Interview: Michelle Yeoh Dives Into The Wackiness And Fun Of ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’
Michelle Yeoh is famously known as the master of martial arts and is a legendary actor in all rights. Everything Everywhere All At Once is the perfect movie for the actress to showcase her many talents and her wide range.
It was an absolute honor and pleasure to sit down with Yeoh for this interview. Together, we talked about how the Daniels broke away from her usual typecast, her acting methods, and what skills she wishes she could learn from multi-jumping—which led us to shared excitement over some popular Hong Kong singers.
Check out the interview with Michelle Yeoh below:
You got to do a bunch of crazy wild things in this movie. What’s one of the most memorable things that you got to do?
Michelle Yeoh: Oh, my God. Yes. Right from the word “go,” it was just wild. It’s very hard to say which was the not wild scene because it seemed from the moment she appeared in the IRS building and being dragged into the janitor closet, it was just a completely wild ride. And every universe was so unique and crazy on its own, that I don’t know how you can be prepared for it. You know, when I looked at the script, and they say, ‘hotdog finger universe’ and you’re thinking, “No no no, I’m going to talk to the Daniel and that’s going out.” No idea what they’re talking about. But then once you are in the ride, once you are working together with the Daniels, with Jonathan, with Ke, with Jamie, Stephanie, James, it’s that you’re sucked into that everything bagel. And, you know, you’re like, I’m ready. I’m prepared. You almost put the googly eye on your forehead. You go, “I am prepared for anything they throw at me.” And that was the ride. It was…you don’t know how to really prepare. You just learn your lines and you got to pray for the best. And then let the these geniuses of directors take you forward, and close your eyes and knock your head back and get your multiverse jump.
You got to experience so many universes for Evelyn. What’s something that you Michelle would like to experience from any of Evelyn’s universes?
Yeoh: Oh, what would—? I think as Michelle Yeoh, if I could my multi-jump into a universe? I think I want to be one where I can sing, where I can you know [in Cantonese] (in Hong Kong) because you know at that time when I looked at Anita Mui and Leslie (張國榮) and [in Cantonese] 陳百強 (Danny Chan) and [in Cantonese] 譚詠麟 (Alan Tam), and you know, all those incredible singers and things like that. That was one thing I always wanted to do, which I can’t because I’m a terrible singer. And [the] only time I would sing [is] in a karaoke [room] when everybody’s drunk. You know, he’s like, when you have [in Cantonese] 張學友 (Jacky Cheung), and they do these amazing things. It’s like, I want to be—I would. So maybe in my next life, I would get to multiverse jump into being a rock star. Now in this movie, I only get to be a rock.
Very emotional rock though.
Yeoh: Very, it was one of my favorite scenes.
Evelyn was in so many universes, but for any of the Evelyns, what do you connect most with her?
Yeoh: I don’t connect with Evelyn. When I come into a film—Evelyn is a real character. Evelyn has a past. Evelyn has a journey. Evelyn has dreams and hopes. And I have to respect and treat her as such. So Evelyn has to find her own emotions and find her own journey. Yes, as an actor, as a person, there are things that you’ve experienced, and it helps. But this journey is very special to this person called Evelyn Wang. And so when she walks in there, she’s frustrated, she’s frazzled. You know, she’s trying to deal with so many things. But it’s a journey of discovery and I cannot take that away from Evelyn. So it is a very interesting process; it is a little mental, because you have to disassociate yourself and I’ve always done that, because it helps with my work. Because it cannot be so personal that at the end of the day, it’s not the story you’re telling. Then it becomes only your own story, which I find that it doesn’t really work for me as an actor, because I like to give space to these different worlds and different characters that I’ve had the opportunity to portray.
I love how effortlessly Chinese this movie is; you know, you go from Cantonese to Mandarin to English all the time. Was there anything, culturally Chinese with this movie that resonates with you, or that you hope audiences seeing themselves when they watch this movie?
Yeoh: I think all immigrant families could very much relate to that. Whether you’re an immigrant family in America, or in Malaysia, or any part of the world, the diaspora of the Chinese, you know, when they came and they went out also. There are some who holds much longer and harder to the cultural, traditional roots, and some who want to integrate a lot faster. And with this Wang family, they have tried to, but also look at Joy. Joy is a very American-born Chinese young lady. She doesn’t speak the language, right? Because it’s a choice for them as well to say, “Okay, I want to just—I’m American, I’ve integrated and this is the language that I’m going to speak.” And when she tries to speak it, because the grandfather has come back to their lives, it’s like, “Oh, my God, maybe you shouldn’t go there.” Right? Because it’s going to be so disastrous. It’s—I think, this is what all immigrant families go through, but what we hope, because it’s very interesting conversations that I’ve had over the years with immigrant families, or the next generation, where some will turn around and say, “Wait, who were not born here, who had the opportunity or good fortune to arrive here.” And we turn around and say, “You know, what, if I didn’t manage to leave my country of origin, I would not have the opportunity to be the director I am today if I stayed where I was.” And some who are not, they don’t even want to know, “It’s okay, I’m American, I’ll just learn the American way.” So it is a choice, obviously, at the end of the day, but I hope that when when we were doing this movie, what we wanted to do was to show the reality, the honest truth: this is how some immigrant families are. When we talk to each other, we will [in Cantonese] (speak Cantonese), right? And then we turn around to someone who is not from [in Cantonese] (not our—someone we just met) and then we’ll go back in English, right? So we switch, but that is very authentic of the reality, because they did not grow up speaking English. So when they come here, they go revert back to the language that they’re more comfortable in. And I think that was what we were trying to do, and we found out very quickly, the audiences have no problem with that. They understood, you know, this is this is the reality of what it is. And they embraced it very quickly. And I think that was a good turning point.
I read somewhere that you said this was basically your first time doing physical comedy. Could you speak to that experience? And would you do it again?
Yeoh: Absolutely would do it again. Maybe now that I’ve had a first time to try it and think okay, maybe I can handle it. But it was really interesting. Because if you look at my work, I’m normally the master or the master of someone who is well trained, remember? Yes. [In Cantonese] 師父 (sifu/master). Right? And then the Daniels would come up to me and they say, “Can you not look like you know what you’re doing?” And I’m like, “Are you mad? Of course, I know what.” He said, “No, no, no. Yes, you know what you’re doing. But you’re, you’re Evelyn.” Then you go, “Oh my God. That’s right. Evelyn doesn’t know all this, even though she’s gone to get the skills.” But when she comes back, she’s totally amazed by the fact that she’s able to do it. Her hands and body is moving, but her head is going like totally confused. Right? So that was that was a challenge to be able to, like schizophrenic, right? You have to like, split—your face is going oh my god, look at me. I’m so great. And then your hands are just doing all the right things. But it was an effort. It really was an effort.