“Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Ke Huy Quan won a Golden Globe on Tuesday night and in doing so cemented his remarkable comeback story. His role in the genre-bending multiverse film, which became one of the surprise box-office hits of 2022, marks his return to acting after leaving Hollywood behind in the 1990s due to a lack of roles for Asian Americans.
In a moving and joyful speech, Quan gave a nod to his famous child star roles, including thanking Steven Spielberg for casting him as Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
“I was raised to never forget where I came from and to always remember who gave me my first opportunity. I am so happy to see Steven Spielberg here tonight. Steven, thank you,” Quan said.
Quan went on to recount the heartbreak of his brief period of success as a child star. “I felt so very lucky to have been chosen. As I grew older, I started to wonder if that was it, if that was just luck. For so many years, I was afraid that I had nothing more to offer, that no matter what I did, I would never surpass what I achieved as a kid.”
“Thankfully, more than 30 years later, two guys thought of me,” he continued, referring to Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the directors of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” “They remembered that kid, and they gave me an opportunity to try again. Everything that has happened since has been unbelievable. Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, thank you so, so much for helping me find my answer. You have given me more than I could have ever hoped.”
Tuesday night’s ceremony was the first televised Golden Globes since a 2021 Los Angeles Times investigation revealed years of diversity and ethics problems at the organization behind the awards: the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Quan is the first actor of Asian descent in nearly 40 years to win in his Golden Globes category, after Haing S. Ngor for “The Killing Fields” in 1985.
Quan’s comeback was the confluence of several remarkable full-circle moments, as he described to HuffPost last year. After achieving some recognition in the 1980s with “The Goonies” and “Indiana Jones,” Quan found that, as he headed into adulthood, the roles dried up.
“I was in my early 20s, and all I was doing was waiting for the phone to ring. It rarely did — and when it did, it was to audition for a role where there were only two lines. It was at a time where it was very disheartening to be an Asian actor,” he told HuffPost. “So, for me, here, speaking with you today, this certainly wasn’t planned. It wasn’t the game plan, like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to get back into acting when I turn 50.’”
After quitting acting in the early 1990s, he graduated from the University of Southern California’s film school and then worked behind the camera for many years. Some of his many off-screen credits including serving as a stunt coordinator and fight choreographer on movies like “X-Men” and “The One.” He also worked as an assistant director on “2046” with the legendary Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai. (Fittingly, one of the multiverses in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” pays homage to Wong’s “In the Mood for Love.”)
In 2018, the success of “Crazy Rich Asians” (with his “Everything” co-star Michelle Yeoh) marked a watershed moment for Asian representation in Hollywood. It convinced Quan that perhaps he could give acting another shot — and that change for Asian American actors was really happening.
“My return, it proves how important it is for not just Asians but for everybody to be represented in entertainment because until it happens, you just can’t imagine that it can also be you up there on the screen,” he said. “I can’t imagine how many others like myself out there, young and old, who share in the same dream that lay dormant for many years. So if you ask me what I hope our movie can do, I really hope ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ does for these dreamers what ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ did for me. That would make me really happy.”
Thankfully, Quan’s comeback has led to more sustained opportunities for him. In addition to the many awards and Oscar buzz he has garnered for “Everything,” Quan will next appear in the Disney+ adaptation of the graphic novel “American Born Chinese,” also starring “Everything” actors Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu, and Marvel’s “Loki” series.
“Change is definitely happening. It might not move as fast as we want, but with all sustainable improvement, it happens gradually,” he said. “My return to acting is a direct result of some of the progress that’s been made by the Asian talents working in Hollywood today. I remember over the years I’ve met a lot of them, and they always say, ‘Ke, thank you, man. You’re the OG. Thank you for paving the way for us to be here.’ What’s really interesting is that they also paved the way for my return.”