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'Everything Everywhere All at Once' makes '80s child star Ke Huy Quan a new icon

Ke Huy Quan was a child actor in '80s classics like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, but his career hits new heights playing multiverse hero Waymond Wang. 

By Tara Bennett
A still from the film Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022).

In the 1980s, Ke Huy Quan got the start of an acting career that you'd think most actors could only dream of, one that would set them up for success. The scene-stealer played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Richard "Data" Wang in The Goonies. Not many in Hollywood can boast that their first professional mentors in the business were legendary directors Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner, but Quan learned from the best and stayed acting until the late '90s.

However, Quan found the quality of roles for Asian actors increasingly disappointing, so he shifted to working behind the scenes as an assistant director for on Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 and as a stunt coordinator for a host of films in the Hong Kong film business. It wasn't until 2020 that Quan felt like the landscape for Asian actors was finally shifting in the right direction that he decided to tentatively put his toe back into the acting pool. And when he read Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's script for Everything Everywhere All at Once and immediately fell in love with the role of Waymond Wang, the deceptively mousey and long-suffering husband of Michelle Yeoh's Evelyn Wang. Due to the nature of the movie, there are alternate-reality variants of nearly every character and Quan covers some incredible ground in the two-hour multiverse extravaganza.

As the heart of the movie, Quan gets to do things audiences have never seen him do before, along with some call backs to his classic characters of Short Round and Data. SYFY WIRE got to talk with Quan during his press tour for the film where he shared the scariest scene he had to pull off in Everything Everywhere, his days as a childhood actor and if there's been real change for Asian actors in Hollywood.

A still from the film Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022).

Not many actors get a comeback role like you do as Waymond in Everything Everywhere All the Time, so how is that landing now that it's finally out?

It's really incredible to me because I haven't done this for 20 years now. And you have this opportunity to not only play one character, but three versions of the same character is just incredible.

Let's talk about which version of Waymond is the one dearest to you?

Well, "Alpha" Waymond's fight sequence was amazing. But I honestly, I think what really struck a chord with me is Waymond in this universe; just how kind and gentle and loving he is. And because of what he believes in, which is empathy and respect and love for each other which is something that I think we should all pay attention to and learn from.

The movie looks like it was crazy to shoot since almost every scene gets increasingly nuts as the narrative progresses. What kind of directors were the Daniels especially since this was your first acting set in a while?

If you've ever been on a Daniels movie set, we always start off with a warm-up exercise. It's the cast and the crew all gathered together, and someone would lead the early warm-ups to stretch ourselves to get ourselves ready for the for the day. And every Friday, we will have a dress up theme. When we were shooting the hotdog universe, everybody was required to either wear red or yellow. In the movie star universe, everybody was required to wear a business suit, or dress up as if you were working at a corporation. I love that stuff which makes it so fun.

You were a stunt coordinator on a lot of Hong Kong action films, so what was it like having to do some incredible martial arts scenes as "Alpha Waymond" with a fanny pack as a weapon? 

I worked with some great action directors and choreographers in Hong Kong. And every time we worked on those movies, we would have lots of time, sometimes three or four weeks for a scene. For my fanny pack fight sequence, we were scheduled for one and a half days to shoot and that is including the dialogue leading up to the action. I believe that day we had to get through 60 to 70 setups. Now that is insane for any production. I knew how tight the time was, so I trained really hard for that fanny pack fight. And that particular style of wushu rope dart is something that is very hard to master and something that I never learned. I only learned taekwondo. I trained for weeks, but I was never able to get it absolutely 100 percent right.

What was tripping you up?

At the very end of that fight sequence, I take that fanny pack and I wrap it around my neck and I kick it, and then the fanny pack will shoot out towards camera. It was important to do all of that in one shot so the audience can see me doing it. When we were shooting it, I was never able to quite actually do it. Director Dan Kwan came up to me and says, "Ke, listen, I know you worked a lot in Hong Kong and you guys always get 20 or 30 takes. But I need to tell you now that we're not going to have that luxury. We need to get this in just a few takes because we're not going to have time for it." Then roll camera.

Take one: A complete disaster. It was all over the place. I was really sad. I looked over to the Daniels and they had that look on their face where I go, 'Oh s***. Oh my god. Please. I cannot do 10 takes of this.'

Take two came along. They yell action. I took that fanny pack, wrapped it around my shoulder, and then I kicked it and it was just perfect. The fanny pack just shoots out towards the camera and that's the shot that you saw up on the screen. I think that was one of the happiest moments for the Daniels because it was just so hard to get. Jackie Chan used to do it in like 100 takes just to get right, so I'm  pretty happy with how it turned out. [Laughs.]

Michelle Yeoh was your peer in the Hong Kong film world but you never worked together until this film?

Yeah, I've been a fan of Michelle for many years and the same thing goes for Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong. Michelle and I — particularly because we play husband and wife — it was just one of those relationships where the minute we met, we just clicked. She did a lot of her movies and the better part of a career in Hong Kong. Those were the movies that I grew up watching that I loved. In fact, the first movie she did was in 1984 and my first movie was in 1984, but we just did it in separate parts of the world. To be able to do this with her, I waited 35 years for this. 

James Hong is a legend. What was it like sharing a set with him?

I'm gonna tell you a story of James Hong, who is 92 years old. Every single day when he wraps, because we are dressing room neighbors, I would see him march out of his dressing room like a soldier with his hands flailing up and down, singing opera. He projects his voice so loud, and he has a beautiful voice, so loud as if he were doing this in a theater. You can hear him all the way as he exits the building. It was just incredible to see that. And then his passion for movies and acting. His craft is still as vibrant as it ever was. And that was just so inspiring. 

Having had a career in stunt and fight choreography, do you ever watch your early films like Indiana Jones and assess how your younger self did way back when?

To work with Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford and George Lucas in your first movie, that is the ultimate dream. It was one of the best adventures of my life. All my memories of that time are nothing but spectacular. And to be able to look back upon it with such fond memories is a real gift. The movie is really good. When I see it on television on reruns, it's still great. Nothing beats it. 

Now that you're back acting again, does it actually feel more hopeful in Hollywood in terms of there being better opportunities and it being more inclusive?

When I did it, and that's why I'm so grateful to Spielberg and George Lucas, because they were really one of the first ones to put a Chinese kid in a big movie. And in a big role, an amazing roll. Short Round was courageous and funny, and he saved Indy's ass. Not only did I do it one time, but I did it two times. Data was just one of the gang with all these cool gadgets. Honestly, a lot has changed since then and I'm so optimistic. And more than anything else, I'm also very hopeful. Change is definitely happening. It might not move as quickly as we want, but all sustainable improvements happen gradually.

And over the years, a lot of Asian people come up to me and oftentimes they will say, "Hey, you're the OG man! Thank you for paving the way for us to be here." Interestingly, they are also the ones that paved the way for my return. To see what has happened in the last few years with Shang-Chi, Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell, and now this, Everything Everywhere All at Once, is just amazing. And really it goes to show how important it is, not just for Asians, but for all groups of people to be represented in entertainment. Because until you see it, you just can't imagine that it can also be you up there on the screen. Crazy Rich Asians dared me to pursue acting again. I wish that our movie does for a lot of these dreamers, what Crazy Rich Asians did for me. There's still a lot more work to be done, but I am I am optimistic.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is now in theaters.