While Stephanie Hsu, who recently got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her breakthrough role in Everything Everywhere All at Once, lives in California now, she’s no stranger to a New York winter. A recent visit to the city, where she lived for 11 years, brought back memories of trudging through the snow to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts as a student, as well as dodging tourists in Times Square when she played Karen the Computer in SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical on Broadway: “That part of town is so stressful for me,” she says of Times Square. “I really just become a rat. I just go really fast. I dodge people. I’m on a mission.” Sure, Californians always complain about the cold in New York (get over it), but, to her credit, the week she arrived was particularly cold: “I walked by this pile, this mound of snow, and a rat was galloping across the snow mound,” Hsu said. “And I actually genuinely had a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, look at this beautiful rat, look at this beautiful reindeer rat frolicking through this icy snow. I can’t feel my fingers, but I love it.’”
In honor of her new Kate Spade New York spring campaign, Hsu let us in on her secret to making it through winter, where to eat watermelon radishes in the spring, and taking cues from rats on occasion.
What was your No. 1 winter-survival tip from when you lived in New York?
Layer. You’ve got to wear the long underwear. Long underwear underneath your pants is key. And thick socks. I think people get so nervous about long underwear because they think, It’s tight and then will my jeans look too thick on my body? But if you want to exist and go outside and go on a walk, it’s just so key.
What about emotionally?
Go to Miami. When I was on Broadway, in the SpongeBob SquarePants musical, I was really sad during winter. I was sitting backstage during the show with all the crew guys, and I told them, “Y’all, I’m just so sad. Winter is so hard and I don’t know what to do.” And we had two days off, which is really rare for Broadway. (Usually you only have one day off.) All the crew guys said, “Baby, baby, just go to Miami. People do it all the time. Just go to Miami for a day and a half.” And I literally went for like a little bit over 24 hours. And I’m not gonna say that it solved everything, but it was pretty magical and helped a lot. It’s like a two- or three-hour flight, and you just sit in the sun. Sometimes you just literally need vitamin D.
Do you have a favorite spot in New York?
Well, that is mostly my life. What season, though?
I guess spring. If we’re doing spring, we’re gonna do spring.
Not to be cliché, but the cherry blossoms in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden are pretty magical. On a Saturday morning, take a Citi Bike to the Grand Army farmers’ market, pick up some apples and radishes — watermelon radishes, specifically — walk to the Botanical Gardens, sit, and have a picnic. Then go to Prospect Park.
Were you a Kate Spade girlie like the rest of us back in the day?
Kate Spade was the “It”-girlie thing when I was growing up, and I’ve been a huge fan of their work. They came to me to be in their spring campaign. As a New Yorker for 11 years, and hating winter as much as I did — I am truly a spring person. In late February or early March (the moment that there was like one sprout coming out from the soil), I’d be calling all my friends, taking a selfie with the green sprout, telling the man at the bodega, “Spring is coming, spring is coming, don’t worry!” Then, of course, there’ll be a torrential storm one week later.
Do you have a least favorite spot in New York?
Times Square is so crazy. I got to see a bunch of Broadway shows, and I am grateful that Broadway taught me how to navigate those streets. I wish I could just hover and then plop into where I need to be instead of walking through the masses.
I know you live in California now, but if you could live in an eternal state of spring, would you?
No, I wouldn’t. Seasons are important. You have to evolve, purge, grow, exfoliate, and then be new again. I feel like you have to have moments of slight decay. You’ve got to compost. You’ve got to decompose. And that’s like the richest soil for you to grow again.
Last question. Would you rather have a slice of New York pizza or a New York bagel?
I don’t know. I am pretty severely lactose intolerant now, so anytime I eat any cheese, it’s the best cheese I’ve ever eaten in my whole life.