsu as her onscreen mother, the indie film has garnered critical acclaim, hit over US$100 million in global ticket sales and has sparked Oscar buzz.
“The movie is so special because we could not have possibly expected this to have happened and so we were really able to just throw paint at the wall,” Hsu said. “It came from a very raw place with zero expectations, only trying to tell the story as deeply and honestly as we can.”
Hsu’s performance – combining deep hurt with a real skill with nunchucks while rocking sequin-lined eyes – has made her one of The Associated Press’ Breakthrough Entertainers of the Year alongside Joaquina Kalukango, Sadie Sink, Tenoch Huerta, Iman Vellani and more.
“I have been working for a really long time and I guess that’s what a breakout is: You chip away and then all of a sudden, there’s one thing that everyone is like, ‘That’s the thing that put you on the map.’”
Hsu was a Broadway veteran with a few TV credits when she worked with the writing and directing duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for an episode of Norah From Queens.
Working with Kwan and Scheinert – known as The Daniels – was a revelation for Hsu and when they contacted her about Everything Everywhere All At Once she never hesitated.
“We’re like artistic soulmates in so many ways,” she said. “When I read the script, in so many ways, it actually made a lot of sense to me weirdly enough. I don’t know what that says about me.”
The film begins with Yeoh as a struggling laundromat owner who is being audited by the IRS and has a strained relationship with her daughter. The story gets surreal when she discovers she has to connect with parallel universes to prevent cataclysmic destruction, also involving her daughter. It’s also a family drama, with richness in the complex love between relations.
“This movie, in so many ways, embodies what I love to do as an artist. So it feels like the most honest handshake I could make with Hollywood,” she said.
“I think art at its very best offers some help in processing or helping us move through a very confusing world and offer some healing. And that is ultimately the type of work that I want to make.”
Hsu began her acting career on Broadway, where she played Karen the Computer in SpongeBob The Musical, and Christine Canigula in Be More Chill. She was born in California and moved to New York to study at New York University, graduating in 2012.
She showed off her work ethic by combining a punishing eight-show-a-week Broadway schedule with filming The Marvelous Mrs Maisel on Mondays, her only day off.
“The discipline that forced me into, I think, really prepared me for everything that has happened since. And I feel really grateful that I was given the opportunity to work that hard,” she said.
Hsu will next be seen in Rian Johnson’s Peacock anthology series Poker Face, alongside Natasha Lyonne and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She’ll also star opposite Ashley Park in JFC, a raunchy, R-rated comedy directed by Adele Lim.
“What I’m excited to do next, honestly, is to develop more of my own work,” she said. “In order to make this career sustainable and joyful is to be able to dig in and not always just fill shoes for someone else.”