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Interview: Ke Huy Quan Talks ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ and Being Asian in Hollywood

April 6, 2022Ben MK

Best known for his roles in such beloved '80s classics as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, Ke Huy Quan is an actor who has both inspired the Asian actors that have come after him and been inspired by them in return. Now, after a couple of decades away from the Hollywood spotlight, the man once known as Short Round and Data is making his triumphant comeback. As Waymond Wang in Everything Everywhere All at Once, Quan is playing not one but three versions of the same character, as he joins Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephanie Hsu and James Hong in telling an action-packed and emotionally driven story set in a madcap multiverse where virtually anything and everything is possible. When it comes to our universe, however, Quan is crediting the on-screen Asian representation seen in films like Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings for giving his movie career a second chance.

I caught up with Ke Huy Quan to chat about his return to acting, the legacy of his Indiana Jones and Goonies characters, and what he hopes audiences will take away from Everything Everywhere All at Once.

First of all, what's it like being back on-screen after so many years? And what's it like being able to represent Asian culture, especially in a time when diversity and authenticity are so important?

Quan: It feels great to be back acting again. It is something that I always wanted to do, I always loved. But I just didn't have the opportunity back then. It was difficult to be an Asian actor back in the late '80s and in the early '90s. A lot of times, I [was] just waiting for the phone to ring. [The roles] came far and few in between, and when they did come, it was mostly for a very marginalized and stereotypical character that had maybe one or two or three lines. That's why I'm so grateful for the Asian representation that we're seeing now, what's happened in the last few years with Fresh Off the Boat and the phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians.

That movie dared me to pursue acting again. And me being here talking to you is a testament to how important [it is for] not just Asians, but all groups of people, to be represented in entertainment. Until you see it, you still can't believe that it can also be you up there on the big screen. Over the years, I've met a lot of Asian talent working in Hollywood. And they always say, "Hey, you're the O.G., man. Thank you for paving the way for me to be here." But what's really interesting is that it is they who also paved the way for me to return to acting. So I'm just grateful, and I'm very inspired by everything that's happened. And more than anything else, I'm also very hopeful. I know that there's a lot more work to be done. But as with any sustainable improvements, it happens gradually.

Of course, you're known to millions of moviegoers for your iconic characters, Short Round and Data, in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. Do you have a fondest memory from working on those films? And what do you feel has been the legacy of those characters?

Quan: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was the first time that a big Hollywood producer and big Hollywood director put an Asian actor in a big blockbuster. And George Lucas and Steven Spielberg changed my life. My memories of those times are nothing short of spectacular. To work with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford in your first movie, that's the ultimate dream for any actor. It was one of the best adventures of my life. And Steven didn't do it one time, he did it two times — he gave me [Data in] The Goonies as well. For a long time we had only Short Round and Data. But now we have Shang-Chi, we have Crazy Rich Asians. This is what we've been waiting. It's what I've been waiting for. So it's great so far.

You brought so much depth to all the different versions of Waymond in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Is there a version of the character that's nearer and dearer to your heart than the others?

Quan: All of them are. For me to get into these three different characters, I really reached deep within myself and looked back upon all those years, all those life experiences. Had this role been offered to me 10 or 15 years ago, I don't think I would have been able to do it. So, literally, I poured my entire life into these three different characters. And each character represents different things. For example, Waymond in this universe is an optimist, he believes in empathy. And that's what I was leaning towards when the times were tough in my life. When I wanted to give up in this industry, I looked toward Alpha Waymond, cuz he never gives up. So all of these are part of my life, and it's hard to separate them and choose which one is my favorite. I love them all, because they are me.

The fanny pack fight scene is an amazing piece of cinema. Can you talk about the work that went into bringing that scene to life, and how your experience working as a fight choreographer and assistant director in both the North American and Hong Kong film industries helped prepare you for that scene?

Quan: I studied Tae Kwon Do for many years, but the style of the fanny pack is a very particular style called Wushu Rope Dart. And it's something that I've never learned before. So I trained with our stunt coordinator, Tim Eulich, and also the Martial Club boys, Andy and Brian Le. I trained for weeks. But also, it's a style that's very difficult to master. Luckily, we had enough time to prepare before we shot that scene. And honestly, when you are in a movie with Michelle Yeoh that has action sequences — she's the frickin' queen of martial arts movies — so you better step up your game and do a good job. So I put a lot of pressure on myself to do that.

I had a lot of experience working with Corey Yuen and shooting action movies in Hong Kong, so I was quite familiar with the process and what needed to be done to make it look good up on the screen. It was very challenging for us to shoot that sequence, because it was scheduled for one-and-a-half days, unlike the way we did it in Hong Kong, [where] they would schedule a month or two for those action sequences. Here, we didn't have that luxury, so it was important that we came prepared. And hopefully, the audience will watch it and think we did a good job.

Looking ahead, you have an upcoming role in American Born Chinese. Can you talk a bit about that project?

Quan: I'm currently in the thick of shooting American Born Chinese. I'm in it with Michelle Yeoh, so I'm super happy about that. It also stars Daniel Wu and Chin Han, and it's being produced by Melvin Mar and Jake Kasdan, and the showrunner's Kelvin Yu, based on the graphic novel of the same name by Gene Yang. I think it's going to be a really cool and entertaining television series. It's Disney Plus, by the way, something that [people] haven't seen before. And it's based on the mythological world of the Monkey King. So I'm really happy about that.

Last but not least, what do you hope viewers will take away from Everything Everywhere All at Once?

Quan: The last couple of years has been really difficult for everybody, and I don't take for granted that all of us can be in a movie theatre again. So I hope that people can go watch [our] movie and, for a couple of hours, they can escape the real world, and then walk away feeling like they witnessed a great conversation being had — a conversation about love, family and connection. And hopefully, they can continue that conversation and share with their friends the message that all of us are entitled to be uniquely ourselves. And to feel simply enough.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is in select theatres now and everywhere April 8th.

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