Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, lovingly know as Daniels latest work of cinematic art Everything Everywhere All At Once illustrates the visionaries’ flare for combining mindfuck storytelling and visuals infused with the groundedness of human emotion. The film explores the multiverse through the lens of an immigrant family navigating the waves of family dysfunction, East-Western identity, and generational trauma. It also stretches the acting muscles of Michelle Yeoh and showcases the full extent and prowess of this legend as she jumps through multiverses.
It also stars ’80s Spielgerian Asian Hollywood trailblazer Ke Huy Quan, an actor that returns to the big screen after nearly two decades. Then we have up and coming actor Stephanie Hsu holding her own against the aforementioned legends as well as James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis.
As we have seen with Swiss Army Man, Daniels know how to blow our mind. They have an undying love for cinema and the full spectrum of filmmaking but at the same time, the realize the absurdity of movies and Everything Everywhere All At Once is testimony to that.
We had a chance to talk to Daniels about working with legends and how the multiverse is a cosmic thirst trap. We also answer the question: is a hot dog a sandwich?
DIASPORA: At SXSW y’all talked about how a lot of things in Everything Everywhere All At Once came from music videos ideas that never made it to screen but now you have this huge canvas and you used every inch of it. How did you build the narrative? Did you start with the story of family dysfunction and generational trauma and go from there or did you work backwards from all these multiverses you wanted to include?
DANIEL KWAN: It felt like alchemy. We were trying to turn a rock into gold and we didn’t know how we’re going to do it so it was a lot of experimenting. We tend to start with the big picture, looking at the structure of it all.
Most movies paint with the palette of characters or themes. We were painting with these like sledgehammers. Each of them was an entire genre, an entire actor — like a career worth of movies. We’re painting with really big, big brushstrokes.
One of the earliest conceptions of the movie was what if a family drama got interrupted by a sci-fi action movie that gets interrupted by a love story romance that gets interrupted by the internet, you know? We knew we wanted to do a thing that kind of felt like this where the snake just keeps eating itself — but we wanted to make sure that even if the movie goes all the way to its own self destruction, we would find a way to pull ourselves back out of it and pull the audience back out of it and find something really meaningful out of that mess.
DANIEL SCHEINERT: Early on, we had some fight scene ideas and multiverse thoughts but it wasn’t until I think we were talking about our favorite kung fu movies and our favorite kung fu actors. Then we realized it made a lot of sense for the main family to be Asian American. That’s a part of Dan’s [Kwan] life we haven’t explored as much. That’s at the core of this: an immigrant family. That also gave us permission for it to be an ode to all of these Asian filmmakers we love.
DIASPORA: Why do you think multiverses are so hot right now in film?
DS: They are SOOOOOO hot! Anyone who’s not into it is missing out!
DK: [Multiverses] are the world’s biggest cosmic thirst trap. (laughs)
I think there’s two answers to this. There’s the cynical, profitable answer, which is: we finally get to give the audience exactly what they want. You know, I always think about the first time I experienced with Super Smash Brothers, the video game, When I saw Pikachu with Donkey Kong and Ness, I was like, “What the hell is this?! This is everything I’ve ever dreamed about!” Now everyone is doing it and it’s very successful and profitable, because it just taps into something that we all wish could happened.
DS: One way of summing up this cynical view is like a bunch of scientists started writing papers about how this might be real. Then a bunch of media makers were like, “Oh, we can put all our characters together.”
DK: I think what drew us to this originally was the fact that like, right now, it feels like we live in a multiverse. Every time you scroll through your social media, you are looking into 100 other worlds and point of views that you that you do not share. Some of it really butts up against what you believe — and that collision is at the core of the anxiety that we’re all feeling. We feel endless stretching of our souls in every direction. I think, for us, that’s why we were excited to put our movie in the multiverses because it felt reflective of what it feels like to be alive right now.
DIASPORA: There is one point in the film where we see Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis sitting together. I am sure you know that this cast is pretty damn amazing, but how did you even wrap your head around being such iconic energy?
DS: I was just inspiring. That scene was the very first day. The first thing we shot was them sitting there and there was instant chemistry and instant comedy.
DK: Everyone was so gracious. It was easy for us to be at ease because every one of those humans behind the characters are so lovely and so collaborative. We were really lucky. Even though they are legends, there was no ego ever. I think the only person who was truly freaking out was actually Ke Huy Quan. He was like, “I haven’t acted in a couple decades and this is my first day back on set.”
DS: We couldn’t tell! At lunch, apparently he went up to Jamie and was like, “Was that okay?” She was like “What do you mean? You did great!”
DK: In the first scene he was sitting next to Michelle and James, looking at Jamie Lee Curtis and was like, “What am I doing here?” Clearly by the end of the film, he totally proves that he deserves to be up there with anyone else. I’m so happy that we were so lucky with the cast. They are legends, but they were the perfect collaborators.
RANDOM QUESTION ROUND!
DIASPORA: What was your very first job?
DK: I was a server at a rotisserie grill which was a spin off of Boston Market that failed. Boston Market was trying to create a fancy version of itself and it failed miserably. It was fun. I had a lot chicken while I was there.
DS: My parents paid me to rip all the linoleum out of this weird office building they were trying to renovate so my dad could work there. I just had to scrape linoleum for a summer.
DIASPORA This is kind of related to the movie… Is a hot dog a sandwich? Why or why not?
DK: I would say no. I think that takes away from the hot dog. Hot dog is its own thing.
DS: I say yes…and gyros are sandwiches and burritos are sandwiches…I think the term “sandwich” is an umbrella for just handheld delicious things.
DK: Whoa, burritos? No! What about pizza, is that a sandwich?
DK: Ha! I bridged the gap!
DIASPORA: What about a calzone?
DS: You’re catching me in my lie!
DK: That’s closer to a bao tzi…like a dumpling.
DIASPORA: Are you more of an Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop kind of person or an Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator kind of person?
DK: Terminator II was one of the first movies I watched as a kid, which is kind of fucked up because I was three or four years old. I became obsessed and I watched it all the time. So Terminator 100%. I even asked the barber when I was four to give me the Terminator haircut and she was like, horrified. It’s my favorite movie.
DS: Terminator. I think he’s kind of scary. So I like when he’s allowed to be scary.
DIASPORA: Would you rather be covered in fur or covered in scales?
DS: Oh, fur! ? Like, I might be a furry… I just haven’t tried it yet. The other day, I was like, “Man, stuffed animals are cool!” Of course, people are furries!
DK: I’m so hot all the time. I’m a warm body person. Fur really appealing, but I think I would die if I did that. So I might go scales by default because I don’t want to overheat.
DIASPORA: You can replace the cast of any movie with the Muppets, but you keep one of the human actors. What movie and which human do you keep?
DK: The first thing comes to mind is There Will Be Blood but you keep Daniel Day Lewis. That murder scene at the end with Muppet is just right! And when he says, “I drink your milkshake” that feels like a Muppet movie. I think it can be really beautiful. The other great thing is that for the first 15 minutes you won’t know it’s a Muppet movie because it’s just him by himself and then there’s the reveal when other humans come in because then you’re like, “Oh, this is a Muppet movie?”
DS: My brain went to Requiem for a Dream but you keep Marlon Wayans. Like that part where he’s running and he’s scared? You know, I’d be scared too! And that sex scene is just seared in my brain the one with him and his girlfriend — so it would be just him spooning Miss Piggy. That’d be pretty cool