[This story contains spoilers for Loki season two.]
In 2022, Ke Huy Quan’s comeback story was the talk of the town. As a child actor, he endeared himself to audiences with back-to-back roles in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and The Goonies (1985), but by the early 2000s, he left acting behind for two decades, only to return to prominence in storybook fashion thanks to his Oscar-winning role as Waymond Wang in the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once. During the lead-up to his Oscar win, Quan’s journey was received with much fanfare, and he shared his account as often as he could throughout awards season.
However, in 2023, Quan experienced the other end of the spectrum, as his next high-profile job as Ouroboros (aka O.B.) on Loki season two coincided with the SAG-AFTRA strike that lasted nearly four months. So Quan has been anxiously awaiting the chance to discuss his dream of joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having met now-Marvel boss Kevin Feige 23 years earlier when they both worked on X-Men (2000).
“I didn’t know that he was going to have this incredible success, but I knew right there that he was just so smart,” Quan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He was so passionate about the Marvel Universe, and he was like a walking encyclopedia. You can ask him anything you want. He’s a nerd, y’know?”
At a time when Everything Everywhere had only been released in two markets, Feige — after a recommendation from casting director Sarah Finn — called Quan to offer him the TVA engineer role that would eventually become a fan-favorite character. Quan, understandably, became quite emotional when he got the call he’d been dreaming of since he decided to return to acting.
“I was driving at that time and I said, ‘Kevin, can you please give me a few seconds?’ My eyes started welling up, and I couldn’t see the road while I was driving, so I had to pull over and park my car. And then I said, ‘Kevin, please continue,’” Quan recalls.
Quan connected with his Loki character in a number of ways, even viewing him as a grown-up extension of his Goonies character, Data, but he also relates to Tom Hiddleston’s title character, as both have wanted to be a part of a community that they haven’t always had.
“Even though I’m American, I don’t look American, and all my life, I’ve felt like an outsider, like Loki,” Quan says. “And it was not until recently, of course, where I finally felt like I belonged to this wonderful big family, which is Hollywood. Hollywood has welcomed me back with wide open arms in the biggest way possible by giving me an Oscar.”
As Quan’s story became more and more celebrated last year, he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d get the chance to come film a quick, last-minute cameo as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Harrison Ford’s last go-round as the storied archeologist and adventurer.
“Yeah, I hoped that I’d maybe get that call,” Quan says. “But I saw it, and it’s a great movie. I love the Indiana Jones franchise a lot, and who knows, if there’s ever an opportunity to revisit that character, it’d be wonderful. I’d love that a lot.”
Below, during a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Quan also discusses his most difficult scene in Loki’s season two premiere, as he had to flip a TVA handbook behind his head so that Hiddleston could catch it during a walk-and-talk scene.
Well, as of March of last year, you basically did press for a year straight about Everything Everywhere All at Once, discussing your comeback role and incredible life story. It then culminated in Oscar glory. But, four months ago, in the lead-up to another standout role, you suddenly couldn’t talk about it or share your enthusiasm for it until now. So was it jarring to go from one extreme to the other?
It’s funny; I thought about this. When I got the movie of a lifetime, Everything everywhere All at Once, it changed my life. I did that, and with one day more to go, the entire world shuts down. And then I won an Oscar. My dream came true, and then the entirety of Hollywood shuts down. (Laughs.) I thought, “Oh my God, what’s going on here?” And knowing that we had this wonderful show coming out and not being able to talk about it, I just wanted to celebrate it. I wanted to celebrate the show because I love it so much. I’m so proud of it. So many people behind the camera worked so hard, and they’re so passionate about this character and the show. So we wanted to celebrate it the way it should be celebrated, and I’m so happy that we get to do this now. So the strike is over. It’s great.
Were there any silver linings to the strike? Did you get a chance to finish any personal projects you’d been putting off because you’ve been so busy the last couple years?
Well, the last year has been such a whirlwind with Everything Everywhere and the entire awards season, so I finally had the time to reflect on what happened and process everything that went on. During all of that, a lot of things became a blur, and I’m so happy that I took a lot of pictures. So I was able to look through them and really enjoy the moment, and then my wife and I got to spend some time together.
But, of course, during the strike, it lasted for such a long time, and I was just worried because everybody was out of a job. I remember what that was like during the pandemic. I was unemployed for two years, and because of that, I lost my health insurance. So I was worried. I kept hoping that it would end soon and that we would get a very fair deal so that everybody could go back to work. And I think we did all that. So I’m very thankful to our negotiating committee at SAG-AFTRA.
There’s a viral video of you assisting with stunts and fight choreography on the set of X-Men (2000). Did that version of yourself ever think he’d one day become a Marvel character in front of the camera?
