Everything Everywhere All at Once is out now in theaters and one of the many highlights in the Michelle Yeoh-led film is the performance of Ke Huy Quan, who has returned to acting after a nearly two-decade hiatus.
“Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, the film is a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action-adventure about an exhausted Chinese American woman (Michelle Yeoh) who can’t seem to finish her taxes,” says the official synopsis.
ComingSoon’s Jonathan Sim spoke to Everything Everywhere All at Once star Ke Huy Quan about his big-screen return, coming to peace with The Goonies 2, and why he’s excited for Indiana Jones 5.
Jonathan Sim: This was one of your first acting roles in years. What was it like to arrive back on the big screen, and was it a comfortable step back into the spotlight?
Ke Huy Quan: Yes, it was. I was really nervous in the beginning, just because I haven’t done it for so long, more than 20 years, you know? I remember stepping in front of the camera again for the first time, there was a sense of familiarity and then all those memories that I had as a kid, all those fond memories I had came rushing back in, and I remember feeling that this is where I belong, this is where I want to be. I was really happy.
It was just this amazing feeling of nostalgia to see you back on the big screen. You’ve mentioned that seeing Crazy Rich Asians is part of what made you want to come back to acting because that film showed you that people who look like you and me do have a place in this industry. This film also features Michelle Yeoh. Was her involvement in this movie a part of what drew you to this project?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, she’s the reason why I got back into acting in the first place. So to be able to do this movie with her just makes it so much better. Also, this amazing script. I remember reading it and I absolutely fell in love with it. I thought this character, Waymond, was written for me. I was very emotional reading it because it was a script that I wanted to read many, many, many years ago, but they just didn’t exist back then.
I couldn’t believe this came to me, and I’m so grateful to the Daniels for offering me this opportunity to play Waymond, and to be a part of this amazing cast with Jamie Lee Curtis, James Hong, Stephanie Hsu, and Michelle, I mean, it’s really interesting because she did her first movie in 1984 in Hong Kong. My first movie was Indiana Jones also in ’84. So we started in the business in different parts of the world and I waited 38 years to unite with her on-screen. So this opportunity was just extraordinary.
When I was watching the film, you were easily one of my favorite parts of the movie. You have this really cool scene, this fight scene in this movie with a fanny pack. What was it like to choreograph that scene?
Well, you know, I studied tae kwon do for many years. This style, the fanny pack sequence, is called wushu rope dart, which is something very difficult to do, and very difficult to master. I trained with our stunt coordinator Timothy Eulich, and I remember at the end, the finale, where I’m swinging the fanny pack around my shoulder, around my neck, and I have to kick it where the fanny pack shoots up. Up until the point we shot it, I could never master it. There was always something wrong with different parts of the choreography, but I could never do it all at once. And it was important to the Daniels that we shot that scene, that piece of choreography, wide shot, all at once, so the audience can see that it was me. So when we shot it, it was scheduled for one and a half days, including the drama leading up to it.
The Daniels came up to me and said, “Key, listen, you know, we just don’t have the luxury of doing 10, 20, 30, 40 takes to get it right. We have 70 shots to cover, so we really need to get every choreography right.” I remember for that particular finale, I hear “action” and I swing around and it was a complete disaster. It was a total failure on take one. I look over to the Daniels and I see them lowering their head. It’s like, “Oh my God, this is not happening.” They were so disappointed, and I was really nervous. My heart was pounding and I hear “Roll camera, take two, and action.” I start swinging the fanny pack and it went smoothly. I swing it around my shoulder, it was perfect around my neck, another perfect job, and the finale, I kicked the strap, and it was almost like in slow motion. I see the fanny pack shoots up and flies towards the camera, just the way it needs to be, and when it was over, man, I was so happy, and the Daniels were thrilled that we did it. That was only take two. So the one that you see up on the screen is take two, which is incredible.
That is incredible. I can’t believe it just worked out so perfectly like that.
Yeah. I trained. I trained, you know, for four weeks with our action team. It was a lot fun. When you do an action sequence with Michelle Yeoh, right, in a Michelle Yeoh movie, I mean, she is the freaking queen of martial arts, right? So you have to step up your game, you need to bring your “A” game. It’s important that you don’t make her look bad, you know?
The Daniels are directors with a very unique, creative vision, what was it like to work with them and their creative process to bring a movie like this to life?
It was lovely. They’re really intelligent, they’re mad geniuses. They have crazy, crazy ideas, and just to see them on set, you know, realize what they’ve written and put it up on the screen is really, it’s amazing. And they’re also very collaborative too. You know, as actors, they are very open to suggestions, to ideas, but they also know exactly what they want, too. In fact, when we started production on our movie, we shot the entire movie the way it was written, we made zero changes to it. I mean, that’s what’s so incredible. I mean, the script was so beautifully written, we shot it the way it was and that’s the movie that you see up on the screen.
That is very impressive.
It’s very rare. It’s very rare on a movie where there, you know, there are no changes during the production of the movie, and this was one of those rare instances.
I didn’t even know that. Thank you so much for sharing that. What I love about this movie is that there are so many absurd scenes. Out of all of them, is there any one particular scene that sticks out in your mind as your favorite?
