Thanks to roles in projects like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, actor Ke Huy Quan became a seminal child star of the '80s, managing to steal scenes from anyone he shared the screen with. Those performances as Short Round and Data in those projects would lead many to assume Quan was well on his way to becoming a superstar, but in the '90s, it was the lack of opportunities for Asian and Asian-American actors that resulted in him leaving the acting world behind seemingly for good. Focusing instead on training in martial arts, it wasn't until the actor saw Crazy Rich Asians and realized the shift in acting opportunities that he would return to performing, going on to star in the genre-bending Everything Everywhere All at Once, which expands to more theaters on April 1st before going nationwide on April 8th.
Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, the film is a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action adventure about an exhausted Chinese-American woman (Michelle Yeoh) who can't seem to finish her taxes.
ComicBook.com caught up with Quan to talk the film, the impact of the project's themes, and if he has an interest in reprising his iconic roles.
ComicBook.com: Before anything else, just in case you haven't heard it enough, you are incredible in this movie. The movie itself, obviously, is phenomenal, Michelle's incredible. The rest of the cast is incredible. But to have you come out of the gate, after 20 years of being out of the spotlight, it's fantastic, your work in this movie.
Ke Huy Quan: Thank you for that really generous comment. I also want to give a shout-out to all the people listening. I was quite nervous before our movie debut because I really didn't know how all of you would react to my return. But hearing and reading all the wonderful comments that are out there, it's really heartwarming. I am overwhelmed with emotions and I'm so happy right now. Thank you.
You've talked before about how Crazy Rich Asians was really a turning point for you and it opened your eyes to the state of the industry in 2018, as opposed to what it was, say, 10, 15, 20 years ago. If it wasn't for that movie, do you think you would've just been done with acting forever? Was there at least a little bit of an itch in you, and it was the perfect timing of the release of that movie and your interest in acting, or do you think it really was this magical moment and that without Crazy Rich Asians, you might have just resolved to leave acting behind for good?
That's a great question. I don't even know, and I think our movie deals with this topic quite elegantly. It's the what ifs? What if we made different choices?
Over the years, when I decided to step away from acting, that was a painful decision when I had to do that, especially when I was in my late teens and early 20s. Acting was my favorite thing to do. My good friend, Jeff Cohen, a.k.a. Chunk from The Goonies, once said to me, "Ke, nobody willingly gives up acting, because it's literally, it's the best profession in the world. We get to play make-believe and all these wonderful characters." So when I stepped away, I mean, I didn't look back, and I was content working behind the camera for a while.
I really don't know. But, for me, it was really 2018 when Crazy Rich Asians came out and saw how successful it was and people's reaction to the movie. I went and watched it three times in the theaters, and I cried every single time. I cried because it was a wonderful movie with a moving story. But I also cried because I saw so many Asian faces on the screen, something that I wanted for so long, a representation that I've been longing for for decades, that we never saw happen until then.
I'm grateful that we are here now. I'm optimistic, I'm hopeful where things are going, but there's still a lot more work to be done. And it's not moving as fast as we all hope, but it's okay because all sustainable improvements do happen gradually. But yeah, it was really that movie that dared me to pursue acting again. Now, I mean, with this question, I really ... Now I have to think, all the what ifs? Maybe in a different universe, had that movie not come out, I might not have gotten back into acting.
This film has so much going for it. It's such a singular vision of action and drama and humor and sci-fi. There's so much going on, when you first read the script and when you were first speaking with the Daniels, those conversations, were you able to get all of those messages from reading it on the page? Or was it through those discussions with the filmmakers that their vision for it finally became clear with how much they were going to cover with this movie?
It was a great script, it was beautifully written. I think I got a lot of it. I was laughing, I was crying, because it was such a beautiful story, even though it's painted on this amazing science-fiction, action, drama, comedy canvas, but at the core of it was this family. And that's what held the entire story together about love and connection, about acceptance.
But one thing that I didn't understand, and I asked the Daniels the very first time we met was, what does the bagel mean, you know? And I think it would be interesting to see what the audience thinks about that. I think it can mean different things to different people. But yeah, the script was just incredible. And what's amazing is that we shot the entire movie without making any changes to the script. Once when we began rolling cameras, we shot it the way it was written. We shot it in 38 days ... It was also great to witness on set how the Daniels brought all those beautiful words [together] and put it up on the screen.
A major theme of the film and a lasting message is empathy, and you've spoken about that theme of empathy in regards to your character in the movie. Coming out the other side of making this movie, and now finally being unleashed on audiences, what do you think is the big message that not only you hope resonates with audiences at large, but possibly even more specifically to Asian and Asian-American audiences?
Well, one, for Asian audiences, I think my return is a testament to how important, not just for Asians, but all groups of people, it is to be represented in entertainment. Until you see it, you still can't believe that it can also be you up there on the screen. I hope with my return, all those people out there that share in the same dream, whether they are old or young, that lay dormant, I hope our movie does to these dreamers what Crazy Rich Asians did for me.
You mentioned empathy, and empathy is really important because it creates a pathway for understanding and acceptance. I think one of the beautiful messages in our film is to accept each other for who they are. We are all entitled to be uniquely ourselves and to feel simply enough. If people watch our movie and if there's one message that they can take away from it, it's that: please be understanding and be accepting of each other. At this time, more than anything else, that's what we really need.
Now that you have returned to acting, obviously everybody is going to want you in their movie. There's another Indiana Jones on the way, so throughout your career, have you ever wanted to revisit an older version of that character, even just to show the many layers to that character and the depth to that character that maybe was overlooked when that movie first came out in the early '80s?
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies changed my life, they changed the trajectory of my life. I still can't believe, 38 years later, I still have people come up to me and tell me how their life has been impacted by those two movies. So I'm grateful to be a part of that.
And yes, over the years, I always dreamed of revisiting those characters. In fact, we tried for many years, making a Goonies 2. We've hired numerous writers with numerous drafts, but it just never came to be. And so, even my return to acting, it was once, to me, a very, very distant dream. The Daniels made that distant dream into a reality today and I'm so grateful to them. So, yeah, I'd love to. I'm excited that we're going to get Indiana Jones 5. I love Harrison Ford very much, and I can't wait for him to don that fedora hat once again, and crack that whip another time. So yeah, I'm very happy.
And hey, maybe we can talk to the Daniels and get them to direct a spinoff focusing entirely on you.
You're so sweet. You're very kind, I love you so much.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is in select theaters now expands to more theaters on April 1st before going nationwide on April 8th.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.