No, in his wildest imagination, he would’ve never thought that this would come true. Not long after I decided to step away from acting, I went to college, and X-Men was my first job out of film school. And I was very grateful for that because I didn’t know if I would have a career behind the camera. X-Men was the first time that I ever stepped behind the camera, and this wonderful Hong Kong filmmaker named Corey Yuen took me under his wing and taught me everything that I needed to know about action sequences. So I was just really happy to have a job and to help contribute to moviemaking, which I love. And that was also when I met Kevin Feige. I didn’t know that he was going to have this incredible success, but I knew right there that he was just so smart. He was so passionate about the Marvel Universe, and he was like a walking encyclopedia. You can ask him anything you want. He’s a nerd, y’know? And I didn’t think that I would ever get to work with him again, let alone get to play this incredible character named Ouroboros. So it’s pretty incredible.
Kevin called you about Loki shortly after Everything Everywhere came out?
Yeah, my agent told me that Kevin Feige is going to give you a call. You have to understand, when I decided to get back into acting, joining the MCU family was at the top of my wishlist. So, to get a call from my agent, saying, “Kevin Feige is going to call you …” And I didn’t know what it was going to be about, but I was hoping, “Oh my God, is this going to be about an opportunity to do something for Marvel?” So I was just super excited, and when I got that phone call, he said how much he loved Everything Everywhere All at Once and my performance. And when he said, “We would love for you to come join the MCU family,” I was driving at that time and I said, “Kevin, can you please give me a few seconds?” My eyes started welling up, and I couldn’t see the road while I was driving, so I had to pull over and park my car. And then I said, “Kevin, please continue.” And he said, “I have this wonderful character for you named Ouroboros.” So he talked about him and how Loki was the first Marvel series to get a season two and how great he thinks it will be. I also want to give a shout-out to Sarah Finn, our casting director. It was her that suggested me to Kevin Feige. She said that I’d be perfect for Ouroboros. And this was when Everything Everywhere had just come out and was only playing in two markets, Los Angeles and New York. So not a lot of people had seen our movie, and to get that call was incredible.
And once you got some information about the character as well as a script, how did you find your way into OB?
When I read it, I instantly fell in love with him. He was so well written and defined on the page. I loved the dialogue. He was just this funny, quirky, smart character, and I was so focused on trying to be him. And then, one day, I realized, “Oh my gosh, I know this character. He feels familiar to me.” I realized that this could be the variant of Data from The Goonies. All these years, people have asked, “What do you think Data would be doing as an adult?” And I never had an answer for what he was doing. So when O.B. came along, I went, “Wow, this could be him.”
And what’s really incredible is that the Ouroboros set was built on the second biggest stage at Pinewood Studios, and on my first day, I looked up and saw that the name of the stage is called Roger Moore. And as you know, Data loves James Bond. So that felt like some weird cosmic connection that I have with O.B. and Data, and I just loved playing him. I’m so happy that people responded to this character.
You had quite the challenge in delivering all this complex TVA and temporal terminology, but you were clearly up for the challenge. Did you try your best to understand it all since O.B. wrote the book on all things TVA?
Yeah, I did. I had a long conversation with our showrunner, Kevin Wright, and I sat down and had a meeting with our head writer, Eric Martin, because they created this character. It’s not based on comic books, and I got to understand a lot more about this character through my conversation with them. And, like you said, that dialogue was very difficult to say. Throughput Multiplier, I couldn’t even say it the first time I read it. Temporal Loom. I tried to wrap my head around it, and of course, they were wonderful and gave me all these explanations. They showed me pictures and models of what the Temporal Loom looks like and what the Throughput Multiplier looks like. Tom Hiddleston helped a lot, too. That exposition was very difficult, and we asked, “How can we explain it so the audience can understand it?” So I can’t take all the credit. The credit really belongs to our wonderful team.
In the season two premiere, during a walk-and-talk scene in the corridor of the TVA, O.B. flips the TVA handbook to Loki who’s behind him. Maybe that was CG, but how many takes did you and Tom need to pull that off?
First of all, it wasn’t CG. That shot was one long Steadicam shot, and it was the most difficult shot that I had to do for the entire series. That dialogue was very difficult to say, and I had to do all of this stuff. I had to take the key out, insert it into the lock, open the door, grab my book and throw it. And what made it even worse was at the end of the take, the light on the ceiling was supposed to pop, and every time it popped, it would take another 45 minutes to reset it. I think they only had a few of them ready to go. So Owen Wilson was carrying the Throughput Multiplier, which was really heavy, and I was sweating. I was really nervous. We did the first few takes, and I either messed up the line or I would throw the book somewhere far off where Tom couldn’t catch it. Tom had to teach me. He would say, “Ke, throw it this way and then I’ll be able to catch it.” And sure enough, he did. So we did a total of ten takes. Tom caught the book eight out of ten times, and the other times were just me messing up. But I knew that if I got all the way to the end and that light pops, we had to take an hour to reset it. So if I felt like I wasn’t giving a good enough performance, I would stop and go, “I’m sorry, let’s do this again.” So I’m so glad it turned out well because that was a lot of pressure.
