Ke Huy Quan

Beloved for his early roles in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, Ke Huy Quan took decades away from acting, but his turn as Waymond in Everything Everywhere All at Once won him an Oscar as well as a new generation of fans. Catching up with friend and Loki co-star Tom Hiddleston he talks about taking the good with the bad, patience, and trying to stay childish


TOM HIDDLESTON: Hey, man. How are you?

KE HUY QUAN: It’s so good to see you. First of all, Tom, thank you so much for doing this.

TH: Of course.

KHQ: I just love you so much.

TH: As soon as it came up, I was like, yes, I’m there.

I can’t imagine what it must be like in the front seat, but I feel like I’ve been sort of in the sidecar, or alongside you in this extraordinary, life-changing 16 months of your life. No, longer than that. Two years. I remember when you arrived at Pinewood Studios in London in May of 2022, and Everything Everywhere All at Once had been really well received, but it was still gathering momentum – more and more momentum every week.

But then your own personal momentum just continued. It was like you were a rocket taking off into space. To be alongside, watching you, and being with you, and being able to be even the smallest part of that journey, has just been such a thrill for me, because you’re amazing.

KHQ: Thank you. Tom, I remember our very first meeting. I was on a 10-hour flight from LA to London, had just wrapped a television series for Disney+ called American Born Chinese. I was literally on the flight the next day. I arrived, I walked into the office, and – you know, I’ve been a fan of yours for the longest time – and I remember immediately I just felt this incredible warmth from you. You gave me a big hug, and you were so welcoming and so generous and so kind.

TH: You didn’t know what was going on in my head when we first met. If I could go back in time and tap myself on the shoulder aged eight, on a rainy afternoon in the late 80s, watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for the 57th time, and say, you’re gonna be working with him in, you know, 25, 30 years’ time – it just would blow my head off.

Last year the world came to understand your story and journey, in a very profound way. You gave one of the great speeches in the history of the Academy Awards, which was so sincere and so authentic. I wonder what it was like being back there this year.

KHQ: I just still couldn’t believe it. They brought back five previous winners. I could not believe that I’m standing next to Tim Robbins and Christoph Waltz, Sam Rockwell and Mahershala Ali. I guess I have to remind myself that, Ke, you are also an Oscar winner, which is also incredible. Because I keep forgetting that.

TH: But they probably can’t believe they’re standing next to you!

KHQ: Oh, that’s very sweet. We had a really good time. I just realised that you can be really famous and really successful, but also you can also be humble and kind at the same time.

Honestly, Tom, when people are asking: “What was it like to work on Loki, to work with Tom Hiddleston?” It’s a masterclass. It was a masterclass for me to learn how to be a great actor, a great human being. That’s what you are, Tom. I treasure every moment that we share.

TH: I mean, that is very, very, very generous. If I’ve ever had any kind of ability to create an atmosphere there, I want people to feel the sky has no limit, in terms of our imagination and our commitment. Hopefully, that translates to the audience. But I think kindness is your particular superpower. I think a kindness and humility, what you talked about, I mean, that’s what Waymond represented in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

I think of how long you have been doing this and how many different ways that you have touched this industry – what we do, an art, a craft, telling stories, making films, you have been doing this for, what is it, 40 years?

KHQ: Yeah, 40 years. I started in 1983.

TH: I mean, I’m calling you a veteran because I think you are one. You worked as an assistant, you worked as a stunt choreographer. You’ve been behind the camera, in front of the camera. How does it feel now to stand at this distance, in this position?

KHQ: Well, first of all, I never see myself as a veteran, even though I’ve been in this business for a long time. I always feel like I’m a kid. I was just 11 years old when I landed the role of Short Round. I really loved going to set, and never thought of it as a job, just enjoyed every minute. It was like a playground for me. It wasn’t something that I pursued. It just came to me.

Then as I got older, when I finally decide that this is what I wanted to do, ironically, those opportunities dried up. When I was a kid, I was doing movie after movie – I didn’t know how lucky I was until I decided that this is what I wanted to do. All of a sudden, I found myself with no career, and I was just in my early 20s. I decided to go to film school, because I didn’t want to leave this industry.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t change anything, because it made me a better person, I think. It made me treasure every opportunity that comes my way. And now when I walk on a set, I am filled with a sense of gratitude. And I feel very blessed to be able to do this.

