Ke Huy Quan: from Stopper in ‘Indiana Jones’ to Oscar favorite with ‘Everything at once everywhere’

In 1993 he got fed up. His Asian features made casting directors ignore him, suffering clear racial discrimination. And he gave up acting. He dedicated himself to working as an assistant director and coordinator of action sequences. Until two decades later, in 2018, he saw Crazy Rich Asians and he thought it was time to go back, he asked his lawyer-representative, another child actor like him, to find something for him… and he didn’t even need to: he just got a strange script in which he fit as the protagonist’s husband . Almost three years after its filming, after the global stoppage due to covid-19, its time has come: Ke Huy Quan (Saigon, 51 years old) is a star again. The kid who was Stopper in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and dates in the goonies he is days away from being able to win the Oscar for best supporting actor with Everything at once everywhere. “I’m so happy! Aaaaaaaahhhh!” is the only thing she was able to say when she heard her nomination last Tuesday. And she started to jump.

If Hollywood gets sucked into stories of artistic resurrection, it’s hard to match Quan’s arduous biography. Not only the cinematographic, but the vital. Quan was born in Saigon in 1971, the seventh of nine children in a family of Chinese origins. At the end of the Vietnam War, the Quans twice tried to flee the capital. They succeeded in 1978 at the cost of dividing: the mother left with three children for Malaysia, and the father managed to reach a camp for 3,000 refugees in Hong Kong with five other children, including Ke Huy. After the hard procedures, they obtained the status of political asylum in the US and regrouped in California in 1979. And like any other child, it was a school, in his case the Castelar Elementary School, where one day a casting director appeared to make testing. He cast one of Quan’s little brothers, who turned out to be too young for a shoot. And that’s why it was his turn, who was already 12 years old and who had never seen a Hollywood movie in the cinema or on TV: the casting director was looking for a boy with Asian features who would play Stopper in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom by Steven Spielberg.

It was a bombshell, which followed another, under Spielberg’s protective cloak: The Goonies, in which he gave life to Data. At the age of 14 he was a Hollywood star, but he had to overcome two barriers: the conversion from a child actor to a twenty-something, and his Asian features. The first thing, he did it; but the audiovisual never offered him roles far from the topics.

Harrison Ford and Ke Huy Quan, reunited last September, and in an image of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’.

In the handful of Quan’s interpretive works from those years (Japanese passenger, breathing fire, the taiwanese Red Pirate, and a final effort in 2002, Hong Kong’s second time around, together with series like A life together, the first of the class either Tales from the Crypt), attracts attention the california man (1992), where he crossed his steps with Brendan Fraser, the other great return of the Oscars: both remembered him on the verge of tears a few days ago in a round table of the magazine Variety. Quan’s plans, after finishing high school, to continue acting were diluted due to the lack of opportunities, so he entered the film specialty at the University of Southern California, and graduated there. His new working life would take place behind the cameras.

Ke Huy Quan, with his Golden Globe for best supporting actor for ‘Everything at once everywhere’, on January 10.Chris Pizzello (Invision)

During the filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Quan had learned taekwondo, and in his years as an actor had become friends with Corey Yuen, renowned choreographer of action sequences. In 1997, he came across Los Angeles with the filming of lethal Weapon 4, and there was Yuen supervising the fights. Quan was bitten by the bug, Yuen was struck by his outburst of passion and recommended that she take that path. A year and a half later, Yuen called Quan: could he come to Toronto to shoot a movie called X Men?

Today, X Men is a classic of superhero cinema, but at the end of the 20th century it was still an anomaly in Hollywood. A 19-second video of Quan choreographing a fight sequence between Wolverine and Mística’s doubles is circulating on networks. He has dedicated himself to this during these two decades in films such as The One, to this and to be an assistant director in shootings such as 2046, by Wong Kar Wai (Quan speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.)

Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, Ke Huy Quan and Jeff Cohen, in 'The Goonies' (1985).
Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, Ke Huy Quan and Jeff Cohen, in ‘The Goonies’ (1985).

From Quan’s private life it is only known that he is married, but not if he has children. That during these years he kept in touch with Spielberg, who sent him a Christmas gift, although not with Harrison Ford, whom he met again last September, at the Disney D23 convention. And that his lawyer is Jeff Cohen, another turned exactor from the gang of The Goonies. It was Cohen who was asked to return to the acting market, but the offer from Dan Kwan, one of the two directors of Everything at once everywhere It came to him via Twitter. And curiously it meant embodying Evelyn’s husband, the main character played by Michelle Yeaoh, one of the actresses in Crazy Rich Asians, the film that opened his eyes to the possibility that Hollywood was changing.

overcome by emotions

In an interview at the beginning of December with the AP agency, Quan acknowledged (and he had not yet won the Golden Globe, although the possibility, confirmed last Tuesday, that he was an Oscar candidate) was “overwhelmed by the emotions”. And he explained: “I never thought this day would come. And that I have waited for it for a long time, for decades. When you have a dream that you don’t achieve, you end up burying it. That was my case, and in the end it has come true. That’s why I cry a lot.” He assured that in reality, for years he only wanted “a job, nothing more, as an actor”, and that Everything at once everywhere it has taken him further: it has returned him to stardom.

Steven Spielberg and Ke Huy Quan, at the luncheon on January 13 organized by the American Film Institute.
Steven Spielberg and Ke Huy Quan, at the luncheon on January 13 organized by the American Film Institute.KEVIN WINTER (Getty Images via AFP)

He also confessed his fears: “In my youth I thought that good scripts didn’t come to me, because I was a bad actor or too short. He blamed myself, I never considered racial discrimination, something I found out later. And I was hesitating for two years whether to leave it or not, until one day I found myself in some tests with 30 other Asian actors fighting for a nameless character with two lines of script, a few crumbs. I felt there was no future for me there.” That is why he did not reveal his return to the big screen to almost anyone: “I did not tell many members of my family that I had returned to acting. What if they fired me from the shoot? What if he did a crap job or the movie was lame? I told most of it by calling them the day before the trailer was released.” Those fears have persisted: the filming of Everything at once everywhere it was made before the pandemic, we had to wait two years for its premiere. “And they never caught me in any other castingI even lost my health insurance”, commented on Vanity Fair.

Ke Huy Quan, in 'Everything at once everywhere'.
Ke Huy Quan, in ‘Everything at once everywhere’.allyson riggs

Your destiny has changed. The day of his reunion with Ford in the D23 was also the day on which it was announced that Quan would participate in the new season of Loki and in the series American Born Chinese. It has already premiered on Netflix Onaha: the treasure of Hawaii, and for the same platform he shot in December, directed by the Russo brothers (co-producers of all at once everywhere), science fiction film The Electric State, along with Chris Pratt and Mille Bobby Brown. Now yes, now no one stops Ke Huy Quan.

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Ke Huy Quan: from Stopper in ‘Indiana Jones’ to Oscar favorite with ‘Everything at once everywhere’

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