So how closely did you follow the fan theories about the show, such as O.B. potentially being the main villain or the original builder of the TVA?
Well, I knew going into the MCU that the fans are very hardcore. They’re very passionate about everything, and they analyze and pick apart everything. And during the strike, I didn’t have much to do, so I would sometimes go online and read some of these fan theories. And wow, they are so creative. They’re so good. Sometimes, I would read one and go, “Wow, that’s really interesting. I didn’t think of that.” But knowing how the series ends, I was just very anxious to see what they would think of the season finale, and I’m just very grateful to the fans.
Did you recognize how O.B.’s criticism of his own model was an homage to Back to the Future?
I didn’t until the fans pointed it out. I’m a big fan of Back To the Future. I love that trilogy a lot. So to have even a small connection with Doc Brown is amazing.
You mentioned earlier that O.B. could be Data’s variant, but what was the most fulfilling aspect of portraying O.B.’s struggling sci-fi author variant, A.D. Doug, in 205?
Well, when we started the show, I didn’t get to read episode five, so I didn’t know that we were going to see him in a branched timeline. And then, when we got there, it was fascinating to me that he is this genius who has such vast knowledge of how science works, yet all he wants to do is to be a science fiction writer. He writes his own books and self-publishes his own books, and as you saw, he puts his own books in bookstores and tries to buy them to show that people want to buy his book. So that alone was so fascinating, and it made me love this character even more. And, of course, in the TVA, he got to do both. He got to be a writer and an engineer.
When you think about it, he’s worked in the basement of the TVA for more than 400 years by himself and with no sleep. And yet, when we meet him for the very first time, he loves what he does, and he really treasures being a part of the team. And that’s why I loved playing him. Knowing how difficult it has been for me to get here, I don’t ever want to forget that sense of gratitude, and I think he has that, too.
What do you make of Loki’s ultimate sacrifice so that his friends, including O.B., can continue to exist?
I love it. The ending to this character is incredible. It’s one of the most beautiful character arcs that I’ve seen in cinema history. To me, even though he’s a God, Loki is the ultimate hero, and he possesses all these human traits that make him real and relatable. He just wants to fit in. He just wants to be part of the gang. If you look at the original Avengers, he’s not a member of that group, but he’s constantly looking for a sense of belonging. And I can relate to that, because my entire life, I felt like an outsider because of my unique background. I was born in Vietnam to Chinese parents, and I identified myself as Chinese until I immigrated to the United States. So, even though I’m American, I don’t look American, and all my life, I’ve felt like an outsider, like Loki. And it was not until recently, of course, where I finally felt like I belonged to this wonderful big family, which is Hollywood. Hollywood has welcomed me back with wide open arms in the biggest way possible by giving me an Oscar. It’s incredible. So I think Loki is a hero, and making a sacrifice without recognition is truly, truly remarkable. If we’re lucky, we would have people like that in our lives. They’re the unsung heroes. So the ending is so beautiful and sad and poetic, and I love that very last shot of him in episode six. He’s sitting on his throne that he can never leave, and the sacrifice is just incredible. I love that character so much.
Harrison Ford’s final Indiana Jones movie came out in June, and as I watched it, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who kept hoping that you’d maybe done one day of additional photography. Did you ever get your hopes up for one day of additional photography, especially as you were the talk of the town?
Yeah, I love Short Round. That character has given me so much for decades, and so many fans have come up to me and told me how much they love [Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom] and how they want to be Short Round or wanted to be him when they were kids. And yeah, when they announced Indiana Jones 5, I hoped that I’d maybe get that call. But I saw it, and it’s a great movie. I love the Indiana Jones franchise a lot, and who knows, if there’s ever an opportunity to revisit that character, it’d be wonderful. I’d love that a lot.
Lastly, out of all the great days you’ve had the last couple years, is there a profound moment that you still think about from your amazing run?
Yeah, when Harrison Ford announced that best picture goes to Everything Everywhere, the entire EEAAO family was on that stage. (Quan’s voice trembles.) I gave Harrison a big hug, and then I looked into the audience and saw Steven Spielberg. As you know, our movie competed with his movie [The Fabelmans], and even though we won, he had the biggest smile on his face. He was so, so happy for me and for us and for our movie, and I just love that man so much. He’s given me so much. And to see him so happy and so thrilled for us that night, it was an incredible moment. After I won best supporting Actor, I ran up to him during one of the commercial breaks and gave him a big hug. And Steven put his arms around me and said, “Ke, you are now an Academy Award-winning actor.” That exchange was beautiful.
Loki is now streaming on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.