‘I spent a long time trying to convince myself that I didn’t like acting anymore’: How Ke Huy Quan made it in Hollywood at 51

Read this while doing your laundry and taxes.

Natalie Teo |
January 16, 2023, 5:10 pm

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

You’ve probably already watched Ke Huy Quan’s emotional Golden Globes speech as he accepted his award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once.

But in case you didn’t, here it is again:

And if you didn’t shed a tear as a visibly emotional Quan, 51, thanked everyone who had been there for him, what is wrong with you?

Backstage, he spoke about his hopes for future acting roles.

“Moving forward, I really want to play all kinds of roles that was not available to me when I was much, much younger. I’m grateful the landscape has changed, there’s a lot more progress now, and certainly there is Asian representation. I just want to keep an open mind and to see what’s out there.”

Here’s a recap of his most iconic scenes in Everything Everywhere All At Once:

Who is Ke Huy Quan?

But who is this guy who seemingly came out of nowhere and managed to land a role starring opposite THE Michelle Yeoh?

His portrayal of Waymond Wang—the meek husband to her brash Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once— captured the hearts of moviegoers while reminding every Asian child of their own fathers.

As it turns out, Quan is not all that new to the screen.

He first began his career as a child actor in 1984 at the age of 12, starring as actor Harrison Ford’s sidekick Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Screenshot of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Screenshot of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

In 1985, he was Richard “Data” Wang in The Goonies, a movie about a group of friends and their adventures while saving their homes from foreclosure.

A few smaller roles later, Quan found it difficult to find acting work in Hollywood as an adult.

In a 2022 interview with Vulture, Quan describes the embarrassment he felt while hanging out with other young actors at parties and listening to them talk about the auditions they were going to.

“‘Yeah, this week I just have three auditions. I got five next week!’ And I’m thinking, Man, the last audition I had was six months ago.”

Quan eventually quit acting and went to film school.

For the next decade, he worked on productions in the U.S. and Hong Kong as an assistant fight choreographer and assistant director, and notably was an assistant director on Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046.

Until the success of Crazy Rich Asians prompted Quan to start thinking about performing again.

In the same Vulture interview, Quan said:

“When those opportunities dried up, I spent a long time trying to convince myself that I didn’t like acting anymore. I didn’t want to step away with the feeling that it was because there were no opportunities. I was lying to myself.”

“I think this role was written for me”

What happened next is straight out of a fairytale.

Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (the Daniels) were searching for an actor to play Waymond Wang, but had trouble finding someone who met all the requirements.

“We needed someone who was convincingly sweet, kind of [a] beta male, who you’d almost laugh at and dismiss,” Scheinert said,

Still from Everything Everywhere All At Once

“But then also he had to speak English, Mandarin [and] Cantonese, know martial arts, and be able to switch between multiple versions of himself and be a totally convincing alpha man as well.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Ke Huy Quan (@kehuyquan)

By a stroke of luck, Kwan came across a gif of Quan as Short Round, and began to wonder about the actor who played that role.

“My brain just kind of lit up. I wondered, Where is that person now? Where is that person who was so formative to my childhood?”’

The casting director reached out to Quan, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Never in a million years, in my wildest imagination, did I ever think I would land this role. But I wanted it more than anything. I thought the role was written for me.”

Anyway, here’s Kwan saying what we’re all thinking to his 45.2k Twitter followers:

Going places

After the well-deserved success of Everything Everywhere All At Once, Quan has been busy.

He’s landed a supporting role in the Netflix film Finding ʻOhana, and joined the cast of American Born Chinese, which also stars Michelle Yeoh and Singaporean actor Chin Han.

After watching his performance, Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, reached out personally to invite him to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In September 2022, Quan was announced to have joined the cast for the second season of the Marvel series Loki.

Here’s Tom Hiddleston being relatable as he fanboys over Quan:

Other comeback kid stories to brighten up your day

1. Hollywood royalty Michelle Yeoh, who also won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for Everything Everywhere All At Once.

She hasn’t been languishing in anonymity by any means, but in her acceptance speech, she spoke about how ageing as a woman has meant fewer opportunities.

“I thought, ‘Hey, come on, girl. You had a really, really good run,’” she said.

You can read our coverage of her Golden Globe winning speech here.

2. Comedienne Jennifer Coolidge, who won Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Limited Series/Anthology or Motion Picture for her role in The White Lotus

She was told by a casting agent that she wasn’t good-looking enough to ever appear on screen, but she did anyway.

Coolidge never fulfilled her big dreams of becoming a dramatic leading actor, but played scene-stealing iconic supporting roles like Jeanine Stifler in the American Pie movies, Sophie Kaczyński in 2 Broke Girls, and most recently, Tanya in The White Lotus.

“I had such big dreams and expectations as a younger person, but what happened is they get sort of fizzled by life and whatever. I thought I was going to be Queen of Monaco even though someone else did it. But I had these giant ideas. And then you get older and, oh, shit’s going to happen.”

Watch her hilarious and moving acceptance speech here, which made The White Lotus creator Mike White cry:

3. Robert Downey Jr, who battled his drug addiction for years before becoming the Tony Stark we know and love

Downey, 57, got his start in several coming-of-age movies in the 1980s.

In 1987 Downey played Julian Wells, a drug-addicted rich boy in the movie Less than Zero.

He described the role as “the ghost of Christmas Future” in reference to his drug habit, which turned him into an “exaggeration” of the character.

From 1996 to 2001, he was arrested multiple times on drug charges and found himself in and out of rehab.

Downey only made his return to the big screen after fellow actor and close friend Mel Gibson paid his insurance bond for the 2003 film The Singing Detective.

It was also in 2003 that he committed to full recovery, thanks to wife, film producer Susan Levin, whom he met on the set of the movie Gothika.

In 2008, he became Iron Man, and went on to become one of the highest paid actors in the world.

4. Lee Jung-jae of Squid Game fame

After being discovered while working at a cafe, Lee Jung-jae enjoyed a thriving acting career in the 90s and early 2000s.

His career hit a slump from 2007 to 2009, with poor TV ratings and an unsuccessful outing at the box office with period action comedy The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan.

His career began to pick up again from 2010, but it was his role in Squid Game in 2021—which he starred in at the age of 49— that propelled him to international stardom.

Lee was nominated for several awards and became the first Asian male to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series.

Top image via Ke Huy Quan/Instagram and A24/YouTube

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