TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The film "Everything Everywhere All At Once" received the most Oscar nominations this year - 11, including best picture and best supporting actor for our guest, Ke Huy Quan. It's his first big role in decades, and he's already won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and other major awards for the film. He spoke about the movie and his career with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado.
ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: Ke Huy Quan was 12 years old when he first appeared on screen in the 1984 blockbuster "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM")
KE HUY QUAN: (As Short Round) Wow. Holy smoke - crash landing.
HARRISON FORD: (As Indiana Jones) Short Round, step on it.
QUAN: (As Short Round) Okey-dokey, Dr. Jones. Hold on to your potatoes.
KATE CAPSHAW: (As Willie Scott) For crying out loud, there's a kid driving the car.
BALDONADO: After holding his own co-starring with Harrison Ford, Ke Huy Quan played Data, one of the kids searching for treasure in the 1985 film "The Goonies." He starred in a few other films and TV shows, but when he was in his 20s, the jobs stopped coming. So he decided to leave acting, went to film school and started working behind the scenes. He tried to convince himself that he didn't miss acting, but after decades being out of it, he decided to try it again. The first script he read after coming out of retirement was "Everything Everywhere All At Once." The film is a family drama masquerading as a sci-fi martial arts movie. It's also an absurdist comedy. It's about Evelyn, a Chinese immigrant, played by Michelle Yeoh, totally weighed down by her life and her regret. She's trying to keep her laundromat and her family afloat while being audited by the IRS.
Ke Huy Quan plays Waymond, Evelyn's husband, who's also trying to keep it together but is considering serving Evelyn divorce papers. Things start getting strange when Waymond is taken over by another version of himself from an alternative, parallel universe. He's here to warn Evelyn of a great evil and to tell her that she alone, this version of herself, is the only person who can save the entire metaverse.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE")
QUAN: (As Waymond Wang) I know you have a lot of things on your mind, but nothing could possibly matter more than this conversation we're having right now concerning the fate of every single world of our infinite multiverse. My dear Evelyn, I know you. With every passing moment, you fear you might have missed your chance to make something of your life. I'm here to tell you, every rejection, every disappointment has led you here to this moment. Don't let anything distract you from it.
BALDONADO: Ke Huy Quan, welcome to FRESH AIR.
QUAN: Ann Marie, hi. How are you? Thank you for having me.
BALDONADO: Let's start by talking about "Everything Everywhere All At Once." How did you get the role of Waymond?
QUAN: Well, this was something that I - you know, I was so surprised by because it was literally two weeks after I contacted an agent friend of mine and practically begged him to be my agent 'cause, you know, I haven't had an agent for more than two decades. And when he said yes, I was expecting to - you know, to not hear from him for another six months or a year. And when that phone rang two weeks - literally two weeks later and he told me about this project, I was so surprised but also so happy that there was something like this out there. And then when I read the script for the first time, I was overwhelmed with emotions because it was a script that I wanted to read for many, many years. And I could not believe that there was this possibility of me auditioning for a role. It's not a minor role, it's a major role. And it was a role that I - I thought it was written for me, and I was just so excited.
BALDONADO: Let me take a step back. What made you want to get back into acting after being out of it for so many years?
QUAN: Well, you know, for the longest time, when I had to step away because of lack of opportunities, I - you know, I thought I'd buried that acting bug deep and far, that I didn't think I would ever see it again. But over the years, as I was working behind the camera, I noticed that there was a change in the landscape. You know, the Asian actors were given much more meatier roles, you know? What I was used to seeing, you know, the stereotypical, the marginalized, the butt of the joke characters no longer what was being offered.
When I saw a television show called "Fresh Off The Boat" that featured an entire Asian cast on television and being really successful that lasted for six seasons, I mean, during that entire time, I - unbeknownst to me, something was missing. And that acting bug slowly crawled itself back to the surface. And I would just hear this little voice in the back of my head saying, Ke, you know, maybe it's time to consider doing this again. And I would entertain it for a little bit, and then I would brush it away really quickly, thinking, that's impossible. You know, I haven't done this for so long, and I didn't even know if Hollywood would want me again. But every time I pushed that voice away, every time I ignore it, it would just come back stronger and louder until I couldn't ignore it any longer.
