The Wild Ride Of “Indiana Jones” Star Ke Huy Quan–From Unemployable to Oscar Winner at 50
The 51-year-old’s comeback is a lesson in never giving up on your dreams, no matter how long they may take.
Ke Huy Quan cleaned it up at the Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actor for Everything Everywhere All At Once.
While he is best known for his early childhood roles in hits like 1984’s Indiana Jones and The Goonies, the 50 year old veteran has made a major adult comeback.
The Vietnamese-born actor seemed like he was paving a career of notoriety in Hollywood and had supporters like Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford in his corner- but quickly, the actor seemed to fade away from the spotlight altogether, leading many to wonder what happened to him.
But in 2022, everything changed. He recently starred in 2022’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, where he plays a Chinese immigrant alongside Michelle Yeoh. The film is set to sweep the Oscars with 11 nominations with Quan nominated for Best Supporting Actor (and ultimately winning). But his journey to the Oscars was anything but easy.
Notable Childhood Actor
Long before Macaulay Culkin or even Millie Bobby Brown, Ke Huy Quan was the go-to childhood actor for some of Hollywood’s most notable adventure movies.
Quan is the seventh of nine children and grew up in Saigon, Vietnam. Raised in a ‘traditional Chinese household’, Quan says that he grew up in a chaotic household and never really needed friends because his siblings filled that role for him.
To escape the war in Vietnam, his family had to split up briefly, and finally reunited in Los Angeles in 1979. They moved to Chinatown and settled into their new American life.
Quan grew up watching classic Hong Kong films featuring stars like Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung who quickly became his influences. He says his family was heavy in debt and going to the movies was considered a luxury. Quan says, “Acting wasn’t even on the horizon, or in my atmosphere.”
But in a true twist of fate, at the age of 12 years old, he scored the role of Short Round in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom alongside Harrison Ford. his younger brother David had initially headed to the audition, but it was Quan who caught the casting director’s eye.
Riding the wave of success, in 1985, Quan landed the role of Data in The Goonies. Executive producer Steven Spielberg set the role aside specifically for Quan and this is when he discovered acting to be his true calling. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Quan says, “I was allowed to be a kid.”
Quan thought that the roles would come easier, especially as he grew out of his childhood mold, but things were not easy.
Lack of Diversity in Hollywood
In the 1980s and 1990s, Quan found himself as a high school graduate with very little roles available for people like him. He was auditioning in a Hollywood scene that didn’t favour Asian actors, especially in dramatic roles.
While he had a two-season spot as Jasper Kwong in the 1990 sitcom Head of the Class, Quan’s work began to dry up. After a dramatic and painful reckoning, he decided to quit acting and enrolled in USC’s film school in 1999. He dedicated his adult years to working behind the camera, mostly in Asian films. Though he found success working as a stunt coordinator and director’s assistant, he missed acting.
A True Hollywood Comeback
Quan’s meteoric comeback is truly a story made for Hollywood. After seeing 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, Quan says he was inspired to get back into the acting game. His wife, Echo, also shared his fears and doubts. After all, Quan was about to turn 50 and he hadn’t starred in a Hollywood movie in over 30 years. Most of all, he feared the rejection he had alreadyfaced far too many times.
Then, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schienert, the directors of Everything Everywhere All At Once, approached Quan with a script. He’d be playing Waymond Wang, an optimistic Chinese immigrant father starring alongside Michelle Yeoh. Quan says the script was everything he had hoped for.
Despite his initial reservations, Quan truly won Hollywood over with his portrayal of Waymond, winning numerous awards including the Golden Globe for best supporting actor, and the Gotham Award. GQ called Quan’s performance, “the beating heart of the film.”
For many popular child actors, the odds of maintaining a steady and successful career are far too slim. Ke Huy Quan, experienced the hard truth that even with talent and passion, sometimes our dreams don’t happen as quick as we hope. His long and unwavering journey is a lesson in never giving up on your passions even when it seems like no one is taking notice of you. It’s truly never too late to have your moment.