‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Directors the Daniels on the ‘Surreal,’ ‘Wild’ Ride of Success

TheWrap magazine: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert chat about the Oscars, Michelle Yeoh magic and preserving their unique approach to filmmaking

(Joyce Kim)

A version of this story about Everything Everywhere All at Oncedirectors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert originally appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

In one of the dozens of bonkers metaverses that populate “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Michelle Yeoh is a teppanyaki chef who discovers that the secret to her colleague’s culinary brilliance is a gastronomically gifted raccoon hiding under his chef’s toque. While trying to explain this bizarre discovery to her family in a different universe, Yeoh’s character, Evelyn, calls the animal “Racacoonie,” which is, of course, a winking reference to Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”

The homage is one of many in the mad, maximalist movie written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Released last spring, it became the biggest indie breakout of the pandemic age, grossing $100 million worldwide. Audiences and critics enthusiastically embraced the story of an everywoman (Yeoh) who must save her marriage, her relationship with her daughter and the entire world by jumping from ’verse to ’verse. The film’s success came as a surprise to the Daniels (as they are known), who figured “Everything Everywhere” would perform closer to the $4 million gross of “Swiss Army Man,” their previous feature that starred Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse. They certainly weren’t expecting to meet Brad Bird, the director of “Ratatouille,” at a recent DGA dinner and learn that he is among their new movie’s fans.

“We started talking about the Racacoonie joke,” Kwan said. “He was very flattered, he thought it was very funny. But then as we were having a conversation, another director came up to us and showed a picture of a Halloween costume that his brother had made of Racacoonie, not knowing that we were talking about it. I looked at Brad Bird, like, this is very surreal. It’s just so wild, honestly, this whole thing.”

Is it safe to say you never imagined a universe in which your movie would be a huge commercial hit?

DANIEL SCHEINERT: No, no, we didn’t imagine that. It’s crazy.
DANIEL KWAN: We tend to make things for ourselves. It’s very much like a niche, fun thing where we’re trying to create movies that we wish we could see. But something happened where what we were doing suddenly became in sync with the rest of the world. And we’re so grateful because no filmmaker can plan for that.

No one but Michelle Yeoh could play Evelyn, who expresses a beautiful range of emotions and becomes a martial arts action hero. Were there times when you watched her doing her magic on set, especially with stunts, and found yourself in a is-this-really-happening state of disbelief?

SCHEINERT: Yeah, almost every day.
KWAN: Oh, absolutely. It was every kung fu nerd’s dream. My father is from Hong Kong, and our family’s love language is speaking in kung fu movies. When my dad saw the movie, he was like, “Oh, my God.” You know, very Asian dad of him, but it was the first time he’d ever said he was proud of me. Because he saw me working with Michelle Yeoh. It was incredible.

Michelle Yeoh
Michelle Yeoh and Li Jing in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)

There’s also the return of Ke Huy Quan, who plays Waymond, Evelyn’s husband. Ke was in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies” as a kid, but then he quit acting for 20 years. Since your movie plays with the idea of other selves, other lives lived, did you intend this meta-commentary on Ke’s journey as an actor — that we missed out on decades of his talent because Hollywood wasn’t interested?

KWAN: I wish we could say we were smart enough to be thinking about all that stuff while we were casting him. But it was one of those lovely, beautiful, synergistic things that happened, where not only was he the only person for this role, but then also this meta-narrative added so much more depth to the experience of watching him blossom on the screen. We struggled trying to find an older Asian American male star who could not only do all the fight scenes but also be genuinely tender and playful and silly. Waymond is sort of the secret heart of the movie. I remember while we were watching the sequence when he is trying to convince Michelle Yeoh to stop fighting and to be kind and he’s giving us a really emotional performance. It actually triggered a sense memory in me when I (thought), “Wait a minute, did we just rewrite the scene from “Indiana Jones 2” where Short Round is talking to Harrison Ford cause (Indiana Jones) has gone evil, at the end of “Temple of Doom”? He’s been, like, voodooed, brainwashed or something. And he says (something like), “Indy! Indy! Please! Stop, stop fighting.” I was like, Whoa, this is bizarre.

SCHEINERT: While we were shooting, we started to reflect on how the whole movie was becoming this opportunity to show that all these Asian actors have so much more to offer than Hollywood has been giving them. Michelle has a crazy résumé, but she was getting to show new sides of herself. Ke got to come back and be like, “Hey, Hollywood, I was this good all along. You really blew it.” Or like James Hong and Harry Shung Jr., who’s a heartthrob normally, and we got to be like, “Dude, he’s got more to offer.” [Laughs]

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Stephanie Hsu, Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan (A24)

Daniel K., in an interview from April, you said that you’d been thinking a lot about the Oscars. I don’t know if you remember this.

KWAN: [Laughs] I don’t remember, but I’m excited to hear this.

You said that lots of the people who attend the Oscars just want to be loved and have a deep emotional hole they need to fill. And you said that if you ever won an Oscar, you would say, “This doesn’t fill the void!” Now that your movie is in the Oscar conversation, have you thought about this differently?

KWAN: [Laughs] That’s so funny. I do remember saying this now. I don’t remember the context. I remember it was a joke, but you know, most jokes have a lot of truth in them. I remember (when) David Byrne won an Oscar for “Last Emperor” and he said, really briefly, that this is a lot of fun, but it’s more fun doing it. And I feel like that was just so elegant. Like, yeah, this is a lot of fun. The fact that we are even considered in this conversation is so beautiful and really satisfying to see, especially for our cast and crew. We feel like proud parents, that our cast and crew are being elevated in this moment. And we don’t want to run away from the moment, but at the same time, we just shot something — a TV episode last month. And it was so beautiful to be on set again. We just remember, Oh, yeah, this is why we do it. And this is probably going to be the thing that fills the void — just the making of it. So I’ll take David Byrne’s line: This is a lot of fun, but it’s a lot more fun doing it.

He’s a good person to quote. Was that TV episode “Mason” (for A24 and Showtime)?

KWAN: No, no. It’s an unnamed project. It was just a guest-director thing that we did. We actually signed up for it before the movie came out and then the movie came out and we’re like, oh, no, our schedule is crazy. Why are we doing this TV episode?
SCHEINERT: We gotta get those healthcare days.
KWAN: Exactly. “Mason” is probably going to be early next year. We’re still developing that script.

In the summer, you signed a new production deal with Universal and you’re developing “Mason.” Has the wild success of “Everything Everywhere” changed how you approach your work?

SCHEINERT: Yeah, it’s gone to our head.
KWAN: It’s too late!
SCHEINERT: We’re gonna wear sunglasses everywhere we go. I mean, we’re just relentlessly trying to preserve what we love and not change it too much but also lean into this moment, because it’s rare. Our dream is to keep making movies like this one and we’re happy that it looks like that is possible. We’re trying to enjoy this while not messing up something that worked.

Read more from the Race Begins issue here.