Ke-Huy-Quan Everything Everywhere All at Once

Ke Huy Quan came out of retirement to costar in Everything Everywhere All at Once

We spoke to the actor, whose credits include Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, about why this film and this moment made his comeback a no-brainer.

Nearly two decades ago, actor Ke Huy Quan decided to retire from acting.

After his success as a child actor in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, he struggled to find roles. “When I started in the business, I would read a lot of scripts that featured Asian characters that were very marginalized, stereotypical,” Quan explained over Zoom. “You had two or three lines. If you were lucky, you would get featured in two or three pages. It was one of the reasons I stepped away from acting.” By the early 2000s, he had decided to leave acting behind to find new opportunities behind the camera working in stunts and assistant directing (most notably on Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046). 

Just a few years ago, things changed. Crazy Rich Asians was a smashing success, and the industry started offering more complex roles to BIPOC actors. Quan was inspired to make another go at it. Around this time, he first read Everything Everywhere All at Once. “It was the script that I wanted to read for decades that just didn’t exist before,” he says. “I loved the script so much and wanted this role so bad.”

Written and directed by the Daniels (the beautifully deranged minds behind Swiss Army Man), Everything Everywhere All At Once is a day-in-the-life, multiverse-hopping, genre-defying adventure following Evelyn, an aging Chinese immigrant, swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led. Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn, and Quan stars as her hapless, soft-spoken husband, Waymond. 

In the film’s universe, there are different iterations of the same person co-existing within infinite possible universes. By engaging in “improbable” actions, you can tap into the endless possibilities of all your selves. For an actor, this role poses unique opportunities and challenges. Quan not only plays Waymond from “our” universe but also at least two other ones. He had to speak multiple different languages and pull off complex fight scenes and convincingly play three different versions of the same person. 

“I was so nervous because I hadn’t done it for so long. It’s been over two decades,” Quan says. “Luckily, I had three months to prepare. I hired an acting coach, a dialect coach and a voice coach. Then I hired a body movement coach because I wanted to make sure that the audience can distinguish each version of Waymond just by how he sits, stands, moves and walks.”

Ke Huy Quan Everything Everywhere All at Once
Ke Huy Quan with Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once

While acting and voice coaches are pretty standard, body movement coaches are not usually part of an actor’s repertoire. Quan explained that the process involved picking a specific animal to match the different versions of Waymond. Alpha Waymond is an eagle, CEO Waymond from the movie star-universe is a fox (“you know because he’s very cool”) and the Waymond in this universe was a squirrel. He’d watch hours of video on nothing but squirrels, how they move, how they crawl and eat. “The process starts with me in his theatre, 100% squirrels. I would be on the ground on all fours crawling and moving, eating like a squirrel and then slowly transforming myself 100% into my character,” he explains. 

“I remember the first week of shooting. I was so nervous because I was sitting in front of Jamie Lee Curtis. Behind me was Michelle Yeoh and to my left was James Hong. All freaking legends!” He kept asking the Daniels if he was doing a good job and needed to make changes. “It wasn’t until Jamie Lee Curtis, after one shot, came up, and she gave me the biggest hug and the warmest smile and said, ‘Ke, that was fricking awesome.’ Getting that praise from her meant the world to me and gave me so much confidence.”

Everything Everywhere All at Once has already had a release in other markets, so by the time Quan spoke with Cult MTL, he’s already had an opportunity to enjoy the film’s success. “The last time they saw me,” he says, “I was a kid or an awkward teenager.” The response has been more than positive. “Being able to read and hear all these wonderful, positive comments embracing my return to acting has brought tears to my eyes. I am grateful for their love. I’m in a very happy place right now: This is where I wanted to be for a long, long time. I finally get to be here.” ■

This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of Cult MTL.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is in theatres now. Read our review of the film here.

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