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Ke Huy Quan's Incredible Journey From Out-Of-Work Actor To Golden Globes Winner

Everyone loves a good comeback story, and it's tremendously uplifting to follow a person's path — whether it be a real person or a fictitious character — as they go through years of hardships before succeeding in their aspirations. 2022 was one such year where cinemagoers witnessed many actors making big comebacks to the silver screen. This included Ke Huy Quan, who was perhaps best known for his roles as a child in two '80s classics: Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" — where he played the titular character's trusted sidekick Short Round — and Richard Donner's "The Goonies" — playing the precocious inventor and James Bond wannabe Richard 'Data' Wang.

Following his childhood success, the actor faded into obscurity as he struggled to get acting roles in his adulthood. This all changed when he starred in 2022's mind-bending sci-fi hit "Everything Everywhere All at Once" as Waymond Wang — the timid husband of protagonist Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). Along with being a massive critical and commercial success, Quan's acting career was reinvigorated by the film, allowing him to be recognized as more than just the kid from "Indiana Jones." Here's an overview of the Golden Globe winner's phenomenal journey and how he was able to achieve a career-reviving comeback at the age of 50. 

His family fled Vietnam as refugees in 1978

Ke Huy Quan was born in 1971 to Chinese parents in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Quan's parents attempted to flee Saigon with their nine children, eventually succeeding three years later. In doing so, the family had to split — with Quan's mother taking three of his siblings to Malaysia, while his father took the 7-year-old and his remaining five siblings to Hong Kong (via WBUR).

Quan recalled his experience spending a year at a Hong Kong refugee camp saying, "It wasn't very big. We had a chain-link fence around the building, and it was just makeshift beds right next to each other. There were guards to make sure we wouldn't get out ... 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" (via Vulture). A year later, his family reunited in Los Angeles after being granted asylum in the United States. It was only four years after this that Quan earned the opportunity to play a major role in a Steven Spielberg blockbuster at just 12 years old (via Entertainment Weekly).

He tagged along for his younger brother's audition for Temple of Doom

After struggling to find the perfect actor to play Indy's juvenile side-kick, Short Round, in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," director Steven Spielberg and story writer George Lucas put out an open casting call in the elementary school that Ke Huy Quan and his siblings attended. Quan revealed in a 2019 Comic Con Q&A panel (via Convention Junkies) that a teacher thought Quan's younger brother David would be perfect for the role, suggesting he try his luck with an audition. So Quan tagged along with no intention to try out for the part himself. During David's audition, Quan directed his brother and gave notes on his performance. This caught the casting director's eye, who suggested that Quan audition too. Quan "didn't think much of it" at the time since he'd never seen a Spielberg film and didn't even know who the famed director was.

Quan explained that "the next day, we got a call from Spielberg's office. My mum thought it was a really fancy meeting and put me in this ridiculous three-piece suit." He recalled how the director noticed how uncomfortable he was and asked him to come back the next day but to wear something more casual. Three weeks later, Quan flew with the cast and crew to Sri Lanka to shoot the film, which the actor remarked was "one of the happiest times of my life" (via The Guardian).

Why Spielberg cast Quan again for The Goonies

During a 2019 Comic Con Q&A panel (via Convention Junkies), Quan revealed how he landed his next breakthrough role as Data in 1985's "The Goonies." While doing a promotional interview for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" at Steven Spielberg's office, Quan went to visit the director, who gave the young actor a pitch about his next movie and a brief of the character he eyed Quan for. Describing the part of Data, Spielberg told Quan, "he's kinda like James Bond with all these gadgets, but they never work, unless your life depends on it." Six months after this meeting, Quan was on the set of "The Goonies," which he referred to as "another great adventure."

After Quan's 2022 Golden Globe win, Spielberg was asked by Access Hollywood about how the casting of Quan for "The Goonies" came to be. The filmmaker revealed that his thought process behind casting any actor isn't necessarily to give them a big break, but rather for "the common good of the movie." He explained, "Casting is about, how do we serve the script? How do we serve the whole endeavor? ... So with Ke, it was Short Round. He'd be great for Short Round. When I met him, he took the room by storm. Still does! He has a positive energy. So full of positive love ... After he played Short Round, I cast him in Goonies, and he played Data."