Well, I remember there was one scene that stuck that stood out when I was reading the script because I laughed so hard, it was the butt plug scene.
Oh, yes. I love that scene so much.
I mean, it was hysterical when I read it on the script and it was also hysterical when I saw it up on the screen, I mean, I thought they executed that scene perfectly, the anticipation, the buildup, the anticipation, and then the payoff. I mean, it was just so beautifully done.
I really adore that scene as well. That was definitely a favorite of mine. Now, this is, of course, a very funny movie, while also being an emotional one. So what was it about this film’s emotional core that drew you to taking on this project and playing the character of Waymond?
Well, you know, this is a movie that is a big sci-fi action comedy-drama, but at the core of it, is this beautiful story about this family who are disconnected and they have to journey into the multiverse to find one another again and to understand that what’s standing in front of you is the most precious. That’s the core of it, and that’s the beauty of this movie. For me, playing Waymond, and not just one Waymond, but three different versions of Waymond, was really challenging. I was very nervous, but luckily, we got like three months to prepare and for me emotionally, I had to reach, you know, deep within myself and look at all those years of life experiences that I had. In fact, I don’t think I could have played Waymond had it been offered to me 10 or 15 years ago. I just felt like I needed all those life experience. And I poured my life into these three different characters and they all represent different parts of my life, different phases, and different times when I had to look to them for guidance. And they each represent different things to me.
You really do a great job of portraying the character of Waymond, but if you had the chance to revive one of your classic characters, would you rather do a Short Round spin-off or The Goonies 2?
Oh, that’s tough. [laughs] That is really tough. You know, we’ve been trying to do Goonies 2 for many, many years. 35 years, in fact. We’ve hired numerous writers, we had numerous drafts. Last year our director, Richard Donner, passed away. We were all very sad, we miss him tremendously. I feel like, after his passing, I’m kind of at peace with leaving that movie alone now. Even though I want Goonies 2 to happen, I’m kind of at a place where I think, it should just be the way it is. We shouldn’t mess with it.
In terms of Indiana Jones, Short Round, that’s an amazing character, you know? He’s courageous, he fricking saves Indiana Jones’ ass. I mean we’ll see. It’s the power at Lucasfilm and Disney Plus. I’m curious to see what they want to do with the character, especially when we have Indiana Jones 5 coming out. In fact, I’m so happy to see Harrison Ford at it again, donning that famous fedora hat and cracking that whip one more time. I will be the first in line to watch it.
Hollywood is a changing landscape, and in recent years there have been many films to feature Asian people front and center, such as The Farewell, Shang-Chi, and most recently Turning Red. Do you think there is still work to be done?
Well, absolutely I think there’s more work to be done. I know they’re not moving as fast as what we want, but with all sustainable improvements, it takes time. It happens gradually. I mean, my return to acting is a direct result of all the progress that is being made. Really, over the years, a lot of the Asian talents working in Hollywood have come up to me and they say “Ke, you’re the OG, man. Thank you for paving the way for us to be here,” and it’s really interesting too because it’s also them that’s paving the way for my return. They have been relentlessly chipping away at the roadblocks for so many years and yes, I’m optimistic. I don’t want to look back. I want to look forward. I’m very inspired by what has happened so far and I’m very hopeful to see where we’re going.
There are definitely a lot more opportunities now than when I first started, the roles are much more meaningful and, especially if you think about Everything Everywhere All at Once. A movie like that would’ve never happened 20 years ago, you know? It’s progress. We started off with Fresh Off the Boat, and then Crazy Rich Asians, and then The Farewell, like you said, and this is another one where it features a Chinese American family that is not about identity but about family issues that are very relatable to the world. These are the type of stories that I love, you know? And I’m thinking more of those, we need all kinds of different stories, but as long as they’re dealt with integrity and authenticity, I’m all for that.
I definitely do think that people like you really, really helped pave the way for a lot of this. Everything Everywhere All at Once is, of course, this really amazing movie while also having a lot of Mandarin and Cantonese spoken throughout, and that really resonated with me. So, I guess my final question for you is, if you had the ability to see an alternate universe version of yourself, what about him and the world would you want to be the same, and what would you want to be different?
That’s why this movie is so great, because I feel that the Daniels brilliantly created all these multiverses for us to have a really interesting conversation for “what ifs,” you know? Have you made different choices, how would your life turn out? I certainly have a lot of those moments, but I’m kind of at a place where I’m very content. I’m very happy with the current universe. I’m still processing how I got here, how this moment came to be. I feel like a lot of times, you know, things have to happen in the order it did for this very special moment to happen. I certainly had times in my life where, when things weren’t going so great, I always fantasized about what would it have been like had I done this or done that? For me, right now, because of how things are with this movie coming out, I’m so happy here. So I don’t want to think about any other universe. I’ll leave that conversation up to you guys. [laughs]
I will say this was a very special moment for me to be able to talk to you about this film and about Hollywood. So I want to thank you so much for taking the time today to speak to me about Everything Everywhere All at Once and your career, because I believe that many people will see this movie and they’re going to love it and especially, they’re going to love your portrayal of Waymond.