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Everything Everywhere Star Ke Huy Quan On Returning To The Screen, His Amazing Career And More - Exclusive Interview

In "Everything Everywhere All at Once," Michelle Yeoh plays a Chinese American woman named Evelyn Wang whose life appears to be falling apart. She and her daughter no longer get along, her laundromat is failing, her taxes are a mess, and her husband Waymond is about to reluctantly serve her with divorce papers.

Then, Evelyn learns that she is one of many Evelyns all living in different universes, and that she — the Evelyn of "our" universe — is the only one who can save all of reality from a powerful enemy. Just as there are multiple versions of Evelyn, there are also multiple versions of everyone else in her life, including Waymond. However, her child-like, naïve, sweet husband is a resistance fighter in one universe and a powerful businessman in another.

All three Waymonds (and probably more) are played by Chinese actor Ke Huy Quan, whose family fled Vietnam in 1978 and eventually settled in Los Angeles, starting what became an amazing adventure for Quan. At the age of 12, he landed the role of sidekick Short Round in 1984's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," which was quickly followed by the role of Data in the 1985 cult classic "The Goonies."

Although Quan continued to work for a while following those two huge roles (including a season on "Head of the Class"), he retired from acting in 2002 and labored behind the scenes as a fight choreographer and assistant director for years. Then, events in 2018 made him decide he wanted to return to the craft he loved. From there, it was just a matter of time until he landed the role of Waymond. "It wasn't really until then that the idea of getting back to my roots starting taking place," Quan tells Looper in this exclusive interview. "Literally two weeks later, I got a call about 'Everything Everywhere All at Once.'"

How Ke Huy Quan came back to acting

You retired from acting basically for two decades. What led you to come back?

I was very lucky when I was a kid to be a part of a couple of really memorable movies. As I got older, in my late teens and early 20s, I really fell in love with acting, and wanted to do that for the rest of my life and start seriously pursuing it, but there was nothing there for me. It was really tough for an Asian actor to work at that time, because those opportunities came very few and far in between. Honestly, I spent a lot of time waiting for the phone to ring and it rarely did, and when it did, it was mostly for a character that had a couple of lines, or didn't even have a character name.

For a while, it wasn't fun anymore, and I had to make the really difficult decision to step away from something that I love dearly. I went to film school, graduated and started working behind the camera. I was content doing that, until 2018, when a little movie called "Crazy Rich Asians" came out. It was an amazing movie with an all-Asian cast. I saw that movie and it hit me on so many levels, emotionally. One, it was because it was a beautiful movie with a very touching story. Another part was, I wished I was up there with my fellow Asian actors.

I had serious FOMO, and it really made me go back to all those times [to think], "What if I had chosen my road differently, or some of the choices that I made differently?" So many emotions were going through my head when I saw that movie. It wasn't really until then that the idea of getting back to my roots starting taking place. I called an agent friend of mine, and asked him if he would like to represent me, and this is after decades without an agent. He said, "Yes." Literally two weeks later, I got a call about "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

It's so interesting that you said you were thinking about the choices you had made, because that's what the entire movie is about as well.

The Daniels [directors-writers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert] brilliantly created all these universes for us to have a really interesting conversation about. What would my life have been like had I made different choices? We are constantly questioning the choices that we make, and the consequences or the results of those choices. A lot of times, when things don't go right, you always feel like the grass is greener on the other side. I certainly know that. My life has been full of ups and downs, peaks and valleys, but I like that. That's what I always say: A full life is a life full of everything.

You don't know what sweet tastes like until you taste the sour. You don't know what happiness really is until you experience sadness. That's why this movie's really interesting. It's a great movie, and it's a very emotional movie ... I hope people will go watch our movie, and find whatever they're looking for.

Getting himself ready for his first role in 20 years

How did you prepare to get back into this, both in terms of acting and training?

When I got the role, I was really happy, but I was also very nervous stepping into it, because not only am I playing one character, but I'm playing three versions of the same character. It was very important to me from the get-go that the audience can distinguish these three different characters, by the way they sit, they stand, they move, how they walk and how they speak.

So to prepare myself, I hired an acting coach, a dialogue coach, a voice coach, so that I can sound slightly different. Then most interestingly, [I hired] a body movement coach, who had a really fascinating process. He would read the script, and pick specific animals for me to do. For example, for the alpha Waymond, because he's a fighter, he picked an eagle. For the CEO Waymond, because he's so cool, he's in a suit, he's got his hair slicked back, he picked a fox. 

