Ke Huy Quan is rightly receiving widespread praise for his performance as Waymond Wang in Everything Everywhere All at Once. This isn’t the first time he’s been a part of a successful blockbuster. Quan also played memorable parts in two of the biggest movies of the ’80s, both involving Steven Spielberg.
Quan’s career did not pan out as he had hoped following those films. But his impact and relationship with the director remained strong after they worked together.
Ke Huy Quan appeared in two of Steven Spielberg’s earlier blockbusters
Quan’s first professional role was in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as Short Round. According to Vulture, Spielberg and his casting director Mike Fenton discovered Quan after they noticed him giving his younger brother David advice on his audition.
Quan followed up Indiana Jones with an appearance in The Goonies as Data. Spielberg was not the official director. But he came up with the story, and his company Amblin Entertainment produced it. Both movies were big hits. Quan was eager to further his acting career but found it hard to find roles due to Hollywood’s discriminatory attitudes toward Asian actors. His last role before Everything Everywhere was in the 1997 Taiwanese action film Red Pirate.
The reality hurt him to the point that Quan quit acting and went to film school at USC. After graduating, he transitioned to being a stunt choreographer for various projects and the assistant director to acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar-wai on his film 2046 in 2004. He decided to give acting another shot after being inspired by the mainstream success of Crazy Rich Asians.
Ke Huy Quan and Steven Spielberg have stayed in touch for nearly four decades
Quan took part in The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Actors roundtable alongside some of the most-discussed performers in film this year. Near the end of their discussion, each participant was asked to recommend a movie not represented at the table. Quan chose The Fabelmans (beginning around the 51:00 mark).
Appreciating Spielberg’s semi-autobiography about his parents’ worldviews and how family tension affected his filmmaking is not exactly a hot take. The Fabelmans is well-received by most people who’ve seen it. The movie has received plenty of attention from the major awards bodies over the past few weeks. But Quan admits Spielberg is more than just a former collaborator.
During the chat, he reveals the director sends him a Christmas present and a card every year since they shot Temple of Doom in 1983. That’s 39 years’ worth of gifts! “I’m so grateful to that man; every time I needed help, he’s always there, and he hasn’t forgotten me,” Quan said.
The bond between them speaks to Spielberg’s genuine thoughtfulness and the connections that can emerge on a film set. Quan also says he wasn’t yet sure what Spielberg thought of Everything Everywhere yet.
Quan thanked Spielberg for giving him a chance during a beautiful Golden Globes speech
Quan recently won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. After such a long journey to reach this point, it would be understandable if he wanted to bask in his glory or shade the former titans of the industry who discouraged him to the point of retirement all those years ago.
Instead, he began his speech by paying tribute to the man who put him on screen for the first time: “I was raised to never forget where I came from and to always remember who gave me my first opportunity. I’m so happy to see Steven Spielberg here tonight. Steven, thank you.”
In response, Spielberg blew a kiss to the award winner.
Short Round and Data may not be the lead characters in Temple of Doom or Goonies. Still, they left such an impression on young viewers like the Daniels, the director duo of Everything Everywhere whose fond memories of those movies contributed to Quan’s casting.
“For so many years, I was afraid I had nothing more to offer; no matter what I did, I would never surpass what I achieved as a kid. Thankfully, more than 30 years later, two guys thought of me. They remembered that kid, and they gave me an opportunity to try again,” Quan said, beaming with gratitude.