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Oscar Winner Ke Huy Quan Explains the Power of Unsung Heroes in Storytelling

2023 Best Supporting Actor Headlines CSUF’s ‘Beyond the Conversation’ Series
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From fleeing the Vietnam War by boat at 7 years old to winning an Academy Award, Ke Huy Quan committed himself to diverse Asian storytelling on Hollywood’s grand stage.

When Quan immigrated to Los Angeles with his parents and eight siblings, he frequented Chinatown theater, which played movies starring martial artists Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.

“Little did I know that that was the very first seed planted in me wanting to be an actor,” shared Quan. “A few years later, my fate came calling. I had the opportunity to audition for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and work with Harrison Ford in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.’ That got me hooked.”

An award-winning actor and stunt choreographer, Quan is best known for his roles as Short Round in the 1984 blockbuster “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and Data in the 1985 classic “Goonies.” Reappearing in the limelight after more than 20 years, his portrayal of Waymond in the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” garnered him the 2023 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. 

Quan spoke to the Cal State Fullerton community as part of the “Beyond the Conversation” speaker series, hosted by Associated Students Inc. and the Division of Student Affairs. The series invites speakers to campus to engage students in dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Previous speakers include actress Hunter Schafer, actors Danny Trejo and Daniel Dae Kim, political activist Angela Davis, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, activist David Hogg and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Returning to Hollywood and Diversity in ‘Loki’

Following his role as a goofy husband and laundromat owner in the multiverse film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Quan self-taped auditions for many roles and didn’t receive a single callback. He lost hope and his health insurance. 

As Asian representation diversified the silver screen, Quan said he felt the “nagging pressure” to leap into the spotlight again.

“The fear of regret gave me courage to return to acting,” said Quan. “It was the right moment.”

Fate came calling again, and Quan is embarking on a dream acting project with actor and executive producer Tom Hiddleston. On Oct. 5, Quan will make his debut in Marvel Studios’ television series, “Loki 2,” on Disney+. 

The series brings to center stage Loki, the god of mischief, who slips through unique timelines and realities. Quan said he enjoys how his casted role as a Time-Variance Authority archivist is race-interchangeable and fluid. 

“There needs to be more opportunities for authentic stories and the portrayal of culture, nuances, triumphs and struggles. ‘Loki’ does that,” said Quan.

“The unsung heroes of a movie set come together not because the paycheck is big,” said Quan. “They come together because they are passionate about storytelling.”

Advice for Aspiring Actors 

At the USC School of Cinematic Art, Quan “found his footing and learned every aspect of how a movie is made.” Immediately after college, he struggled landing an acting role and invested time behind the camera. He received a call from Corey Yuen, Hong Kong action director and choreographer, who invited him to Toronto to work on the stunt choreography team for “X-Men.”

Ke Huy Quan Audience

Experimenting in alternative fields and not being cynical are some keys to success, Quan said. Higher education is crucial as a means of hands-on learning, he added.

“When I graduated from college, I wanted to get out there to show the world what I can do,” said Quan. “Harness the power of awe and passion to energize you.”

“In our society there is so much emphasis on the alpha man and how men are measured by how big their biceps are, how tall they are, how good looking they are and how much weight they can lift,” said Quan. “If people can take away one thing from that is that it’s okay to be the beta man.”

For students in the arts aiming to reach stardom, Quan eased their anxieties. “I would tell my younger self to stop worrying,” he said. “Everything will work out. Better days lie ahead.”

Written by: Vanessa Siguenza