Ke Huy Quan, who played Harrison Ford’s 11-year-old sidekick Short Round in 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” is all grown up now and ready to be an Oscar contender.
Quan, 51, has received rousing reviews for his turn as Waymond Wang, the delightfully goofy husband in the Daniels’ whimsical multiverse comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Along the lines of past hardworking actors who received their big Oscar breaks later in their careers — such as Paul Raci for “Sound of Metal” (2020) and Troy Kotsur for “CODA” (2021) — Quan’s comeback story is one of the season’s bright spots.
Also known for playing Data in “The Goonies” (1985), Quan quit acting in the late 1990s. Now, the Vietnamese-born actor’s career resurgence, like that of his A24 counterpart Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”), has generated a groundswell of support.
With no front-runner for supporting actor emerging yet, Quan’s name has been widely discussed; he even secured a Gotham nom in October. As the actor books more roles — he’ll appear in “The Electric State” and in Marvel’s “Loki” — Quan’s rising visibility in the biz will have an advantageous effect on his Oscar campaign.
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Best supporting actor has become the place to reward veteran performers. Longtime actors such as Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine,” 2006) and Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies,” 2015) found a pathway to recognition even when all signs were pointing to their front-running fellow nominees. Quan will be sharing the veteran narrative with Brendan Gleeson (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”), both of whom have decades of built-up love in Hollywood. That could present a hurdle for him on the trail.
In addition to Quan’s inspiring comeback, his nomination would represent a historic feat: He would be only the 10th Asian actor to be recognized for supporting actor. Just one of those nominees has won — Haing S. Ngor for “The Killing Fields” (1984).
Michelle Yeoh, who plays Wang’s kick-ass wife, Evelyn, is also on the fast track to nabbing her first nom. A lead actress nod would make her only the second Asian woman nominated in the category, following Merle Oberon for “The Dark Angel” (1935). (Oberon’s part-Asian ethnicity wasn’t known until after her death in 1979.)
Although the Daniels’ dramedy is beloved by critics, its peculiar premise and quirky scenes involving dildos and hot dog fingers might give conservative Academy members pause. The campaign must ensure that Yeoh and Quan are presented as a package deal: It’s impossible to empathize with Evelyn’s journey without Waymond’s critical beats, particularly in the Wong Kar Wai homage universe that features the film’s best line — “In another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.”
Voters will surely find that life irresistible too.
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