TH: Let me tell you, your gratitude just pours out of you when you’re on set. That’s what I remember of you from Loki 2, is you just radiate joy all the time!

KHQ: I remember, every day, I didn’t walk onto the set, I hopped onto the set. Going into Loki, I knew how big that fan base is. It’s watched by so many people, and I felt very fortunate, very lucky to be a part of the family. That was really one of the best periods of my life.

I knew that these productions were going to be massive. It’s hundreds of people working on these Marvel shows. I was expecting a lot of green screens, blue screens – when you are part of this massive thing, one thing that really gets lost is the personal, between everyone. I was very surprised how intimate and personal the set of Loki was. I really felt like we were all there as a family. Everybody loved being on that set every single day.

Playing Ouroboros was incredible. I loved him when I read the script. He just jumped out at me. But also, I felt this huge responsibility, because this was the first time I didn’t have to audition for a role, it was given to me. I was really nervous because I didn’t know if my interpretation of this character was aligned with everyone’s vision of him.

I didn’t quite know how to play him until I saw the Ouroboros set, and walking toward that stage I looked up and I saw the name ‘Roger Moore’. It was incredible. And then it just dawned on me that Ouroboros could be a variant of Data from The Goonies.

All of a sudden, I felt – oh my gosh, I know this character. But I had to travel 35 years back into the past to revisit what it was like to be Data.

TH: That’s such an interesting thing you’ve said about having to go back in time to rediscover something that you knew when you were a child. I think that’s what we do. I think a very unique aspect of our lives is reinvigorating that inner child. It’s keeping the limits of your imagination as wide and as broad, as rich as you can, because that’s the territory you’re playing in.

We’re just human beings, we’re out there together, trying to dream up good stories that are thrilling and dynamic and moving and profound, and we try to create an atmosphere that feels special and inspiring. But you need people like you on the team.

KHQ: It’s good to be part of the team.

TH: I know you say you don’t see yourself as a veteran. I don’t think anybody does. But you have so much experience with so many different aspects of the industry. Do people ask you for advice, and if they do, what do you say?

KHQ: I’m always very reluctant, but… I always say it’s so important to know what makes you happy and to go after it. It’s also equally important to remind yourself that you may not always feel good about what you do. Things can get hard, and they will. But let the disappointment motivate you.

Keep your dreams alive but at the same time, keep your dreams in perspective, and what I mean by that is to not necessarily change your end goal, but maybe adjust your expectations. You know, when the time calls for it.

For example, when I couldn’t get a job, I kind of shifted a little bit and I went to film school, and I started working behind the camera. I was actually very happy doing that. Now, if you would ask me, did I secretly dream of being an actor again, of course, all the time.

I just waited and bided my time – like my wife always tells me, you know, just don’t give up, one day your time will come, and that’s

what happened. Much of what it means to have perseverance is to have patience. So be patient, and don’t give up. That would be my advice.

TH: Well, that’s what you represent in the world. I mean, you are the emblem of never give up.

Didn’t you say that in your acceptance speech at the Oscars? You said that Echo always said that one day your time will come.

I think it takes such courage to be an actor. You have to have the courage to commit to your imagination.

KHQ: I think courage is a big part, an incredibly big part.

TH: The courage to be patient, the courage to keep going, the courage to persevere, the courage not to give up. You have so much of it and have demonstrated so much of it.

KHQ: I look back to the year that I decided to be an actor again. It was a conversation that my wife and I had for, not one day, not one week, but the entire year. Like, it’s okay when you’re like 18 years old or 21. But when you’re 40, to get rejected, not knowing if this will ever work out – that scared me.

But I think what gave me courage was that I was afraid that I would have regrets later in life. To think, damn, why weren’t you braveenough to try this again. It really scared me. I’m so happy, so glad I did. It changed my life completely.

TH: You’re so right. It would have been tragic to look back and not to have taken a risk.

KHQ: When Everything Everywhere All at Once came, I was also offered a TV show at the same time and, schedule-wise, they both conflicted. One was already greenlit and ready to go, a studio production. And then the other one was not greenlit, an independent movie from A24. Because I loved that script so much, I loved the character Waymond so much, I decided to pass on the TV show and just to take that huge risk.

