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Ke Huy Quan is an Oscar nominee. After leaving Hollywood for decades and watching the Academy Awards every year from afar, he never expected to hear those words in the same breath. This year, his dream became reality as he received a best supporting actor nomination for his role as Waymond Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
After learning of his nomination Tuesday morning while on a Zoom with co-star Michelle Yeoh, directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and others, Quan spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the significance of the film’s 11 nominations, why its message about kindness resonated with audiences, and how it feels to receive this recognition after his acting dreams had “dissipated” for so long.
What was your first thought when you found out you were nominated?
Oh my gosh. When I heard my name announced, I jumped and I screamed so loud. It was very similar to the day when I got that call from my agent and they told me that I get to play the role of Waymond. I just cannot believe it. For so many years, I’ve always loved watching the Oscars. Every year, I would imagine what it’s like to walk down the red carpet, to be in that room, to get nominated. It’s a dream that only existed in my imagination for the longest time. When I had to step away, that dream dissipated. It was so far away that I didn’t think one day it would make its way back. And it did. And it happened today. I never thought that my name would have the prefix “Oscar-nominated actor.” What an incredible day this is.
Where were you this morning when you were watching the nominations?
I set an alarm clock, I woke up, and I got on a Zoom with my EEAAO family, Michelle, the Daniels, and Jonathan were there. All of us were actually watching these nominations come in. Every one we get, we would all cheer, and jump up, and scream. Oh my gosh, it’s so surreal. None of this feels real right now. I cannot believe we’re leading with 11 nominations. I’m so happy for our entire family, all the hard work we put in, to get recognized by The Academy. I’m so grateful to them.
How are you feeling about your movie having more nominations than any of the others?
It’s so surreal. It makes me think back to the very first day when we started shooting. It was just a bunch of people who believed in the script, who believed in the Daniels. We got together and we had the best of time for 38 days in Simi Valley. We had no clue whether the audience would respond to it because it’s so crazy. It’s so wild. It’s so out of the box. Yet, week after week, the audience came out, supported it, talked about it. The buzz got bigger and bigger. And we cannot believe a year after our movie has came out that that we are now leading with 11 Oscar nominations. What an incredible journey this is.
Why do you think this movie has resonated so much with people?
I think it’s a number of reasons. It’s a great movie. It’s a great script. The Daniels, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis. At the same time, it’s what this movie is about. It’s about love and kindness and empathy. It came out at the perfect time when people were stuck in their home for two years and there’s so much hatred going on in the world. The movie resonated with people because that’s what they want. They want a change. They want something different, and our movie provided that for them. And I’m just so glad that it resonated with them. They love it. I could not be happier.
This is the most nominations for Asian actors in any year ever. What does that feel like at this particular moment in time?
This is a big moment not just for us and our movie, but for the entire AAPI community. For the longest time, you don’t see a lot of Asian actors get nominated. In fact, in the best supporting category, the last Asian actor who was nominated, and won, was [Haing S. Ngor] for his role in The Killing Fields in 1984. It feels so great for us to have the 11 nominations, and get all these acting nominations. I hope that this is the beginning of more to come. I hope that our entire community sees this and sees this is possible moving forward. That’s why representation is so important.
What’s your favorite part of your performance? Do you have a favorite scene?
I love the entire movie. But one that really stands out for me — because I remember leading up to it I had the biggest pressure to deliver that scene and give that scene justice — is when Waymond delivers that powerful speech about kindness. I remember shooting it. I was crying uncontrollably, just because of how powerful those words are. “Please be kind” — those three words are so simple yet so powerful.
That’s one of the reasons why our movie resonated with people. It’s the message. It’s about being kind, having empathy for one another and showing each other love. We all have the ability to do this. If we just let ourselves be a little kinder to one another, to show each other a little more love, this world would be in a much, much better place. We would not have any of these horrible things that happen every day. There would be less hatred, people would be happier. So that scene I love a lot.
Is there anything else that you really want people to know right now?
I just want them to know how happy I am. I didn’t think this dream would ever come through. It existed in my in my head, in my imagination, for the longest, longest time and when I had to step away it dissipated. It was so far, far away, and for it to make its way back is incredible. Right now all I want is just to give my wife a big hug. I want to call my family. I want to see their smiles because they’ve supported me all these years. They knew how tough it was for me when I couldn’t get a job as an actor. They were worried about me for the longest time. So for them to see me now, they are just so thrilled, so excited, so happy. I get messages from them every single day and seeing them happy means the world to me. This is what it’s about.
I also hope my entire story inspires people. Ever since our movie came out, so many people have come up to me and said, “Ke we love seeing you back on the screen. You inspired us. You made us think that if this is possible, it can also be possible for us.” And that is just so beautiful. So I really hope my story inspires people to not give up and to continue to pursue their dreams and just be patient. One day it will happen for them, just as it did for me.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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