LOS ANGELES – Ke Huy Quan had mostly disappeared from Hollywood for over two decades, dispirited by the lack of on-camera work for Asian Americans. He returned in a big way, winning the supporting actor Oscar to cap an inspiring comeback story.
Quan accepted the trophy Sunday night for his role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” becoming just the second Asian winner ever in the supporting actor category, joining Haing S. Ngor for “The Killing Fields” in 1984.
As his name was announced, Quan rose and hugged co-stars Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis, who won supporting actress honors after him. He clasped his hands to his mouth.
“My mom is 84 years old and she’s at home watching,” Quan said. “Mom, I just won an Oscar!”
An emotional Quan kissed his statue repeatedly and sniffled into the microphone on stage after receiving a standing ovation. Presenter Ariana DeBose was in tears.
“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage,” he said. “They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I can’t believe this is happening to me. This is the American dream.”
As a child actor, Quan followed his manager's advice to adopt an Americanized name, so he went by Jonathan Ke Quan.
“When I decided to get back into acting three years ago, the very first thing I wanted to do was to go back to my birth name,” he said backstage. “To see Ariana open that envelope and say Ke Huy Quan, it was so emotional.”
Quan rode a huge wave of momentum into the Oscars, having won every major award except the BAFTA. Quan endeared himself during acceptance speeches as much as he did in his winning performance. He used his position to encourage other struggling actors that one day they also will find success.
Along the awards show trail, the enormously likeable Quan compiled a photo album for the ages as he posed for selfies with everyone from Tom Cruise to directors James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. It seemed anyone famous was happy to smile or make funny faces alongside Quan.
The Vietnam-born actor whose family immigrated to California in the late 1970s first gained attention as a pre-teen in the hugely popular 1980s movies "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and “The Goonies.” He went on to roles in the TV show “Head of the Class” and the movie “Encino Man” (starring fellow Oscar nominee Brendan Fraser ) in the early 1990s before work dried up.
Finding few on-camera opportunities, Quan turned elsewhere. He earned a film degree from the University of Southern California and worked behind the scenes as a stunt coordinator and assistant director.
“I owe everything to the love of my life, my wife Echo,” he said, “who month after month, year after year for 20 years told me that one day, one day my time will come. Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.”
Inspired by the success of the 2018 movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” Quan returned to acting and landed an audition for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which earned a leading 11 Oscar nominations. His former “Goonies” co-star, Jeff Cohen, serves as his lawyer who drew up the contract for his Oscar-winning role.
“Thank you to my ‘Goonies’ brother for life, Jeff Cohen,” Quan said.
Now, people stop him to talk about a movie he made as a grown-up, “Everything Everywhere All at Once."
Quan won the Oscar over fellow nominees Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Brian Tyree Henry of “Causeway” and Judd Hirsch of “The Fabelmans.”
During a commercial break, Quan said he ran up to Spielberg, who gave Quan his first big break by casting him in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” They hugged.
“He said, ‘Ke, you are now an Oscar-winning actor,'” Quan said. “Hearing him say that meant the world to me and I still cannot believe it.”
He had another reunion on stage after “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was announced as best picture by Harrison Ford, Quan's co-star in “Indiana Jones.”
The 51-year-old Quan is set to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series “Loki” on Disney+.
However, he's in search of more work. Quan recalled years ago calling his agent every three and six months asking if there were any jobs for him only to be told no.
“First thing tomorrow I'm going to call my agent,” he said. “Hopefully, he'll give me a different answer.”
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