Everything, Everywhere All at Once – Interview with Ke Huy Quan

Everything, Everywhere All at Once is the superb new multiversal mind-trip from the Daniels (Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan), creators of the utterly bonkers Swiss Army Man. It’s a Michelle Yeoh-helmed surrealist martial arts comedy, but it’s also a terribly profound, wonderfully uplifting story that features the much-vaunted return of Ke Huy Quan.

Ke made waves as Short Round in Temple of Doom, and Data in The Goonies, but after that, he was gradually sidelined, shunted into smaller roles and eventually abandoned by the industry. He has, however, spent decades killing it behind the camera, and now, he’s back as Waymond, husband to Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn.

His performance in the film is nothing short of spectacular, and I was lucky enough to chat with him about his return to the spotlight.

PAUL: This movie was one of the first I saw after being locked down during COVID, so as you can imagine, it blew my mind.

KE: Yeah, wow! Wow! That’s great. I’m so happy our movie is coming out now! First of all… the last two years have been so difficult for everybody, so to be able to go back into movie theatres and watch it in person is great. And I hope that our movie can allow the audiences to escape the real world for a little bit. And hopefully they’ll enjoy it!

PAUL: I like the idea that you’ve basically made a hundred films in one… and none of them is as weird as what’s happening in the real world right now! I gotta say, growing up, we all knew you did Temple of Doom, and that you did Tae Kwon Do for that, so we all signed up for classes.

And you were a big nerd in The Goonies, and we were all big nerds, too. And years later, I was in film school studying Wong Kar Wai films… and it turns out you worked on those too! Is that true?

KE: Yep! I worked for him for many years. I was an assistant director on 2046! I helped his projects in development. But what’s really cool about it is that… you know, I saw… ‘cos I’m a big, big fan of Wong Kar Wai, and I love all those beautiful images he creates, and it’s incredible – I have great stories about how he does them, too.

But I watched Tony Leung step in front of the camera for many years, so for us to pay homage to this man who I loved dearly, and I learned a tremendous amount from in the movie star universe… but this time, I’m not behind the camera, I’m in front of the camera! And that was something quite… refreshing for me.

PAUL: You basically got to make a comeback into a hundred films in one, but when you read the script, did it present as weird and kinetic as it turned out on screen?

KE: Yeah, well, first of all.. I was warned! You need to first watch Swiss Army Man, otherwise, you’re not gonna get it! So I watched Swiss Army Man, and I laughed and I cried…I fell in love with the characters, and I was totally immersed in the movie.

And I thought… wow. If the Daniels can do that with this outrageous movie, this story about a corpse that farts throughout the entire movie… they can do anything. And you know what? They did it again with this one. It made me cry, it made me laugh real hard… I watched it two times now… no! Three times now. And it’s so outrageous and inventive, and original, and so out there… I have no idea how they come up with this stuff.

A hot dog universe!

The butt plugs!

I mean… It was insane. When I read it, I got it. I could see it, but I didn’t know how far they’d take it out into the multiverse. And it was a beautifully written script. It was poetic, the characters were beautiful and I was just so anxious to get on set and see how they’d realise all these words and put them up on the screen. I’m speechless, and I’m so proud.

PAUL: Well, you should be! And you get to segue from meek laundromat owner to universe-hopping hero. Which of those two is more like the real you, in the real world? And I am giving you this opportunity to talk yourself up, by the way!

KE: Haha! Look, you know what? Had this role been offered to me ten, fifteen years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to do it. When the role was offered to me, and as I was doing research on how I wanted to play these three different versions of the character, I really needed to ask if these Waymonds were three separate characters, which they really are.

And I wanted to make sure the audience was also able to distinguish these three different characters. And he’s such a wonderful character, and I really wanted to do him justice, so mentally, for a long time, I really reached within me to take myself back to where I started, and just pull all these different experiences and moments in my life, and pour it all into the different Waymond’s. 

KE: For example, the CEO Waymond, the Wong Kar Wai Waymond. Very glamorous. He’s very successful, he has all the money in the world, and yet he isn’t happy because he had to go down a path he wasn’t willing to go down but was forced to go down when he lost his love. It kind of drew me back to this point when I was in my early twenties, and my love was acting.

It was, to me, the greatest profession. And I had to give that up because there were no opportunities for me, and I had to make that tough decision, just like that Waymond did when Evelyn left him. Kind of like for me, when the acting profession… didn’t want anything to do with me. So it was… very emotional for me to play that character. And I also identified with the main Waymond, who believes so much in empathy, and he just wants to treat people with love and respect, and that’s how I believe we all should be. You know?

And I hope I don’t disappoint! I poured my heart and soul, my whole life, into these characters, and I hope the audience finds it fun and amusing to see me as an adult, up on the screen! The last time they saw me was when I was a little kid or an awkward teen. So for me to return in a role where I play a middle-aged man in not one but multiple versions of Waymond… I hope they find that new and interesting!

PAUL: One of the most interesting scenes in the film has you fighting with… here we called them bum bags, but it’s a fanny pack. When you choreograph and plan that scene, is the fanny pack the focal point around which the scene is built, or is it mapped out and choreographed with a regular weapon and then the bag is subbed in?

KE: So the Daniels knew exactly what they wanted with each fight scene because you have to boost jump and acquire skills from another universe. If you look at the fanny pack scene, there’s nothing but the fanny pack. If you look at the sequence with Michelle spinning the board, it comes specifically from that universe. And they were very clear with the action choreographers, we want all that to be catered around this fanny pack.

There’s a style called a wushu rope dart, which I’m… not very good at. I studied Tae Kwon Do for many years, but the dart? That’s something that’s very hard to master. I was practising with our action team for a while, and at the very end where Waymond swings the fanny pack around his neck and shoulders and then kicks it right towards the camera – that was something that I couldn’t master in training, and I couldn’t do it!

I could never get it right. I remember Dan coming up to me, saying… listen, you did action for many years. You always have the luxury of doing ten, twenty, thirty, fifty takes until you get it right, right? 

And he says, Ke, we have seventy shots today. That fight was filmed over one and a half days, including all the dialogue leading up to it. And then take one, they yell action.

It was a complete failure. Couldn’t do it.

I’d never successfully kicked it towards the camera, right? And I look at the Daniels, and their heads are hanging down, and they’re like… oh no. We don’t have time for this!

Take two. They yell action… I swing the fanny pack around my neck,…around my shoulder… I kick it… and I see the fanny pack perfectly shoot for the camera.

And that was take two. The one you see in the movie. Two takes! We got it in two takes!

I think they were so happy, that really made their day! It was so important to get it in one shot so that the audience could see it was actually me doing that, and not a stunt double.

Thanks to Ke Huy Quan for his time.

Everything, Everywhere All at Once is in cinemas now.

Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven
Writer of Loose Units for Penguin. Host of ABCs Steam Punks. Host of 28 Plays Later. Unicorn enthusiast. Unicron enthusiast.

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