BALDONADO: Now, it had been a while since you were on a movie set as an actor. What was it like being on set again after such a long absence? And I even read that, you know, after you got the part, you were, like, a little bit worried about telling people about it because you were worried you'd get fired. Like, what was it like being back there?
QUAN: Well, you know, when I got the job, I didn't tell anybody. I didn't tell - especially, I didn't tell my family. My mom didn't know. My brothers and sisters didn't know. And, yeah, when I - you know, when I was preparing to play Waymond, nobody knew except my agent, Jeff Cohen, who is my attorney, and my wife, because I thought I would - I was afraid that I would suck or that I would get fired the first week into the shooting where the Daniels, you know, think, oh, my gosh, we made the biggest mistake of our career by hiring this guy. And, yeah, so I didn't know. But when it was - I remember holding the script in my hand and it was - you know, and it was this tangible evidence that I was going to do this again. I was overwhelmed with emotions. And stepping in front of the camera for the first time after 20 years away, I felt alive. I felt whatever that was missing all those years - and I didn't know what it was - all of that was gone. All of a sudden, I felt like I was back where I needed to be.
BALDONADO: Do you know what it - like, can you articulate - like, do you know what it was that felt like home, like, what the feeling was that you had been missing?
QUAN: You know, I think it stemmed from the fact that when I had to step away in my - when I was so dispirited, I should say, or disheartened because I - you know, those opportunities dried up, I spent a long time lying to myself that acting isn't fun anymore. You know, in fact, when I actually stepped away and started, you know, going to college and start working behind the scenes, so many people have come up to me and said, how come you don't act anymore? And I would say, well, you know, because I don't enjoy it anymore. My heart is behind the camera. And that was my answer. And I thought that I've said it enough times, I actually believed it. I didn't think I'd love it anymore. But, you know, of course, that wasn't true. Acting was something that I love all my life. And I guess when I - I don't know. I mean, I don't know how to explain it. I guess when I step in front of the camera again, I just felt - I felt like I was at home. I was comfortable. I felt like I was a kid again. All, you know, the - what I was feeling when I was a little kid on the set of "Indiana Jones," on the set of "The Goonies," all those feelings came rushing back. And that's why everything felt so familiar to me.
BALDONADO: Now, you and your fellow cast members have to play so many different versions of these roles. You know, at times, you were kind Waymond trying to keep the business and the family running, sad about his marriage. Then you're also alpha Waymond, this strong fighter who's trying to save the universes. And in another timeline where Evelyn and Waymond don't escape to the U.S. or don't go to the U.S. together, Evelyn becomes a martial arts movie star, and they use actual footage of Michelle Yeoh's real life for that. And Waymond's, you know, a romantic leading man. That universe seems very inspired by Wong Kar-wai films. This is sort of a technical question, but how did you keep all those different Waymond straight? Because sometimes, it was like you were shooting a scene and had to play all the versions of Waymond in the same sequence.
QUAN: Yeah, I was very lucky. When I was preparing for this role, I came across an interview that Margot Robbie did, and she was talking about how, like, for every movie she does, she always hires a body movement coach. And his name was - you know, his name is Jean-Louis Rodrigue and - to help her discover her character. And it's through this technique called the Alexander Technique. And so I read that article, and I was fascinated by it. And I - you know, up until then, I never heard of, you know, there was an actual coach that teaches you how to move.
And so I got lucky and I got in touch with, you know, this body movement coach, Jean-Louis. And we had numerous sessions. And he - and it was fascinating to me because the process starts with him, you know, reading the script and then picking a very specific animal for me to do. For example, tax Waymond - he would pick a squirrel. CEO Waymond - he would pick a fox. And then alpha Waymond - he would pick an eagle. And my homework was to spend a lot of time on YouTube looking at various videos of these three different animals. And I spent a long time just watching videos of squirrels. And I even printed out pictures of different looking squirrels and different looking eagles and foxes. And I would just, you know, tape them on the wall. That was the very first step that I did to get - to help myself get into these characters.