TH: So let me ask you this. What was it? What was it that you knew that this was the right path?

KHQ: I always make my decision based on, am I going to be able to live with myself? 

If I go down this road, whatever happens, because you don’t know – the other one was much more money, waaay more money. I asked myself, can I live with myself if I pass on Everything Everywhere and go take the TV show, and end up seeing somebody else play Waymond? And the answer was very loud and clear: no, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

What about you, how do you make your decision when you come to that fork in the road?

TH: I think it’s very similar. It has to be something that I feel compelled towards in the very core of myself; that the spark of inspiration is lit. Like it’s a curiosity I can’t stop thinking about. And I feel like I must do it.

You may have heard this before, but your great mentor Steven Spielberg once said, “the instinct doesn’t roar. It whispers.” When you have a big choice to make in your life, the challenge is to try to quieten the noise from outside. Something, some object seems more shiny or more attractive. To listen to an instinct – to try and hear the whisper. That’s the real challenge in life, I think.

KHQ: All of a sudden hearing you say that, the shiny stuff… I remember that great scene in Indy three [Indiana Jones and the Last

Crusade]. And Indy goes in and he has to choose which cup Christ drank from during the Last Supper. The camera pans and you see all these shiny cups made out of gold or fancy materials. And then he just chooses the simplest one. Then that ended up being, you know, a wise choice.

TH: Yeah, it comes back to humility, doesn’t it? Everyone can connect to that. Of course it was the humble, simple cup. It wasn’t the one with jewels and diamonds.

KHQ: That’s why I’m so grateful for everything that has happened to me all these years, not just the last couple of years, but the last few decades. Had things been really easy for me, I don’t think I would have been this person. A great life is a life full of ups and downs. And if you’re lucky, you get to experience everything – the great, the bad, you know, all of that. And I did. I’m very, very, very grateful for it.

TH: I once bought – from the sublime to the ridiculous – I once bought a card, for my mother on Mother’s Day, and there was a cartoon of a dog on a boat somewhere. And it said on the front: “He knows not where he’s going, for the ocean will decide. It’s not the destination, it’s the glory of the ride.” 

KHQ: I love that. That’s awesome.

TH: I’ve never forgotten it. Made us both laugh. So, talking of the glory of the ride. We’ve got to talk about what’s next. Why are you in Canada?

KHQ: Well, I’m very excited because they just announced the release date of this movie that I’m doing called With Love. It’s for Universal Studios. It comes out 7th February, 2025. And currently I’m in Winnipeg, Canada. It’s a date movie for sure. Big action movie, but there’s a wonderful love story too. It’s kind of like a Valentine’s movie with big action pieces.

TH: How’s the training going?

KHQ: Training is really good. I’m not training to look like Brad Pitt or The Rock, it’s more about the endurance and the stamina, because I want to be able to do 98 per cent of all the fight sequences, except, you know, falling off buildings. But I’m trying. I’m aiming to do all of it myself. There’s some weight training, a lot of stretching so I don’t get hurt. All that knowledge that I gained working behind the camera, I am now putting to good use in front of the camera.

When the action team shows me a scene, I know what it takes and how to move to make it look good on screen. It’s all playing to the camera. That’s one of the tricks to doing a great action sequence. More importantly it’s the rhythm and pacing of it. It’s kind of like a dance. Like a ballet.

I can’t wait to step on set, it’s been a while.

TH: I think you’re leading the movie, am I right?

KHQ: Yes. First time! First time ever leading a movie in a major studio picture.

TH: That is a big moment.

KHQ: Yeah, it’s a big moment for me. And, you know, I remember when I–

TH: Number one on the call sheet!

KHQ: Even hearing you say that sounds surreal to me. Last year when I won the Oscar, I was doing one of the commercial breaks and I went up to Steven Spielberg, I gave him a big hug, because it meant so much to me that he was in the room too. He put his arms around me, and he says, “Ke, you are now an Oscar-winning actor.” I didn’t quite understand what that meant. It was not until a week later. I realised wow, winning an Oscar is a big deal. Because people then start calling – the phone starts ringing with all these amazing opportunities, and With Love is one of the first that came in.

