Ke Huy Quan: From Child Star To The Oscars

Vietnamese-American actor Ke Huy Quan first graced the screen in 1984, stealing our hearts with his sweet face and immense talent. There's something fascinating about a kid who arrives in Hollywood out of the blue and knocks our socks off with his stellar acting chops. That's just what Quan did, first starring as Short Round in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and then playing Data in another classic, "The Goonies." Quan was 12 years old when he began his acting journey a few years after arriving in California.

Due to the circumstances in his home country of Vietnam, Quan and his family (he's one of nine children) took refuge in the United States and started a new life together. His family had been forced to separate — Quan traveled by boat to Hong Kong with his father and five of his siblings, while his mother and the other three arrived in Malaysia, per Vulture. Discussing his year at a Hong Kong refugee camp, Quan told the outlet, "I don't think I've spoken about this stuff in 30 or 40 years. I knew that it was tough. I knew that was not my home. I knew we left a home behind. I knew I missed my brother. I missed my mom." In 1979, eight-year-old Quan and his loved ones all reunited and made their home in Los Angeles.

Whether you met Quan as the star of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" or as an '80s child actor, there's so much to learn about his journey to the Oscars.

His little brother originally auditioned for Indiana Jones

Interestingly enough, Ke Huy Quan did not have his heart set on acting in any type of film — it was his little brother who originally went to audition for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," as auditions were held at their elementary school in Chinatown, L.A. Quan dished to Jimmy Kimmel, "I tagged along ... and I was coaching him behind the camera, and the casting director saw me and asked me if I wanted to try... The next day, I got a call from Steven Spielberg's office, and my mom heard 'Hollywood,' heard 'famous director,' she thought it was a really fancy meeting. So she put me in this three-piece suit with a little gold chain hanging out of the side pocket."

That would be the call that would change his life forever — Quan flew to Sri Lanka a few weeks later to film "Temple of Doom." It didn't take long for Hollywood to fall in love with him; he was cast soon after in "The Goonies," which had him working with Spielberg again and was a huge hit, as well. Quan knew his role as Data was a rare example of Asian-American representation at the time. He told Vulture, "That character is so smart and so brave and so weird. We didn't have many great role models."

Quan told Jimmy Kimmel that after joining the "Indiana Jones" franchise, he invited Spielberg and George Lucas to his birthday party; while they didn't attend, Lucas had "Star Wars" toys delivered to Quan's home in a U-Haul! Spielberg sent a TV with VHS tapes.

After The Goonies, the jobs started to slow down

Ke Huy Quan's acting success made a huge difference in his and his family's lives, both emotionally and financially: "We were refugees. Nobody wanted us ... They would make fun of us when we were in school. You can imagine what that does to the mental state of a child. To go from that to starring in one of the biggest movies in 1984 gave me and my family hope, courage and a lot of freedom," Quan told The Guardian.

After Quan rose to fame very quickly, job offers didn't remain as steady or plentiful as they first had. Quan told the Los Angeles Times, "I thought the road moving forward would be easy. Boy, was I wrong. Then, being an Asian actor in the late 1980s and early 1990s was even more difficult." After finishing his work on "The Goonies," Quan was on the one-season TV series "Together We Stand" and became a series regular on "Head of the Class." While in the sitcom world, the actor saw how announcers couldn't seem to say his name correctly, so he temporarily went by "Jonathan," per The Guardian. He landed a starring role in the low-budget martial arts film "Breathing Fire" in 1991, then had a "blink and you'll miss it" cameo in "Encino Man," starring Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore. After more than a decade, he appeared in the 2002 film "Second Time Around," with a predominantly Asian cast. 

Ke Huy Quan gave up acting and became a fight choreographer

Ke Huy Quan reluctantly decided to take a break from pursuing acting. Stepping away from his dream wouldn't be easy, but he focused on his education as a young adult. Quan attended the University of Southern California and began working behind the camera as a stunt and fight coordinator. He had been a practitioner for many years of Tae Kwan Do. 

In the year 2000, Quan worked as an assistant fight choreographer on the set of the first "X-Men" film. A recording of Quan on the movie set has resurfaced and gone viral — Quan is seen instructing an actor, believed to be Hugh Jackman, on what to do in a particular scene (when Wolverine fights Mystique). According to Vulture, Quan was hired by Corey Yuen, with whom he reconnected while Yuen was action directing "Lethal Weapon 4" at a mall (Quan's sister had a travel agency there in the late '90s). Quan mentioned to Yuen that he'd be graduating very soon from USC film school. Sure enough, about a year later, Quan flew to Toronto and started working with Yuen immediately on "X-Men." Quan told Vulture, "He taught me everything that goes into choreographing a fight sequence: how to shoot it, how to edit it. It was one of the best times in my life."