And then for the emotional aspect of it, you know, I grew up in a very traditional Chinese value family where we were taught from a young age to internalize a lot of our emotions. Even, like, during those tough times, I never shared it with my family. I was always in my room by myself and just, you know, feeling miserable because I wasn't working most of the time. And all those feelings that I had, that was locked up. And I knew that if I were to be - to play these characters, I would have to be very honest with myself. And second, I need to let those feelings out. And that's what I did. I spent a long time persuading myself to open that door, and that was the only way I can play him.
BALDONADO: Let's take a break, and we'll talk some more. My guest is actor Ke Huy Quan. As a kid, he starred in the films "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom" and "The Goonies." He stars in the film "Everything Everywhere All At Once." He won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture as well as all the other major awards for best supporting actor. He's also been nominated for an Academy Award for his work. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SON LUX'S "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT?")
BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ann Marie Baldonado, back with Academy Award-nominated actor Ke Huy Quan. He stars as Waymond in the film "Everything Everywhere All At Once." The film is directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, who are known as the Daniels. "Everything Everywhere All At Once" has received the most Oscar nominations this year - 11, including best picture, best director and best supporting actor for Ke.
You have a lot of great fight scenes in this movie. The first one that you do, you unexpectedly fight off guards with a fanny pack. And it's not like a chic fashion fanny pack. It's like a corny, sensible fanny pack that a dad would have. It's an example of something that happens throughout the film, which is, like, using something mundane and then making it elevated, like doing something major with something unexpected, just kind of like your character Waymond, who's more than he seems. Did that appeal to you, like, the way your character got to play against expectations?
QUAN: I loved it. That's why I think the Daniels are geniuses. You know, who would have thought that a fanny pack can be a lethal weapon? I mean, you know, I - you know, I watch Jackie Chan movies a lot. I've seen every single one of his movies. And, you know, he's really good at, like, using, you know, mundane objects such as, like, a chair or, you know, a table and using that as weapons. But never did he ever think about using a fanny pack. So I thought it was really cool when I read the script. But I was also very nervous because that style of fighting - it's called Wushu rope dart, which I know nothing about. I studied taekwondo for many years. I'm very good with, you know, punches and kicks, but that I know nothing about. So I had to train with the martial club boys, Brian and Andy Le. I trained with them for weeks to - and it was a - you know, it was a style that's very hard to master. And I could never do it, even though we were training for weeks.
And I knew that, on the day of the shooting, we do not have the luxury of doing many, many takes until we can get it right. I was told from the very beginning by the Daniels, I - says, Ke, we only have one day. We can only afford to do no more than two or three takes per shot. And they had, like, a shot list of, like, 60, 70 shots that we have to get through that day. So I trained really hard. And there was one particular sequence that I could never do it all in once, which is at the end of the fanny pack where you see me, you know, twirling this fanny pack around my neck, around my shoulder. And then at the very end, you see me kick it, and it fly towards the camera. And that was all done in one shot.
And when the time to do that - the first take, I failed miserably. And I look over to the Daniels, and I see this, you know, very, like, you know, disappointed look, knowing, oh, my gosh. We're in trouble. And then take two, I heard the camera roll. I heard action. And I started swinging the fanny pack around my shoulder, my neck and, finally, the very last piece of that move where I kick the fanny pack. And I see it, almost in slow motion, fly out. And I was just so overwhelmed with joy, and I hear everybody clap and applauded. And it was a great feeling to be able to do that in two takes and to turn out as well as it did. Really, that was - you know, that was to the credit of the entire team.
