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Everything Everywhere All at Once: how Michelle Yeoh was persuaded to star in Daniels’ sci-fi action comedy

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 23/3/2022 Daniel Eagan
  • Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan wanted to imbue Everything Everywhere All at Once, starring Michelle Yeoh, with the 'energy of the Hong Kong films we love'
  • The duo wrote the film with Yeoh in mind and believe their relationship with her, and the cast addition of Jamie Lee Curtis, convinced Yeoh to accept the role

Known collectively as "Daniels", Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan wrote and directed Everything Everywhere All at Once, the best American movie showcase of Michelle Yeoh's talents yet.

In the film, Yeoh plays Evelyn, a wife, mother and launderette owner facing an impossible tax audit. She is also dozens of other "Evelyns" - from an action star to a Chinese opera singer to a boulder atop a desert cliff that can think and move.

Daniels wrote their script with Yeoh in mind, even naming her character Michelle. "Which I think was flattering when she first read the script," Scheinert says during a Zoom interview. "Also she did not like it."

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The directors believe two factors persuaded Yeoh to accept the role. One was Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays Deidre, a mean-spirited tax auditor, and who showed she was willing to risk everything about her screen persona. The other was the relationship Yeoh formed with Daniels themselves.

"The behind-the-scenes chemistry between actor and director is so important to us," Kwan says. "When you trust the director and the director can trust the actor, that's when you can push in ways no one would ever expect.

"You see that on the screen, Michelle stretching her abilities in every direction possible and succeeding with every role."

Michelle was a lot more vulnerable and funny than we imagined or expected
Daniel Scheinert, co-director

Although this is only their second feature, after the cult favourite Swiss Army Man, Daniels have built a huge following on social media.

Over the span of their music videos and short films, they assembled a team they return to again and again.

In this film, they added Andy and Brian Le, known on YouTube as the MartialClub, for stunt work.

'I'm versatile': how Michelle Yeoh became a martial arts movie star

"We grew up on kung fu action, which is so specific," Kwan says. "No one has come close to Yuen Woo-ping in our eyes."

"We wanted our fights to have rhythm, comedy, a narrative," Scheinert adds. "We couldn't compete with the scale of action in Hollywood films, but with Andy and Brian, ours would have the energy of the Hong Kong films we love."

"They never had any formal training, but they've memorised all of Jackie Chan's and Michelle's moves," Kwan says. "To work with Michelle blew their minds because she's such an icon in that world.

Daniel Kwan (left) and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as Daniels, wrote and directed Everything Everywhere All at Once. © Provided by South China Morning Post Daniel Kwan (left) and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as Daniels, wrote and directed Everything Everywhere All at Once.

"Every day they'd be like, 'I can't believe I get to fight with Michelle.' And we'd be like, 'Sorry, you have to do it with your pants off,'" Scheinert jokes.

Did Yeoh ever have second thoughts about, for example, wearing hot dogs for fingers while dancing with her lesbian lover?

"I think we got lucky without realising it, but she was really down with the script," Scheinert says. "The Hong Kong style of filmmaking that she started out in, you would show up to set in the morning and they would just tell her, 'This is what you're doing today.'"

"Their scripts were mostly just outlines," Kwan adds. "People would kind of make it up as they went along, [with] varying degrees of success."

Michelle Yeoh (centre) in a still from Everything Everywhere All at Once. © Provided by South China Morning Post Michelle Yeoh (centre) in a still from Everything Everywhere All at Once.

"Michelle still has a little bit of the 'can do' attitude," Scheinert says. "It's hard to faze her. We tried to embarrass ourselves, too, so it wasn't just her out there. Also, Jamie Lee gave Michelle a huge boost of confidence. The two of them would take turns doing such crazy things, like partners in crime."

"I can't overstate how important it was that Jamie Lee came on," Kwan says. "The two of them together felt like they could do anything. Because they had such mutual respect, they were ready to go there with us."

"Michelle was a lot more vulnerable and funny than we imagined or expected," Scheinert says. "And I think she liked our answers to questions like, 'Why on Earth did you write this?'"

Michelle Yeoh (left) and Jamie Lee Curtis in a still from Everything Everywhere All at Once. © Provided by South China Morning Post Michelle Yeoh (left) and Jamie Lee Curtis in a still from Everything Everywhere All at Once.

The affection and respect Daniels have for Yeoh also played a part. They can cite stunts from Yes, Madam, Supercop and many other Yeoh films. In some ways, their work mirrors the manic energy of an earlier generation of filmmakers while finding its own path to a new audience.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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