‘Everything Everywhere’ Star Ke Huy Quan on How ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Gave Him FOMO and Inspired His Return to Movies

Ke Huy Quan Variety Facetime
Courtesy of Ke Huy Quan / Paul Wong

It’s been two decades since Ke Huy Quan has been on the big screen.

He’s known to most audiences as a child actor playing Data in “The Goonies” and Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”; his last widely released film in the U.S. was 1992’s “Encino Man.” He stepped away from acting after 2002 because he felt there weren’t many opportunities for Asian performers.

But with the “phenomenal success” of “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, “I had serious FOMO,” Quan says. He’s back on screen in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” in which he plays Waymond, husband to Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn, as they travel through a wild multiverse of alternative selves. (Particularly notable: a scene where Waymond uses a fanny pack to vanquish a group of attackers.)

The film bowed at SXSW and will be released on March 25 by A24.

What was it like seeing the script of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” for the first time?

I stepped away from being in front of the camera for so many years, it’s been 20 years. When I was a kid, I was really fortunate to be in a couple of really memorable roles, right? But if I’m being honest, as I got older, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for an Asian actor at that time in Hollywood.

I was faced with a very difficult decision in my early ’20s. Do I want to go down a path where  I didn’t see a future for myself? Or do I want to go down an unknown path where I don’t really know what the future holds?   I really didn’t have any choice, so I made the tough decision to step away from acting.

I enrolled myself in film school and after graduating from USC, I started working behind the camera, and I was content doing that for many years.

When “Crazy Rich Asians” came out and I saw my fellow Asian actors up on the screen, I wanted to be up there with them. I called up an agent friend of mine, and I asked him if he wanted to represent me, and he said yes. Two weeks later, I got a call about this movie that stars Michelle Yeoh, written and directed by the Daniels [Kwan and Scheinert] and Waymond was one of the leads. When I decided to get back to acting, I thought I would get little roles here and there, but never in my wildest imagination did I think that a script like this would be in front of me and provide an opportunity to audition for one of the greatest roles I’d ever read.

What was it like playing different aspects of Waymond?

I had three months to prepare and to do research. I was nervous, because I hadn’t done this for so long and I knew that I had to do my homework before I stepped in front of the camera again. I hired an acting coach, a dialogue coach and a voice coach because I wanted [each aspect of the character] to sound a little bit different. I hired a body movement coach, Jean-Louis Rodrigue, because I wanted the audience to be able to distinguish each version of this character based on how they moved, walked and talked. He has a fascinating process to help you get into that character. He will read the script and pick a specific animal for you to copy. For Alpha Waymond, it was an eagle; for CEO Waymond, a fox; and for Waymond in the present universe, it was a squirrel. I would watch countless videos — hours on YouTube of squirrels, noting how they moved and walked and ate.

What other preparation did you have to do?

When you’re in a movie with the queen of martial arts movies, you need to step up your game. I started training again. I would go to class every day, and I would be on the treadmill. I would do everything to get myself into shape. For the fanny pack sequence, I learned wushu rope dart techniques and worked with choreographers and the stunt team. I would bring the fanny pack home and be constantly swinging that thing around my neck, around my shoulder, wherever I went in the house, and I ended up breaking a lot of things. It’s accurate to say my wife wasn’t too happy.

Going back to “Crazy Rich Asians,” do you feel there has been a change in the representation of Asian culture on screen?

Change is definitely happening, it may not move as fast as we want it to.  When I was working behind the camera all those years ago, and I was content doing that, I noticed, slowly, something was brewing on the small and big screen. I started to see more and more Asian actors being featured in more prominent roles. It grew from one to two, and then all of a sudden, we had an entire cast made up of Asian actors. There was “Fresh Off the Boat” and then  came the phenomenal success of “Crazy Rich Asians.”

I’m grateful for the Asian representation that we’re seeing now. My return to acting is a direct result of the progress that’s been made. It’s also a testament to how important it is for not just Asians, but all groups of people, everybody to be represented in entertainment because until you see it, you can’t believe that it can also be you up there on the big screen.

That movie dared me to pursue acting again. I can’t imagine how many others like me, out there, young and old, shared in the same dreams. I hope our movie, “Everything Everywhere All at Once does what “Crazy Rich Asians” did for me.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of Asian talent working in Hollywood, and they always come up to me and say, “You’re the OG. You paved the way for us to be here.”  And those same people have paved the way for my return.