 The star continued assistant choreographing and directing in the U.S. and Hong Kong. GQ joked that Ke Huy Quan has lived "many lives." We couldn't agree more!

After seeing Crazy Rich Asians, he became reinspired

After successfully finding work in the U.S. and abroad behind the scenes, Ke Huy Quan had started to lose faith that the Asian American community could even get cast in Hollywood — that is, until he saw the 2018 film "Crazy Rich Asians." Quan told Jimmy Kimmel that he saw John M. Chu's film in theaters three times, and it always brought him to tears.

Seeing the immense amount of attention, success, and enjoyment around the world because of the film, he told Variety, "I had serious FOMO." Quan explained, "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." Per Vanity Fair, Quan discussed his interest in a comeback with his wife Echo — whom he met in the early 2000s as he was assistant directing the film "2046."

The star secured representation from a friend who's also an agent, and a couple weeks thereafter, a new script appeared across Quan's desk that would change his life — again. "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," the actor shared with Variety.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The fabulous script that was given to Ke Huy Quan was in fact the now Oscar-nominated film "Everything Everywhere All at Once." Quan plays plays Waymond, husband to Evelyn (the fabulous Michelle Yeoh, whom he saw in "Crazy Rich Asians"). 

Quan was dedicated to crafting his character. "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," Quan told Variety. "I hired an acting coach, a dialogue coach and a voice coach... I hired a 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." Quan added to all of that intense physical and martial arts training. Starring in a multiverse film requires great versatility.

His co-star and on-screen wife Michelle Yeoh gushed about him to Entertainment Weekly. Yeoh noted that his portrayal was not only gentle and sweet, but also had this hidden strength and courage resembling James Bond and Bruce Lee in different ways. In the film, Quan got to showcase how truly talented he is; he and Yeoh are still close friends. His real-life wife worked as the film's translator, and the Daniels tweeted, "Echo Quan ... was the secret soul to our film set. So many people have told us how much it meant to them to hear the family speaking in multiple languages (Cantonese, Mandarin, Chinglish, and English) and we couldn't have pulled it off without her."

Ke Huy Quan sweeps awards season

Ke Huy Quan couldn't imagine the year he was about to have following the success of "Everything Everywhere All at Once."  In 2023, Quan won a Golden Globe for best performance by an actor in a supporting role, a Gotham award for outstanding supporting performance, and a Critics Choice award for best supporting actor, just to name a few! The biggest shock and surprise (to Quan, himself) came when he was nominated for an Academy award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role — a category an Asian nominee hadn't won since 1984.

Quan's honest and amazing reaction to the nomination went viral. He shared through a phone call on "Today," "I am so happy! Aaaah! Oh, my God, I'm jumping up and down and I'm screaming so loud. Just like the day when I got the phone call, when the Daniels [writers and directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert] told me that I got the role of Waymond. I'm feeling exact same thing. Oooh! This is one of the best mornings." Many celebrities and fans shared their excitement and happiness for Quan, but one of our favorites was Indiana Jones himself.

Harrison Ford told ET, "I'm so happy for him. He's a great guy. He's a wonderful actor. He was when he was a little kid, and he still is. I'm glad. I'm very happy for him." The film garnered the most Oscar nominations of any film in 2023, with eleven nods

He wants to inspire others with his story

Ke Huy Quan's story reminds fans to persist in their dreams and to believe in themselves. He aspires to encourage those who have may have cast aside their goals. 

On "Today," Al Roker asked the actor if he was aware of his positive impact on others. Quan answered, "I hope my story inspires people to not give up and to continue to pursue their dreams. And one day it will happen to them, just as it happened to me. I'm just so lucky — so lucky — and so grateful to be where I am today. To finally be able to do this, something that I've always loved." He also told The Hollywood Reporter that many have shared how they're inspired by seeing him on the big screen again. 

Quan said of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" and its runaway success, "This is a big moment not just for us and our movie, but for the entire AAPI community." He added, "I hope that our entire community sees...this is possible moving forward. That's why representation is so important." Ke Huy Quan is already signed on for Marvel's "Loki" TV series and the show "American Born Chinese" in 2023. We have a feeling that this is just the beginning of his next chapter. We can't wait to follow his star!