BALDONADO: So many people are moved by this movie. And I think for immigrants or children of immigrants, it's particularly moving. You know, for Evelyn and Waymond, like, a big fork in the road was their decision to leave home and immigrate to the U.S. And I think for a lot of people who choose to immigrate, like, to leave their homeland, like, that's what it's like. It's that big decision, that big fork in the road. And I think about the choice that my parents made to do that and how their lives would have been different if they didn't or how it would be different for me and how they made those decisions. It's such a hard one. Did you think about that with your family? You know, your family immigrated. Did you ever talk to your parents about those decisions?
QUAN: Oh, I think about that all the time. Absolutely. In fact, you know, I - that's why I think my parents are heroes. To make that difficult decision to leave home and to bring our entire family to a foreign land where, you know, they don't speak the language and they have to - especially my parents, they gave up everything they had to get all of us here. It was such a selfless decision because they're not doing it for themselves. They did it for us so that we can have a better future. And I saw them struggle when they got here. I - you know, they were in - my dad was in his 50s. My mom was in her - you know, in her 40s. And I saw them struggle with - you know, with the language, of course, and not knowing, you know, what - you know - they - I mean, they - you know, they had - my parents were quite successful. You know, my dad was a businessman in Vietnam, and my mom had her own clothing store. So they - you know, they made decent money, and they gave all of that up.
So by the time we got to the United States, they were heavily in debt. And so they would have to just, you know, do any job they can that was being offered to them to put food on our table just so that we can have a better future. I mean, that's crazy. It's so noble what they did. And that's why when I - you know, as fate would have it, when I landed my first job working with Spielberg and Lucas in "Indiana Jones," I felt so proud because, for the first time in my life, rather than taking something from them, I felt that I can give something back and make them proud, you know?
GROSS: We're listening to the interview Ke Huy Quan recorded with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado. He's nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in the film "Everything Everywhere All At Once." He'll talk about fleeing from Vietnam with his family as a kid, living in a refugee camp, then coming to the U.S., being cast in "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom" at age 12 and more after a break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS A LIFE")
MITSKI: (Singing) This is a life free from destiny, not only what we sow.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our interview with actor Ke Huy Quan. He stars as the metaverse-traveling husband in the film "Everything Everywhere All At Once." He started acting as a kid in the 1984 film "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom." When he was in his 20s, he stepped away from acting after not getting any jobs. He worked behind the camera on stunts for films like "X-Men" and as an assistant director for Wong Kar-Wai. But after seeing more Asian American actors getting roles in films and TV, he decided he wasn't done with acting and decided to try again. Within weeks, he was called to audition for "Everything Everywhere All At Once." Now he's won many awards for best supporting actor for his role, and he's nominated for an Oscar. Let's get back to the interview he recorded with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado.
BALDONADO: You were born in Saigon to a big Chinese family. And your family decided to leave Vietnam, and you had to split up. Your mom took three kids, and you and the rest of your siblings traveled with your dad. Do you know why your parents decided to leave and split you up that way, that that was the best way to do it?
QUAN: Well, because that was our second attempt. Our first attempt, we all left together. And we got caught. And we were jailed, and then we were released. And my parents lost everything because it cost a lot to get all of us on a boat. And so then they - you know, they work really hard, and they saved up enough money to make a second attempt. And when that opportunity came, they decided that it would be better - if we were to split up, the chance of one of us making it out is a lot higher. And then whoever would be able to, you know, immigrate to the United States would help the rest of the family to come over. That was the reason behind it.
So my mom took three of my siblings. She went to Malaysia. And then my dad with my five other siblings - you know, we got on a boat with 3,000 other refugees, and we went to Hong Kong. And I remember when we were at the shore of Hong Kong, the local government didn't know what to do with us because they've never seen so many refugees. And, you know, we were on a boat for almost a month before we were allowed to come on land. And, you know, they put all of us in this makeshift refugee camp. And I was there for an entire year, separated with my younger brother, who was my best friend. And that was a really tough time.
BALDONADO: The family was reunited in Los Angeles in 1979. What was that like when you all got together and then you settled in LA?