The sweet story behind his iconic Goonies lines

In addition to Data's Inspector Gadget-like misadventures, Ke Huy Quan's iconic character in "The Goonies" is also remembered for his distinctive mispronunciations of everyday expressions and swear words. At a panel discussion held for Quan with his castmates Sean Astin and Corey Feldman at Fan Expo Canada 2019 (via Convention Junkies), Quan revealed that his character's verbal anachronisms weren't scripted, but rather came about as a result of humorous on-set circumstances. Quan elaborated, "Sean pulled me aside, and he said, 'Hey, Ke, let's rehearse lines.' So we walked off the set and we're rehearsing lines, and it starts, 'Hey, Data, where you going?' 'I'm setting booty traps.' He goes, 'Ke, you mean booby traps.' I said, 'Yeah, that's what I said! Booby traps!' We both paused, we looked at each other, and Sean said, 'Let's do it exactly like that.' And it ended up being one of the more famous Data lines that I get to quote all the time." 

Quan then praised "The Goonies" director Richard Donner, who granted the young actors the freedom to improvise. "That's what's so great about Dick Donner, and I think it played off really well on screen. He allowed us to be who we are ... There was a lot of improvisation. I remember they were all constantly swearing and I made a promise to my mom that I can't swear in the movie. And I said, 'I want to be one of them, I want to swear.' So instead of swearing, I said, 'Holy S-H-I-T!' And Dick allowed that." 

George Lucas sent him a U-Haul truck full of Star Wars toys for his 14th birthday

Filmmaking is a highly collaborative art form, and when it all comes together as it should, those involved can often even up developing long-lasting relationships and a camaraderie that spills into their real lives as well. This can often be in the form of gifts, with actors such as Keanu Reeves gifting Rolex watches to his stunt team after production wrapped on "John Wick: Chapter 4" (via Unqualified), and Tom Cruise giving a bottle of champagne to every cast member of "Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning" after a stressful shoot during the pandemic (per OK Magazine).

Ke Huy Quan was also the recipient of a particularly exciting gift as a child. The actor recently confessed on Jimmy Kimmel Live that right after working on two consecutive movies with Steven Spielberg, the actor invited him and "Indiana Jones" co-creator George Lucas to a party for his 14th birthday. Of course, the two famous and busy filmmakers couldn't make it, but they nevertheless made sure to send their best wishes. Lucas sent Quan "a U-Haul truck full of Star Wars toys," which delighted Quan's siblings greatly, and Spielberg sent "a TV with a ton of movies on video cassettes." Quan added that more than the gifts, he was grateful to Spielberg and Lucas for "changing the trajectory of [his] life," and that his life was better because of them.

He struggled to find acting jobs as an adult due to lack of Asian representation

As Ke Huy Quan got older, he found it more and more difficult to get work as an Asian actor — citing the lack of adequate Asian representation at the time. As a result, Quan decided to continue his education, initially wanting to get a degree in commerce. However, he chose to pursue a film degree at the University of Southern California to learn more about the other aspects of filmmaking (such as pre and post-production) which he wasn't privy to in his experiences as an actor. He explained in a 2019 Comic Con panel (via Convention Junkies): "I always wanted to learn the craft of making a movie because, as an actor ... you just show up on the set, you learn your lines, you do your thing, and that's it. You're not in charge of the pre-production, the post-production, a lot of the stuff that goes into making a movie."

In a recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Quan was asked what made him retire from acting and turn towards working behind the camera instead. Quan said, "It's not that I wanted to, if I'm being honest, it was tough to be an Asian actor at that time, as I got older." In response to Kimmel's follow-up question about whether he believed things were easier now, Quan said, "I hope so," adding a note of appreciation for the rise in Asian representation in Hollywood over the previous few years.  

