If you follow movie trivia and red carpets, you’ve probably heard the interviews with actor Ke Huy Quan, who is garnering acting awards for his performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” I remember him when I was a kid, when he starred as “Short Round” in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” He was adorable and it was great to see an Asian face in the movies! We are all starving to see ourselves reflected! He then did “The Goonies,” which I flipping loved as a child, and then NADA until this year’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
To hear him tell it, he has waited 25 years for this moment, to come alive in front of the camera. He has been away because there was simply no work for him, an Asian actor, and so he had to content himself with working behind the scenes in film. He has been winning awards and has been utterly charming, and dude — I’m not buying it. I’m not. He’s my age-ish and to me, it is unacceptable to say this thing called acting was something you were denied and denied yourself for 25 years. How can you let something like that dictate your happiness? Could you not have found an alternative path that was maybe not the same but satisfying in a different way? Of course, I am project my own journey ALL OVER THIS GUY’S SPEECHES.
I told my friend Nancy, he is handsome and he can act, but his voice is weird (one reviewer called it “Daffy Duck”) and there is no way he could have gotten this part, but for the marketing potential of his story, the wide appeal of this dramatic turn of fate.
But I recently listened to an interview with him (https://talkeasypod.com/ke-huy-quan/) where he discusses his story in greater detail. He was born to a family of seven in Vietnam and had his parents made two attempts to leave. The first one was thwarted and so for the second attempt, his parents decided to split their family. To the child version of Ke who was extremely happy and whose brother was his best friend, the move was confusing and hurtful, but his father said this was for the best. They made it out on the second attempt and lived at a refugee camp for a year. He and his family were reunited in the US, (I think California) and he went to school where Steven Spielberg scouted the local school for the part of “Short Round.” Ke made an impression, got a call back, showed up in a suit, Steven hugged him and said to come back in play clothes. And Ke booked the part and discovered a love of acting. That movie paid for KE’s parents house. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas paid attention and made sure Ke and his family was okay. (Nice!) The Goonies happened and then nothing else. Ke reached a reckoning, one that I think has sent other child actors to drugs and suicide and profound unhappiness — that they had stumbled upon this thing that made them so successful, that they were good at, that made them secure, and that was suddenly taken away. Ke was depressed but ended up going to UCLA and became a TV production person and fight choreographer. With the connections he made through his childhood movies, he forged a career.
But nearing his 50th birthday, he said there was this thing nagging at him, that he wanted to return to acting. His wife asked, are you ready to go all in? To go to audition sand be rejected? He had a friend who was an agent who said you have to commit, full stop. This movie role audition came around, and Ke said “this was a movie starring Michelle Yeoh. There was no way I was going to get the part,” but his wife insisted he would get the part — and he frigging did.
There was something about listening to this man’s interview that made me realize I was reacting way too cynically to his story, that this journey is real. He is incredibly humble, and that he freaking deserves to be up there. It makes me wonder in what ways do I censor and limit myself. I have also had my reckoning(s). I am also past the mid point of my life and what do I want to do in that time? It no longer serves me to be cynical — I understand why we adopt that attitude. IT’s to keep us safe, but the truth is there’s no protection from rejection and disappointment. But dude, the truth is I have been dreaming too small. It’s long overdue to dream big and I look forward to exploring what the heck that means.
Thanks to Ke Quan. What an inspiration.