QUAN: Well, for me, I was so happy because, you know, I reunited with my younger brother. This is after a year of not being able to see him, you know, with my mom. We rented this house that was three bedroom. And so the 11 of total cram into this little house in Chinatown, Los Angeles. I still - you know, sometimes I still drive by it just - you know, just for nostalgia sake. It's a different - they tore it down already, and they built a new house over it. But that was - you know, that was a really nice and memorable period of my time. And, you know, sometimes it doesn't take much to be happy. And that was a time where I was really happy.
BALDONADO: Now, your first acting role was in "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom." In 1983, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were looking for a kid to star as the sidekick of Indiana Jones. And you got that role. Can you tell us that great story about getting that role?
QUAN: Yeah. Well, you know, Spielberg and Lucas - they were looking for a Chinese kid to play Short Round, and they went everywhere. They went to New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, San Francisco, even - went everywhere, could not find it, almost gave up the role, when - thank God to the casting director, Mike Fenton, who suggested that we have - you know, that they would have an open call in Chinatown, Los Angeles.
And, I mean, you know, this was, like, 1983. So there was a very small Asian community living in Chinatown at that time. And they went to my elementary school, and they passed out these fliers, you know, asking the teachers that, you know, if you have any students that fit this description, can you please send them in? We would love to interview them. And my brother's teacher thought he was - you know, he was perfect for the role. So he went to audition, and I tagged along.
And as he was auditioning, I was behind the camera, coaching him what to do. I had no idea why I was doing that because I didn't even know what was going on. But I was just telling him to do this, to do that. And the casting director saw me and asked if I wanted to give it a try, and I did. And the very next day we got a call from Steven Spielberg's office. And my mom, you know, thought it was a really fancy meeting 'cause, you know, she heard Hollywood, big director, big movie star. And she - you know, she had me wear this, you know, really uncomfortable three-piece suit that that she bought in Chinatown, again, that I would wear in Chinese New Year. And, yeah - and I looked really uncomfortable.
Steven took one look at me, gave me a hug and asked me to come back the next day and wearing something really comfortable. And I did. Walked in the room, and there was Harrison Ford, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. We spent, you know, an afternoon together, and three weeks later, I was on a flight to Sri Lanka and walked on set for the very first time. And that changed my life.
It was also that movie that made me fell in love with this industry, with acting. And it changed my family's life 'cause then now I was able - you know, Spielberg and Lucas, honestly, they were so generous. I was able to make a lot of money at that time to help my parents pay off their debt and then, also, to be able to buy a house for my family to live comfortably in.
BALDONADO: Now, you said you hadn't really seen many American films before you got cast in this movie. You didn't know who Steven Spielberg or Harrison Ford were. It's funny that it wasn't, you know, seeing films that necessarily made you want to be an actor. It was actually doing it and, you know, the acting and being on set. And the movies that you made early in your career are these, like, adventure, carnival-ride-type movies, you know? I'm not sure what it felt like filming, but, like, in these movies, there are waterslides and roller coasters. It's just, like, this - you know, this, like, adventure. I don't know if that's...
BALDONADO: ...What it felt like filming them.
QUAN: Oh, absolutely. It felt like you're going to a theme park every day, you know, with, like, "Indiana Jones'" roller coaster, "Goonies'" waterslides. Like, these are pirate ships. You know, we didn't have the luxury to be able to go to Disneyland when I was a kid, so that was Disneyland to me. And it was just - it was so much fun.
BALDONADO: Your second film was the adventure kid movie "The Goonies," an important movie for some of us of a certain age who grew up in the 1980s. It's from 1985, and it's about a group of kids that are friends who have to move because a rich man in their town is buying all of the family homes to build a golf course. The kids find a treasure map and go on an adventure to find pirate gold to try to save their families. They go through all these trials, and they actually find the treasure while also being hunted down by these evil crooks because, you know, of course, it's an adventure. So they have to be being hunted down. I want to play a quick scene. The kids have found the treasure and are filling their bags with gold and jewels when the bad guys find them. We'll hear the main kid first, played by Sean Astin.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GOONIES")
SEAN ASTIN: (As Mikey Walsh) I got an idea.
QUAN: (As Data) What is it?
