In “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a genre-defying new film set in a vast multiverse, identity is not frozen but splintered into a constellation of possibilities.
The film’s central characters – Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh), her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu) – travel through various universes as they fight to save their family business struggling and to defeat an all-powerful villain named Jobu Tupaki, who has taken up residence in Joy’s human form. As they jump between timelines, the characters inhabit many distinct selves: their alternate fates, untapped skills, and sartorial sensibilities.
“I think it’s so rare that you can experience the extent of a character’s reach in a movie,” Ms. Hsu, 31, said in a Zoom interview on Saturday.
Playing both Joy and Jobu required the actress to tap into the depths of depression and explore the destructive heights of mania – an emotional range the film conveys in part through costume.
“She is so discouraged and so lost and has so much despair and carries this ugliness with her,” Ms Hsu said of Joy, who is shown in a dark flannel shirt and oversized hoodie, the kind of clothes that people wear to hide. “But I knew I could really go with her because I was also about to wear the most fabulous things and be a nemesis.”
Jobu’s style is loud, experimental and confrontational. She shows up in various places in head-to-toe tartan, her face obscured by a mask and visor; a preppy pink polo shirt with an argyle sweater vest and pleated skirt, brandishing a golf club as a weapon; a sparkly white Elvis-inspired jumpsuit and pink wig; a psychedelic zipper with teddy bears on each sleeve. Her makeup is also unsubtle and unnerving: she paints red hearts on her cheeks and covers her face with pearls and rhinestones. (A careful observer may notice that a gem is in the shape of a teardrop.)
Ms Hsu said the tear and hearts were meant to tie the ruthless Jobu to Joy, who despite her constant conflicts with her mother always wants the best for her family. During a fight scene with Evelyn, Jobu wears an outfit that is pure mayhem, blending the character’s many dissonant styles to alarming effect. But when she raises her fist, she reveals a glove with a heart-shaped cutout.
“I remember putting on this glove and saying, ‘I love that this fist always symbolizes love and that we have this fist fight,'” Ms Hsu said. “It was just such a useful reminder for me.”
She pointed out that all of the looks were the result of a close collaboration between the film’s costume designer, Shirley Kurata (whom she described as “an artistic genius”), and the directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.
“All three of them are maximalists who still care deeply about aesthetics,” Ms. Hsu said. “And so even though I was wearing really crazy things, sometimes it was really important that it was still fabulous and very couture.” Anissa Salazar, who oversaw the production’s hair department, and Michelle Chung, the head of makeup, also contributed to the overall effect.
Ms Hsu said the look that took the longest to complete was ‘Goddess Jobu’, as she called it, for which she wore a long white dress, an Elizabethan ruff, iridescent makeup and a braided hairstyle that resulted in a bagel-like bun on top of her head.
“The bagel was a hairpiece,” she said. “And then there are these braids running through my hair. So that took a lot of glue and things like that. But this one was actually easier than it looked.
Much harder, she said, was putting on all the layers of the outfit. “There was a leather bodysuit, leggings, a skirt, gloves and then these arm guards,” she said. “And then we also had to hang jewelry on my body.”
Ms Hsu was cast in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in 2019, a week after moving to Los Angeles from New York, a place that had shaped her sense of style.
“I lived in New York for 11 years. I think New York really gave me functional swag because you have to walk everywhere,” Ms. Hsu said. “But now when I’m in LA, it’s really fun to wear fun shoes. I like shoes.”
She said that working on the film, seeing herself in Jobu’s various costumes, and hearing responses from fans of the film also gave her the confidence to unlock a more expressive dress-up mode.
“I feel like my freak flag was flying way higher when I was younger,” Ms Hsu said, “and so I think I’m trying to embrace it again.”