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Interview: ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ – Ke Huy Quan’s Triumphant Return In Front of the Camera

It has been about 20 years since the world has experienced new acting work from the legendary Ke Huy Quan. Known for his work in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, seeing Quan return to the big screen is a major triumph.

Quan’s role as Waymond Wang is both heartwarming and poignant in this day and age. In this interview, I talk to him about his return and his hopes for the future, his excitement for Asian representation in film, and we geek out over some popular condiments found in Chinese households.

Check out the interview with Ke Huy Quan below:

Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All At Once. (Courtesy of A24)

For a while, you’ve been directing and producing projects instead of acting. So I’d love to know, what about this film inspired you to come back to acting?

Ke Huy Quan: Well, you know, I was content working behind the camera for many years. But what I was noticing was that there was something brewing on the small and big screens, where there were more and more opportunities for Asian actors. They were being featured in more prominent roles. You know, it really grew from where there was none to one to two, and then all of a sudden, we would have, you know, an entire cast made up of Asian actors, you know, like, Fresh Off The Boat. And of course, really, I mean, the phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians had me in tears. Because never did I think that there will be a movie about Chinese people, Asian people that the audience will come out and root for. And I mean, again, I mean, this is really a testament to how great the movie is, too. I thought Jon M. Chu did an amazing job. Everybody was great in it. And when I watched it, not one time, but many times, I’ve watched a few times, I believe three times in a movie theater, I cried every single time. And I cried for many reasons; I cried because it was a great story. It moved me, but also because I had serious FOMO watching all those Asian actors, my fellow Asian actors up there on the screen—I wanted to be there with them, you know? And because I stepped away from acting, because of lack of opportunities for an Asian actor, so to see that was quite heartwarming and inspiring. And they brought a lot of hope, to me. And then, really, I mean, it was really that movie that I really started, you know, thinking about getting back into acting again. Thought about it and got myself an agent.

And then I heard about this project that stars Michelle Yeoh. It was really quite remarkable because it’s actually her that also, you know, inspired me and dared me to return to my roots. So when I got a hold of the script, I read it. It was one of the most beautiful scripts that I’ve ever read, and Waymond, this character, not just one version, but three versions of him, my gosh. Never did I think I would get this part after auditioning for him two times. They gave me this amazing opportunity to play this wonderful kind, you know, empathetic character. And also this cool alpha Waymond. And also this really, you know, Foxy looking, you know, a CEO Waymond. Had you told me a few years ago that I will be doing this movie with these crazy talents, I will say, “You’re insane. You’re out of your mind.” And here I am. So it’s great. Here I am talking to you. I’m at a really happy place right now.

Speaking about the Waymonds, any of them, what do you connect most about with your character?

Quan: I love all three. And I mean, really, I mean, to have to step away from acting for so long—20 years to be exact—to come back and, and do all three. It’s amazing. But I really love Waymond in the present universe. Just because what he stands for, you know, he truly believes in empathy. He believes that you know, we all should treat people with kindness and love and respect, and that message is what we need today in this uncertain time and this chaotic world that we’re living in, especially after, you know, what everybody has been through in the last two years. So for this movie to come out, I think it’s great timing. And I really hope people will go and watch it and enjoy it and to walk away really, you know, feeling like they have witnessed a great conversation being had—a conversation about love, family, and connection. And hopefully, they’ll share that message with your friends.

I also love how effortlessly Chinese this movie is. The switch between languages just warms my heart, because that’s how I talk with my family. What part of the movie with the culture do you resonate with most and that you hope other people can see in themselves?

Quan: I mean, you know, this was written by the Daniels and half of the Daniels is Dan Kwan, who’s Chinese. So for them to feature this story on an Asian family, specifically a Chinese American family—there’s a lot of authenticity, with integrity. I remember walking on set one day in the Wang family’s house, and I was in the kitchen, and I would open the cupboard to see what was inside. And a lot of the sauces that our production design put in was the same sauces that I had at home, you know? [In Cantonese] 海鮮醬 (hoisin sauce), 是拉差 (Sriracha), 美極是柳 (Maggi soy sauce). It was all there in that cupboard, you know? I mean, that’s how authentic everything was. They really spent the time researching and making sure that this is as accurate as it is. And, you know, as a Chinese family, we put a lot of stuff on our dining table. I mean, just little bits here and there, you know? Taking off our shoes, and when entering into the house, and the way we’re dressed, you know? A shout-out to our costume designer, Shirley Kurata.

It was just everything was very—it was done accurately. And like you said, for us to go from Cantonese and Mandarin and English, it’s a very natural thing for us to do for the Asian diaspora living in America today. That was my household when I was growing up: I will switch from speaking Cantonese to my mom, English with my siblings, and then you know, if we have like Mandarin friends coming over, we will switch to Mandarin. And that was how it was. And I’m so glad that they chose to do it this way because it is a true representation of what a lot of Chinese American families homes are like. So it was a joy to see and was a joy to be a part of it.

Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All At Once. (Courtesy of A24)

What’s something that you want to talk about with this movie that no one has asked you about yet?

Quan: I really want people to go out and support it and watch this on March 25 and then April 8, when it opens nationally. And you know, it’s a fun science fiction, action, comedy, but at the core of it, it’s really about a family that’s disconnected with each other. And they have to travel into the multiverse to find themselves again and it’s a very relatable issue, regardless of your cultural background, race, religion. It’s a wonderful movie with a big heart. And I hope the audience will go out and, you know, enjoy themselves. So I think it’ll be a great two and a half hours for them.

My last question, now that you’re back in front of the camera, do you think you’ll do more acting in the future?

Quan: Oh, I’d love to I mean, that was I mean, that was the whole reason why I decided to step you know, in front of the camera again and get back to my roots. I mean, if you look at it, that was the reason why I used to go by Jonathan Ke Quan for a while. And one of the big things for me was it was crucial that I go back to the name, the original name that I was born with, but also the name that that was I was credited with in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. So this is what I want to do. If you know, if Hollywood gives me the opportunity, I would love to. I feel like this is where I belong. This is where I want to be. And I’m quite happy right now.

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