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Why This Everything Everywhere Star Began Acting Again After 20 Years - Exclusive

You may remember him as Indy's fearless, righteous sidekick Short Round in 1984's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" or the young techie genius Richard "Data" Wang in the following year's "The Goonies." You may also have noticed him in the cast of "Head of the Class" during its final season. But between the years 2002 and 2021, you didn't see Chinese actor Ke Huy Quan on the screen at all.

Born in what was then called Saigon, Quan and his family were forced to flee Vietnam in 1978, eventually resettling in Los Angeles in 1979. Several years later, he and his brother attended an open audition in LA's Chinatown area that led to a life-changing event, as the 12-year-old Quan was selected by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to star alongside Harrison Ford in "Temple of Doom."

That led to "The Goonies" and a few more roles before the jobs — already difficult to find for an Asian actor — dried up. "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," Quan tells Looper. "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."

Quan made the "difficult decision" to leave acting but didn't quit the movies: He went to film school and worked as an assistant director and action choreographer, even working for famed director Wong Kar-Wai on his film "2046." But then something happened four years ago that inspired Quan to begin acting again: "It really made me go back to all those times [to think], 'what if I had chosen my road differently?'"

What convinced Ke Huy Quan it was time to return to the screen?

It was 2018 when the second life-changing event of Ke Huy Quan's professional career arrived. "A little movie called 'Crazy Rich Asians' came out," he recalls. "It was an amazing movie with an all-Asian cast. I saw that movie and it hit me on so many levels, emotionally. One, just 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."

Quan says he had "serious FOMO" while watching "Crazy Rich Asians," a breakthrough film for Asian representation. "So many emotions were going through my head when I saw that movie," he explains. "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.'"

In "Everything Everywhere All at Once," Quan plays a man called Waymond, who is stuck in a fraying marriage to lead character Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) but is also just one of literally millions of different versions of the character existing in the multiverse. The three iterations of Waymond that we meet in the film are all very distinct from each other, a considerable acting challenge for anyone, let alone someone just stepping back into the spotlight.

"When I got the role, I was really happy, but I was also very nervous stepping into it," says Quan. "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, just by the way they sit, they stand, they move, how they walk and how they speak."

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" is out now in theaters everywhere.