He was inspired by Crazy Rich Asians to return to acting

While Ke Huy Quan admitted to Jimmy Kimmel that he was "content working behind the camera" for several years, 2018's "Crazy Rich Asians" proved to be a big turning point in convincing him that he could find work as an actor again. In the interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Quan said, "I remember watching it three times in the theaters, and I cried every single time ... it moved me, it was a great movie. And I cried also because I have serious FOMO [fear of missing out]. I wanted to be up there with them, and it was really then that I decided to get back into acting."

He also opened up to Deadline about his elation with the increase in Asian representation in Hollywood movies: "'Crazy Rich Asians' featured an entire Asian cast, which I didn't think was possible before. But since then, we have 'The Farewell,' 'Shang-Chi,' and now our movie ["Everything Everywhere All at Once"]. It's a wonderful feeling and I can't believe how far we have come." Quan acknowledged that there is still more to be done but referred to a speech by "Everything Everywhere All at Once" co-director Dan Kwan, who said, "we finally have a seat at the table, so what do we need to do moving forward? Representation really matters."  

The Daniels were prompted to cast Quan after seeing a gif on social media

In an era where social media has become a critical part of any artist's career, it's unsurprising to see influencers getting their big breaks in Hollywood through their online presence. A similar case can be made for Ke Huy Quan, who popped up on the radar of the directing duo, The Daniels, through Twitter. They were struggling to find an actor versatile enough to play the three multiversal variants of Waymond Wang in "Everything Everywhere All at Once" back in 2018 (per Entertainment Weekly). Funnily enough, it wasn't Quan's Twitter account the Daniels' stumbled upon — since he doesn't use the social networking site — but rather a gif of Quan as Short Round in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."

During a conversation with Deadline, the actor talked about how his casting in "Everything Everywhere All at Once" came to be. He explained, "The Daniels found out about me when they were scrolling through Facebook and found a gif of Andrew Yang, who was running for president at that time, and someone made a joke that Short Round is all grown up and running for president. That triggered them to go, 'Oh, I wonder what Ke's doing nowadays?' So, they did search and then found that I'm about that right age for Waymond. That's why when I read the script, I told my wife, I think this role is written for me."

His co-star from The Goonies is now his entertainment lawyer

Ke Huy Quan wasn't the only member of "The Goonies" to struggle with finding acting jobs as they grew up. Jeff Cohen — who played Lawrence "Chunk" Cohen — nicknamed for his "chunky" appearance — was frequently cast in "fat kid" roles as a child actor and found himself out of acting work after shedding most of his weight in his adulthood (via The Daily Mail). He subsequently got a law degree, became an entertainment lawyer, and co-founded the legal firm Cohen Gardner LLP. Quan — who had maintained a strong friendship with Cohen in the years since "The Goonies" — sought Cohen's legal representation during negotiations for "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Quan detailed how he got to work with his old friend again albeit in a different capacity. "My producer told me this funny story. When I got the part of Waymond, he had to get on the phone to talk with Chunk, to get Data [Quan's character in "The Goonies"] to be in this movie. I thought that was pretty funny. Jeff Cohen, aka Chunk, is a good friend of mine. He's been a brother to me for 35 years, ever since "Goonies," and working on that movie was one of the greatest adventures of my life."  

He was personally asked by Kevin Feige to join the MCU

The unexpected success of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" sent shockwaves through the film industry and catapulted its cast and crew to even bigger heights — particularly Ke Huy Quan. Soon enough, the actor began receiving offers from various Hollywood studios, landing parts in the upcoming Russo Brothers film, "The Electric State" (per Variety), as well as a Disney+ show called "American Born Chinese" — a role that will see him reunite with his "Everything Everywhere All at Once" co-star, Michelle Yeoh (via IndieWire).

Marvel Studios were also quick to add Quan to its ever-growing roster of stars in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, casting him in the second season of the multiversal adventure series, "Loki." In an interview with Josh Horowitz on the "Happy Sad Confused" podcast, Quan revealed that Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige had himself called the actor to invite him to the MCU, and joked that "nobody wants to hire me except Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, The Daniels, and Kevin Feige." Starring opposite Tom Hiddleston, Quan will reportedly play a member of the Time Variance Authority (via Variety) in season 2 of "Loki." It seems the sky is the limit for Ke Huy Quan, proving it is never too late for a second shot at stardom.