Ke Huy Quan on his Oscar win: ‘I’m so worried that this is only a one-time thing’

While I’m so proud of Ke Huy Quan and his Oscar win, his journey is so bittersweet. The anti-Asian racism within the film industry, the lack of roles for a talented Vietnamese immigrant, his decades of struggle to find work within the industry he loves. Ke covers the post-Oscars issue of Variety and while they take pains to say that Quan has several projects already in post-production, he also talks about how there’s nothing on his plate right now after winning an Oscar. It reminds me slightly of Lupita Nyong’o post-Oscar career, at least in the first few years: will Hollywood figure out what to do with a talented Oscar winner who isn’t white? Some highlights from Quan’s Variety cover story:

Talking to Steven Spielberg: During a commercial break in the Academy Awards telecast, Quan, 51, went over to where Spielberg was sitting with his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, whom Quan hadn’t seen since they co-starred in “Temple of Doom” four decades earlier. After hugs all around, Spielberg put his hands on Quan’s shoulders and said, “You are now an Oscar-winning actor.”

30 years of little to no work: For 30 years, Quan suffered through countless failed auditions. He later attended USC film school and took odd jobs working as the fight choreographer on “X-Men” and developing projects for director Wong Kar Wai at his production company, Jet Tone Films. That’s where he met his wife, Echo, whom he regards as the unsung hero of his recent success. Every month for the past 20 years, Echo has told her husband, “Trust me, your time will come.” “At times, I was frustrated with her,” Quan says, tearing up as he remembers their conversations. “I told her, ‘You keep saying that, and it’s never going to happen.’ I didn’t believe it. Twenty years isn’t a short time.”

A refugee in America: “I was just a normal kid in Vietnam in 1978, and all of a sudden my parents decided to flee the country. I didn’t understand what was happening. All I knew was I was separated from my mom, from my little brother and a couple of my sisters. It was in the middle of the night when my dad, five of my siblings and I escaped in a boat. We got to Hong Kong, and I was in a refugee camp surrounded by guards and police officers for an entire year until we were granted political asylum. Then I got on a plane and landed for the first time in Los Angeles. This was in 1979. I didn’t have the maturity to process the sacrifices that my parents made so that we could have a better future.”

The future in terms of Asian representation: “Forget about 30, 40 years ago — even 10 years ago. Look where we are now: The landscape looks so different. We have a seat at the table. Our voices are being heard. Our faces are being seen, and it feels amazing.

Harrison For presenting Best Picture: “When he opened that envelope and read the title, it made our win for best picture even more special. And when I ran up onstage, I pointed at him and he pointed back at me and I gave him a hug. I just couldn’t help myself. I just want to shower this man with all my love. I gave Harrison Ford a big kiss on the cheek.

Whether he hoped Short Round would come back for The Last Crusade: “I was secretly hoping. But honestly, Steven has given me so much — not one movie, but two movies. And they were the first ones to put an Asian face in a big Hollywood movie.

Struggling to find roles for 30 years: “I was taught never to blame anybody. If something doesn’t go the way you want, it’s either because you didn’t work hard enough, you weren’t good enough or you didn’t try hard enough. So when I couldn’t get a job, I blamed myself: I thought I wasn’t tall enough, I wasn’t good-looking enough, or I wasn’t a good enough actor because I wasn’t classically trained. I never blamed anybody — even to this day. We talk about Asian representation, but I don’t like to look at the past and say, “Oh, my God, how bad it was!” I’d rather focus on the present and moving forward. A lot has changed.

His worries about what comes next: “I had a conversation with my agent. I’m so worried that this is only a one-time thing… I attended an event recently and sat next to Cate Blanchett. I told her that I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I feel I have a responsibility to do something good, and that I don’t want to disappoint all the people that have supported me. And she said, “Just go with your heart and be irresponsible: Don’t worry about what other people think. Choose something that you believe in, choose something that you love, and things will work out.”

[From Variety]

The part where he talks about blaming himself for not booking roles… that might have actually broken me. Like, how much weight he was carrying on his own shoulders, how he never said to himself “this industry is just fundamentally racist.” It’s sad. In case you’re wondering about his completed projects, he’s in the second season of Loki, he’s in the series American Born Chinese and he’s filmed the sci-fi movie The Electric State. But yeah, people need to write roles for him or cast him in interesting projects. The fact that he’s in a Marvel series is interesting to me – if he gets in with Disney/Marvel, he could have work coming in for the next decade.

Cover & IGs courtesy of Variety.

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24 Responses to “Ke Huy Quan on his Oscar win: ‘I’m so worried that this is only a one-time thing’”

  1. usavgjoe says:

    Hopefully, not Ke Huy… there are promising Asian directors and screenwriters coming up through the ranks here in LA. So don’t despair, and congratulations. Enjoy the ride.