ASTIN: (As Mikey Walsh) I saw this on "The Hardy Boys" once. We can leave a trail of jewels in the one cave.
QUAN: (As Data) Uh-huh (ph).
ASTIN: (As Mikey Walsh) And then we can hide out in another. And when the Fratellis go into that cave, then we can make a run for it.
ANNE RAMSAY: (As Mama Fratelli) Now, that sounds like a great idea.
ASTIN: (As Mikey Walsh) Yo.
RAMSAY: (As Mama Fratelli) Outside.
QUAN: (As Data) OK. This is war.
RAMSAY: (As Mama Fratelli) I said outside. Come on.
QUAN: (As Data) We will not be taken alive, Mikey.
COREY FELDMAN: (As Mouth) We - what do you mean, we?
BALDONADO: That's a scene from the 1985 film...
QUAN: Oh, that is so good.
QUAN: That is so good. I haven't seen the movie for a while. The music - again, it brings back so many good memories. I can see the scene as I'm hearing it. It's great. Wow. That's - you know, working with Sean Astin and Josh Brolin, it was - you know, it was the first movie for a lot of them - so fun.
BALDONADO: You play the character Data, who was an inventor who made these contraptions that fought off bullies. I'm wondering if you ever had wanted to use those contraptions when you were a kid. Like, did you ever have to fight off bullies?
QUAN: Yeah, well, that's what's so great about that character - is all these gadgets. I remember the very first time I heard the pitch from Steven Spielberg. I was doing press for "Indy," and he says, Ke, I got your next movie. You play this character named Data, and and he has all these gadgets, but none of them work unless if your life depends on it. And sure enough, you know, a few months later, I was on a set with all these - you know, with all these kids and - you know, and all these wonderful gadgets. They're so great. No, I didn't have to think about using any of these gadgets in school. I wasn't bullied. I think it was because of - you know, when I was very young, you know, people recognized me. You know, I already did "Indiana Jones." So all - you know, all my classmates know who I am. You know, they were very nice to me.
BALDONADO: Let's take a break here, and we'll talk some more. My guest is Ke Huy Quan. His films include "Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom," "The Goonies" and "Everything Everywhere All At Once." For that film, he's already won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, and he's also received the Oscar nomination. More after a break - this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF NAOMI MOON SIEGEL'S "IT'S NOT SAFE")
BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ann Marie Baldonado, back with Academy Award nominee Ke Huy Quan. He stars as Waymond in the film "Everything Everywhere All At Once." The film has received the most Oscar nominations this year - 11, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Ke.
I read that after you made "Everything Everywhere All At Once," you couldn't find work again for a year. And, you know, we should remember that you finished filming that movie - was it at the beginning of 2020 or the end of 2019?
QUAN: Yeah, beginning of 2020.
BALDONADO: Yeah. So, you know, then the pandemic started. Things were shutting down. But you've said that you felt like you had that feeling that you had back when you weren't getting roles in your 20s and that you lost - you were maybe going to lose your health care, or you lost your health care, and that you had that familiar feeling again. That must have been so hard. You had just made this great - you know, had this great experience back on set, and then you were waiting for the movie to come out.
QUAN: You know, we shot the movie in 2020 37 days out of 38, so we were shut down with one more day to go. And then we didn't regroup until eight months later, and we finished the movie. And I was like everybody else - staying at home, trying to be safe. And things were very different this time around for me as an actor. There were a lot more opportunities. So my agents were sending me audition opportunities where I was recording myself at home and sending in self-tapes, and I was doing that a lot but also not landing any job. I could not get one job. I kid you not, and - not even a callback, in fact. And I was scared all of a sudden because I thought "Everything Everywhere" was a one-time thing. And it - you know, it brought me back to those times when I was in my late teens and early 20s where I was auditioning and not landing anything. I lost my health insurance. And I even joked with the Daniels, and I said, Daniels, you know, one - no one wants to hire me except Spielberg, Lucas, Wong Kar-Wai and the Daniels.