I kid you not – I just got here to Canada two days ago and you are on my mind the entire time, and I’ll tell you why, because I remember working on Loki – I remember you were such a great leader.

You took extra steps to make sure that everybody was well taken care of, everybody felt comfortable and loved. Everything that you’ve done on Loki, I’m bringing that to the set of With Love. Being number one on the call sheet, there’s a responsibility that I put on myself to make sure that everybody feels valued. It doesn’t matter where you are on the call sheet. That’s how you make me feel – you made me feel like I was number one on the call sheet. And that’s how I want everyone to feel going into this production.

TH: But I think it’s kind of like a torch that you pass on. What is it… if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.

And it’s just more fun isn’t it. More fun when you’re a team.

KHQ: Yeah, I remember you were the first one on set and the last one to leave and this is what I plan to do too. I learned a great deal from you, Tom. Really.

TH: Oh, you’re very kind. You’re very kind.

You just want to make the most of it while you’re there – my least favourite thing to hear on a set is “let’s fix it in post”. I’m like, let’s fix it now! We’re all here! So that’s why I love being on set all the time and being there early, we’re here and we’re only here today. We won’t be coming back and there’s a magic to that. You want to capture it like lightning in a bottle, or in a camera.

I was going to ask you a fun question, which is when people stop you in the street or in, you know, the supermarket, as I’m sure they do. Is it like, “Oh my God, Data”? Is it, “Oh my goodness, Short Round”? Is it, “Oh wow, Waymond and Everything Everywhere”? Is it, “Oh my goodness, Ouroboros”? Or is it, “Oh my, Ke Huy Quan”?

KHQ: You know, for many, many, many years, I was always approached, and like, “Hey, you’re the kid from Indiana Jones. Or are you that kid from The Goonies?”

I feel so honoured to be a part of those two amazing and beloved movies. But there was a part of me that… I wished people would recognise me as something that I have done as an adult. I’ve done a lot of comic-cons where I’m still signing autographs with pictures of me as a kid. Like, I wish there’s something that I could do as an adult that people would recognise me for. And finally, when Everything Everywhere came out, they recognised me for that.

Ironically, a lot of people my age would say “I grew up watching you in Indiana Jones and The Goonies.” Now a lot of college students say, “You were great as Ouroboros in Loki. We love you in Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Ever since I won the Oscar, I go out, people say, “You’re Ke. You’re Ke Huy Quan.” They recognise me with my name now.

TH: That must feel very special.

KHQ: You know what’s a very humbling encounter? I just had it recently. I was going through customs. I was going through security check. And the guy looks up, sees me and says, “Are you an actor?” And I smile and say, “Yes, I am.” “You’re Jackie Chan!” And I go, “No, I’m not Jackie Chan, but I am an actor.” “No, you are Jackie Chan, I know!” So that was a very humbling experience.

What I still don’t get used to is like, when I go to these events like the Oscars, to be in that room with all those famous and successful and talented people. I’m just like a kid running around telling them how much I love them. And then they say, “Ke, oh my gosh, you know, I’m a big fan,” like that meant the world to me. It still surprises me that people know who I am. 

TH: But they really do, my friend. They know who you are, and they will continue to know for a long time hence. So yeah, it might be something to get used to. I think people will be saying your name for a while. 

You may have answered my last question, which is, what is your idea of happiness?

KHQ: I’m very happy now. Ever since I stepped in front of the camera again. Every single day I wake up with a big smile on my face. And this is before the Oscar. Just being so blessed with a second opportunity to get to do this again. The best thing is to be able to do something you love, something that you’re very passionate about. I’ve always been very passionate about acting. So, to be able to do this again after more than two decades puts me in a really happy place. I’ve been happy ever since.

TH: Ke, you are an inspiration to so many. You are admired by so many, and you are loved by so many. Let’s leave it there.

KHQ: Thank you, Tom. Thank you. I love you so much!

TH: Love you brother.


Photography Buck Ellison

Styling Julie Velut

Grooming Anissa Salazar

Production CXA

Digital Tech Clay Rasmussen


This article is taken from Port issue 34. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here