For the Waymond in this universe, he picked a squirrel. I was required to watch countless hours of videos on YouTube, nothing but squirrels, how they move, how they crawl, how they eat, how they look. I was also required to print out pictures of different squirrels, and I had them like all over my wall to really get into the character. I would be on the ground crawling and moving around like a squirrel, and then slowly transform into Waymond.

Timothy Eulich, the stunt coordinator, says you practiced endlessly for that fanny pack fight sequence alone.

In terms of the fanny pack fight, I studied Taekwondo for many years, but that particular style was called Wushu Rope Dart. It was something that I've never learned before, and it's also something that is extremely hard to master. I spent a lot of weeks with Tim Eulich and our martial arts boys, Andy and Brian Le. They choreographed it, and then I trained with them for weeks. In fact, I even brought the fanny pack home, and I was swinging the fanny pack around my neck, around my shoulder, everywhere I went, watching TV, going into the kitchen, going into the bedroom, and I was constantly breaking things.

My wife wasn't too happy about it, but I'm glad I did all that preparation, because when it was time to shoot that sequence, it was scheduled for only one and a half days, including all the drama leading up to it ... the Daniels came up to me and said, "Listen, Ke, we know you've worked in Hong Kong with a lot of great action directors, and they all have the luxury of shooting, many, many takes to get it right, but we want you to know we have 70 shots to get through today, so we don't have that luxury. We have to get every shot in two or three takes." That's how we did it. It was always really rushed, but all that prep really came into play, and I'm quite proud of how it turned out.

The incredible connection between Everything Everywhere and The Goonies

The person who drew up your contract for the movie was Jeff Cohen, who's now an entertainment lawyer but who played Chunk alongside you in "The Goonies."

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 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.

Have you kept in touch with your other fellow Goonies over the years, and what are your memories of working with them?

Not only did we get to spend five months together, but those were amazing sets that we built. The pirate ship, the water slide, all those, and for the seven of us to be there, it was like a playground every single day. We bonded on that movie, and because of that movie, we will always be a family together.

I love Sean [Astin]. I love Corey [Feldman], Josh [Brolin], Kerri [Green] and Martha [Plimpton], and yeah, it's unbelievable to me that I'm really fortunate to be part of that, but also how loved this movie is 35 years later. It's been watched by generations, and it's great. I watched it recently, and it's incredible how timeless it is, how great a job Richard Donner did directing it, the brilliant story from Steven Spielberg and that amazing screenplay by Chris Columbus. It's really quite something.

How he got the role in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

You made another legendary film before "The Goonies." Your family came here in 1979, and four years later, you went to an open audition in Chinatown. What happened then?

My family immigrated into the United States in 1979, and as fate would have it, four years later, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas was looking for an Asian kid to star alongside Harrison Ford in one of the biggest sequels in Hollywood. They went all over the place. They went to Hong Kong, Singapore, London, San Francisco, New York, searching for this kid and they couldn't find it. Just as they were about to give up on this role, the casting director said, "Hey, I think we should give Chinatown in Los Angeles a try." At that time, it was a really small community, and they held an open casting call in my elementary school.

Talk about being at the right place at the right time. My brother went to audition, and I tagged along, and I was coaching him while he was auditioning. The casting director saw me and asked me if I wanted to give a try, which I did. The next day, we got a call from Steven Spielberg's office. He sent a car over, I went there, I walked in the room, and there was Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford. We spent an entire afternoon together. Three weeks later, I was on a flight to Sri Lanka, and it was the best adventure of my life. That movie changed the trajectory of my life. My life is better because of them. That's why, to this day, I am so grateful to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and Harrison Ford.

Do you remember what the interactions were like on the set or anything that they might have said to you at the time?

My memories of those times were nothing short of spectacular. To work with the biggest freaking director, the biggest actor at that time, in your first movie, was incredible. It was the ultimate dream for any actor, and being in the presence of them, they were so nice and humble and down to earth and friendly and welcoming, and extremely protective of me too, I remember.

Honestly, I learned so much from them, not only about movie-making, but also about how to be as a person, as a human being, because they are so kind, and they love and treat people with kindness and respect. They took really good care of me, and that experience was incredible. To be able to look back on that experience 38 years later, and still have such fond memories, that's a real gift.

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" is now playing in theaters.