About an hour after Ke Huy Quan heard his name read as an Academy Award nominee for his performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” “Processing more” is an understatement. “Leaping for joy” is more accurate.
“This is one of the happiest mornings I’ve ever had!” Quan shouted.
There are very few Oscar nominees this year a more round-about way to reach the Academy Awards than the 51-year-old Quan. After starring as a child in two of the most beloved films of the 1980s – as Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and Data in “The Goonies” – Quan struggled to find work in a industry where opportunities for Asian- American actors are few and far between. Eventually he went to film school, started working behind the camera and more or less abandoned his hopes of acting again.
Now, thanks to Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s existential romp — “Everything Everywhere All at Once” led all films on Tuesday with 11 nominations including best picture and best actress for Michelle Yeoh — Quan is living a dream he left behind. Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, Quan — widely considered the front-runner to win best supporting actor at the March 12 Oscars — reflected on his unfathomable Oscar moment.
AP: How does it feel?
Quan: it seems surreal. I can’t believe this is happening. When I heard the nomination, I suddenly screamed loudly. I felt exactly how I did when my agent called to tell me I got the part in Waymond. It’s something I’ve dreamed about for over 30 years. I watch the Oscars every year, religiously. I always imagine myself on the red carpet, being in the room, being nominated and the anticipation of them reading it – all that. It seems so far away. Especially when I had to leave for acting for many years, that dream seemed dead. I don’t dare to think about that anymore because I’m not an artist anymore. All I want is a job. I just want to have a steady job where I can move again. So getting an Oscar nomination was beyond my imagination. I can’t believe I’m talking to you.
AP: How is your morning?
Quan: I set an alarm clock. I woke up very early and I rode a Zooming with my “EEAAO” family, with Michelle, with the Daniels, with our producer Jonathan (Wang). We were just talking and watching the nominations come in. We all had a lot of fun. We can’t believe we topped 11 categories. I am very grateful for the academy. They have many dreams come true now.
AP: You’ve been celebrated a lot this awards season. Do you feel people rooting for you and encouraged by your turn of fortune?
Quan: When I decided to return to acting, I was very scared. The last time they saw me on screen, I was a little kid. Now, I am middle-aged. Since our movie came out, they have shown me nothing but love and kindness, and I thank them. I have cried many times. I am very emotional because I have met many of them in person and they all said that they are very happy to see me back on the screen. It’s been a wild and incredible ride. I didn’t expect this. I hope my story will inspire them not to give up on their dreams.
AP: What will you do to celebrate today?
Quan: I want to call my family. I want to hug my wife. They have supported me all these years unconditionally. They saw me when I was struggling. They were happy when I started doing movies. And when I was discouraged, they were worried about me. They always asked if there was anything they could do for me, even offering to come to Houston – where most of my family lives – to see if I wanted to do something else. So they understand my struggles better than anyone else. Ever since our movie came out, especially during the awards season, they have been very happy for me. Seeing their smiles, their happiness, that’s what warmed my heart. That’s what I’m thankful for. Especially my wife whom I have been married to for 22 years. Every month, every year, he says: “Hey, one day it will happen.” He never wavered in his faith in me. (Quan’s voice was shaking) When I didn’t believe in myself, he believed in me.
AP: Michelle Yeoh describes her Oscar nomination as validation. Especially considering you’ve gone through long periods of self-doubt, is this the same for you?
Quan: He’s right. This is the biggest validation. When I stepped in front of the camera, I didn’t know if I could do it again, and I didn’t know if the audience wanted to see me do it again. All I know is that I feel happy when I’m in front of the camera. I feel very comfortable, like where I belong. So this nomination means I made the right decision. For the longest time, when I was young, I was so lost because I didn’t see a path for me. But now I see. I think this means I can do it for as long as I want. And really, to be able to do something you love, it’s a great luxury. That’s the nomination. It means the world to me.
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