Win or lose at the Baftas, Goonies star Ke Huy Quan takes award for best Hollywood comeback

With few Asian roles, the former child star spent years on the sidelines until his success in Everything, Everywhere, All At Once put him back on the red carpet

Even if Ke Huy Quan fails to win a Bafta, his joyful Instagram account and own personal Hollywood happy ending have already secured him the unofficial accolade of “2023 awards season breakout star”.

Quan – up for a British Academy award for his role as affable laundromat owner Waymond Wang in Everything, Everywhere, All At Once – arrived in America as a refugee from Vietnam in 1979. Aged 10, he tagged along with his brother to an open audition for a film and ended up winning the role that turned him into one of the most recognisable child stars of the 1980s. He played Chinese orphan Short Round in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – Harrison Ford taught him to swim during the shoot in Sri Lanka. A year later, he starred as Data in The Goonies, the seventh highest-grossing US film of 1985.

After a fantastic start, Quan quickly found that good roles for Asian actors were few and far between. “When there was one,” he has said, “the role was very stereotypical, and you had every Asian in Hollywood fighting for it.” In his 20s, he pivoted to work as a stunt choreographer and was sure his acting career was over.

Watching the hit 2018 romcom Crazy Rich Asians made Quan want to give it one last shot, and his first audition led to Everything, Everywhere. But production finished in March 2020, just as Covid lockdowns hit the world, and Quan didn’t work until after the film finally made it into cinemas last year. By then, he was so broke he had lost his medical insurance. Now the film has turned out to be a massive hit, and Quan has been nominated for every major acting award for his comeback role.

With Michelle Yeoh in Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.
With Michelle Yeoh in Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Photograph: Allyson Riggs/AP

In an interview on American TV, Quan said: “I thought everybody had forgotten me, but since the movie came out, there’s been so much positivity and kindness.”

Understandably, it has been a lot to take in. He told W Magazine: “I grew up in a very traditional Chinese family so I worked hard to keep a lot of my emotions within. I’ve cried more in the last six months than I cried in the previous 20 years. Hearing all these wonderful comments from people about how much they’ve missed me on the screen has made me very emotional.”

Rebecca Sun, senior editor for diversity and inclusion at the Hollywood Reporter, said: “Comeback stories don’t get much more perfect than Quan potentially becoming an Oscar winner with his first major role in 40 years. But it’s infuriating that his talent was riding the bench for four decades – it’s an indictment on Hollywood’s imagination and creativity that no one gave him an opportunity to show what he could do.”

Nowhere is Quan’s kid-in-a-candy-shop delight more apparent than on his Instagram account. There he records the events, dinners and ceremonies he once dreamed of attending. Now he is a guest of honour. If you have ever wondered what it would be like if Indiana Jones and Short Round reunited after 38 years, that photo is now out there. And at a gala in December, actors Sean Astin and Jeff Cohen climbed on stage for a mini-Goonies reunion and to present him with an award.

With Harrison Ford and Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
With Harrison Ford and Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

Quan has also proved a master at selfies, posting snaps with everyone from Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise to activist Malala Yousafzai, all looking as delighted to be with him as he clearly is to be with them. He has even developed a signature accessory: a googly eye lapel badge – a nod to his Everything, Everywhere’s character’s love for stickers with the same design.

With upcoming roles in the Disney+ show Loki and the TV adaptation of graphic novel American Born Chinese, this could be only the first of many award seasons spent on the red carpet.


Alice Fisher

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Baftas 2023: the full list of nominations
All the films and actors up for awards at the 76th edition of the British Academy film awards

Guardian film

19, Jan, 2023 @12:27 PM

Article image
Will All Quiet on the Western Front really conquer all at the Baftas?
The German-language film has 14 nominations, and great resonance with the Ukraine war, but I suspect a good number of the gongs will go elsewhere

Peter Bradshaw

19, Jan, 2023 @1:22 PM

Article image
Banshees star Barry Keoghan: from foster homes to breakout Oscar contender
The young Irish actor overcame a tragic childhood to earn an Academy Award nomination for The Banshees of Inisherin

Vanessa Thorpe

28, Jan, 2023 @3:36 PM

Article image
‘I didn’t have a single audition for a year’: Goonies and Indiana Jones child star Ke Huy Quan on finding fame again
Forced to quit Hollywood in his 20s through the lack of roles for Asian actors, he is back on screen in the hit Everything Everywhere All at Once. He talks about being a refugee, the wilderness years - and what tempted him to return

Ann Lee

14, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Actors and activists join forces on Bafta red carpet to call time on sexism
Gemma Arterton, Tessa Thompson, Gemma Chan and Jodie Whittaker are among 190 signatories of letter demanding end to abuse and inequality

Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

18, Feb, 2018 @12:05 AM

Article image
Baftas 2023: ceremony and winners – as it happened!
Richard E Grant in a cape, Alison Hammond channelling the One Show, Florence Pugh in orange net: we were there for Britain’s biggest film awards

Stuart Heritage and Lauren Cochrane

19, Feb, 2023 @11:16 PM

Article image
Baftas 2016: How the British academy stole a march on the ‘so straight’ Oscars
The British academy has put the Oscars to shame with a more diverse list of nominations, from lesbian love story Carol to transgender drama The Danish Girl

Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent

14, Feb, 2016 @8:39 AM

Article image
As A-listers shun Golden Globes, have awards shows had their day?
There’s no red carpet or even TV coverage – so film fans will have to wait until the Baftas for pre-Oscar glamour

Vanessa Thorpe

09, Jan, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
‘Terrifying’ cuts are killing creativity in UK arts, warns multiple Oscar winner
Sandy Powell, who will be made a Bafta fellow this month, fears that a cash-starved fringe scene is stifling artistic risks

Vanessa Thorpe

05, Feb, 2023 @8:00 AM

Article image
Bafta TV awards: women programme makers’ fury at lack of female nominations
Campaigners draft letter of complaint calling for greater diversity in film industry

Vanessa Thorpe

06, Jun, 2020 @7:00 PM