  2. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    It’s stunning to me I’ve watched this actor since he was a child. I’m so happy for him.

  3. SussexFan says:

    Stay with indie films, dude. Stay open to everything. Do Asian American films, too.

  4. Snuffles says:

    It’s rough out there in Hollywood for anyone. Even worse for a POC. He needs to take matters in his own hands and start developing projects for himself and other Asians in the industry. Work the momentum he has going for him. Do some side projects and develop multiple income streams. These days entertainers are not just one thing. They aren’t just actors, just musicians, just models. They’ve got their fingers in multiple pies.

    Take Zendaya for example. There was a time she wasn’t getting roles either. But she decided to work with Law Roach to make her a fashionista and walked every red carpet she could get herself on. That’s when people started paying attention and she started booking non Disney roles.

    Luckily he’s got Loki and another Disney project coming up. That should keep the fires burning for a while.

    • Jennifer says:

      Reminds me of the “will Michelle Yeoh ever get another lead role again?” article in the NYT. Unfortunately, it does sound like you need to create your own projects to get anywhere.

  5. Mel says:

    I wish for all the good things for him. He already has Loki season 2 lined up, I’m looking forward to his journey.

  6. Carrie says:

    I would LOVE to see him in a Wong Kar Wai film. Can you imagine?!

  7. Aimee says:

    He is a class act and I can’t wait to see him in Loki and the new Disney+ series. I wish him and his wife all the best and many years continued work in Hollywood!

  8. Jessica says:

    Hilary swank said this exact same thing after winning an Oscar. Work completely dried up for years and she couldn’t even afford her SAG insurance.

    I hope we see more of him. He brought such genuine excitement and gratitude to awards season.

  9. mellie says:

    I have watched his Oscar speech at least 5 times and cry every time. What a gem he is! I hope he gets all the opportunities.

  10. HeyKay says:

    Start booking roles as fast as possible. That Oscar glow doesn’t guarantee work.
    Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, Kathy Moriarty the blonde from Raging Bull, Gary Bussey, are 4 that come to mind. All seemed talented, touted as the next big thing. And yes they found work but not the Leading Stars/Multi-million $ stars that the early Oscar win in theory should have done for them.
    Marisa and Mira S seemed to fall off the big screen for years, IIRC.

    • solidgold says:

      Mira fell off because of Weinstien. Apparently, he was blocking her from A-List scripts. She spoke about it on a podcast…sorry I can’t remember which one.

      I think a lot of 90’s-2014 actresses fell off the radar because of Weinstien and his other nasty enablers.

  11. Amy Bee says:

    The part about his wife encouraging is very moving. She must be very proud of him now.

  12. Jais says:

    Ugh. Put him in everything please! Not literally but he should be in so many things and I hope that happens. I wonder if Steven Spielberg is kicking himself right now. They should have put him in the latest Indy movie. How about a short round spin-off?

  13. Cait says:

    I read an interview he also gave in which he noted that he was encourage to return to acting because of the success of Crazy Rich Asians, and that honestly made me smile.

  14. ABCD says:

    Cate Blanchett gave such white woman privilege advice. There he is, worried that work my dry up again and she is like “Just chose what you love, go with your heart”. That is privilege that an Asian actor doesn’t have!!

  15. solidgold says:

    Hollywood is a fickle industry. You’re only as good as your last box office or sexual viability.

  16. Blithe says:

    I’m cringing at the Cate Blanchett quote. I’m sure that she meant well and was sincere in her advice, but for most of us, particularly POC, being “irresponsible “ doesn’t come with the certainty that “things will work out”. Still, I hope that she’s right, and that Ke Huy Quan is offered wonderful roles and is able to build a solidly satisfying sustainable career.

  17. DeluxeDuckling says:

    Love him

  18. tealily says:

    I’m so excited to see what he does next. I loved watching him in EEAAO as much as I did in Temple of Doom when I was a kid. He’s just one of those people with “It” and I hope the studios see that.

  19. hangonamin says:

    this man and michelle yeoh have made me cry so much during the oscars. watching and re-watching the clips of them winning have been so incredibly moving. ke huy, especially, having the journey he’s had and to return and win an oscar on his first project…just so crazy. I too hope more people give opportunities to POC performers, and also write roles that don’t just cast a typical stereotype of a masculinity for a male role. the part that made me cry so much was the arc surrounding Ke Huy’s character in EEAAO, where we see him for being a thoughtful, caring, compassionate and strong person at the end despite our initial impression that he was a weak “beta” male. Loved that representation and subversion of the alpha male stereotype.

  20. Valerie says:

    I certainly hope it’s not the last thing I see him in. It would be great if he was in crime drama. Then I could see him every week!

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