QUAN: They had a good laugh. And I - you know, I had a conversation with our producer. And I said, you've seen the movie. Am I any good? And he says, Ke, trust me. You're really good in this movie. You just wait. And sure enough, our movie came out in March of 2022. And my world changed. The first phone call I got was from a wonderful producer I met on the "X-Men." He was an associate producer at that time. And he is Kevin Feige. And he called me...
BALDONADO: Who is master of the Marvel Universe, we should say.
QUAN: Yes. You know, he's the - he runs Marvel. And he called me. And he said, you know, I saw your movie. You're great in it. And I want you to come join the MCU family. And I was just so happy. And then when I got that phone call from Kevin, I got so emotional. And then after that, I called the Daniels right away. I says, Daniels. I said, listen. You know, nobody wants to hire me except Spielberg, Lucas, Wong Kar-Wai, Daniels and now Kevin Feige. And they were really happy for me.
BALDONADO: Last month, you won the Golden Globe for best supporting actor for your role in "Everything Everywhere All At Once." And you gave this great speech. I wanted to play a little bit of it back right now.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
QUAN: Wow. Thank you so much. I was raised to never forget where I came from and to always remember who gave me my first opportunity. I am so happy to see Steven Spielberg here tonight. Steven, thank you.
QUAN: When I started my career as a child actor in "Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom," I felt...
QUAN: I felt so very lucky to have been chosen. As I grew older, I started to wonder if that was it, if that was just luck. For so many years, I was afraid I had nothing more to offer, that no matter what I did, I would never surpass what I achieved as a kid. Thankfully, more than 30 years later, two guys thought of me. They remembered that kid. And they gave me an opportunity to try again.
BALDONADO: That's an excerpt of Ke's Golden Globes speech. It's great that Steven Spielberg happens to have a film out this year, too, so he can be in the audience with you at all of these events.
QUAN: Oh, my gosh. That was such a memorable night for me. You know, during this awards season, I wanted - you know, the one person that I really wanted to see was him, was Steven. And we kept missing each other. He would go to an event where I didn't go. And then I would go to other events where he didn't go. And it just so happened to be at the Golden Globes where we reunite in person. I haven't seen him, like, maybe in 12 or 13 years. We saw each other during the pandemic over Zoom. We had, like, a "Goonies" reunion on Zoom but not in person.
And when I found out that he was going to be there, he was nominated, of course, you know, having him won and I won, it was so special. And to be able to look him in his eyes and to thank him for everything that he has done for me, you know, not only that first opportunity but also, you know, he changed my life, that was really special. And, you know, after I won, I went back out. And I gave him a big hug. And I said, Steven, I hope I make you proud tonight. And he says, Ke, you made me proud when you were just 12 years old. And it was just so good to give him that hug. And, yeah, he means so much to me. I love him so much.
BALDONADO: Well, it's nice that you're both getting acclaim this year for the movies - the particular movies that you made because I think they're both very moving, personal movies.
QUAN: It's really special because, like, during this entire journey, for me, I've been very honest and, you know, to the point where, sometimes, it scares me. So I've been very personal - sharing my struggles, sharing my story - and at the same year where he basically shared his childhood with the world. And how cool is that, that both of our movies are being recognized. Wow. I will always remember this year, such a special year for me.
BALDONADO: Ke Huy Quan, thanks again for joining us. And congratulations on all of your success.
QUAN: Thank you so much. I had a wonderful time chatting with you.
GROSS: Ke Huy Quan spoke with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado. He's nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for his work in the film "Everything Everywhere All At Once." Next, he stars in two TV shows, "Loki" and "American Born Chinese." They both premiere later this year. Coming up, Justin Chang reviews the Irish film "The Quiet Girl," which is nominated for an Oscar for best international feature. This is FRESH AIR.
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Paul Mescal, one of five Irish actors nominated for an Oscar this year, recently made headlines by giving a red carpet interview in Irish, which is considered one of Europe's most endangered languages. As it happens, the much-acclaimed drama "The Quiet Girl" recently made Oscar history by becoming the first Irish-language production ever to be nominated for best international feature. It's now playing in U.S. theaters, and our film critic Justin Chang has this review.
JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: The late film critic Roger Ebert once wrote, what moves me emotionally is more often goodness than sadness. It's a sentiment I've always shared, and I thought about it again while watching the beautifully crafted Irish drama "The Quiet Girl." There is plenty of sadness in this tender story about a withdrawn 9-year-old who spends a fateful summer with two distant relatives. But the movie, adapted from a Claire Keegan story called "Foster," doesn't rub your nose in the character's unhappiness. What brought me to tears more than once was the movie's unfashionable optimism, its insistence that goodness exists and that simple acts of decency really can be life-changing.
The story is set in 1981. Although given the remoteness of its rural, Irish setting, it could easily be taking place decades earlier. The dialogue is subtitled because the characters speak mostly Irish, a language we rarely hear in movies. The quiet girl of the title is named Cait, and she's played with aching sensitivity by a gifted, first-time actor named Catherine Clinch. Cait is the shyest and most neglected kid in her poor farming family. Her short-tempered mother has her hands full taking care of Cait's siblings, and her father is a gambler, a philanderer and an all-around lout. At home and at school, Cait does her best to stay under the radar. It's no wonder that the first time we see her, the camera has to pan down to find her hiding beneath tall blades of grass.
With too many mouths to feed and another baby on the way, it's decided that Cait will spend the summer with relatives. Her mother's older cousin, Eibhlin, and her husband, Sean, live a three-hour drive away. They're played wonderfully by Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett. From the moment Eibhlin welcomes Cait into their house, she lavishes the girl with kindness and attention. She engages her in conversation, involves her in household chores and responds in the most loving way when Cait wets the bed on her first night. Sean is gruffer with Cait at first, but he warms to her soon enough. There's a lovely little moment when, after angrily scolding her for wandering off by herself, Sean silently leaves a cookie on the table for her - an apology extended entirely without words. In their way, Eibhlin and Sean are as reserved as Cait is, especially compared with some of their cruel, gossipy neighbors.
One of the most refreshing things about "The Quiet Girl" is that it doesn't treat silence as some problem that needs to be solved. When someone criticizes Cait early on for being so quiet, Sean gently defends her, saying, she says as much as she has to say. And yet we see how Cait gradually flourishes under her guardians' loving attention. Clinch's luminous performance shows us what it's like for a child to experience real, carefree happiness for the first time, whether it's Eibhlin offering Cait a drink of crystalline water from the well near their house or Sean pressing a little pocket money into the girl's hands. Sean and Eibhlin are clearly delighted by this temporary addition to their household, in part because it chases away some of the sorrow they've experienced in their own lives. The source of that sorrow isn't made clear right away, though you'll likely figure it out if you're paying close attention.
When the truth does come out, it's treated with a gentle matter-of-factness that, much like the unfussy, natural beauty of Kate McCullough's cinematography, deepens our sense of immersion in these characters' lives. "The Quiet Girl" was written and directed by Colm Bairead, an Irish filmmaker whose background is in documentaries. That may account, in part, for how exquisitely observed his first narrative feature is. Bairead trusts the power of understatement. And that's a rare thing, given how prone so many films are to noise and over-explanation. Not many movies would focus on a character as unassuming as Cait. But there's nothing small or insignificant about her story. Sometimes it's the quietest movies that turn out to have the most to say.
GROSS: Justin Chang is film critic for the LA Times. He reviewed "The Quiet Girl," an Oscar-nominated film from Ireland. Because of inflation and other economic problems resulting from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, you've probably been hearing a lot about the Federal Reserve. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about what the Federal Reserve is, what it does and why inflation is a problem these days. Our guest will be Jeanna Smialek, who writes about the economy and covers the Fed for The New York Times. In a new book, she says, yes, the Fed is powerful, probably even more powerful than you think. I hope you'll join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. My thanks to the awesome Dave Davies for hosting last week while I took the week off. I'm Terry Gross.
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