Ke Huy Quan: From Short Round to Romantic Lead After Four Long Decades

We came to Los Angeles in 1979, and as fate would have it, in 1983, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were looking for a Chinese kid to star in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” They went to Hong Kong, Singapore, London, San Francisco, New York, and were about to give up when the casting director said they should give Chinatown a try.

So Spielberg and Lucas held an open casting call at our elementary school. My brother’s teacher thought he should audition, so I kind of tagged along, and as he was auditioning, I was coaching him about what to say and do. The casting director saw me and said, “Do you want to give it a try?” I thought I did horribly.

Did you even know who Harrison Ford was?

No. I didn’t see “Star Wars” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” until after we finished the movie. But he was an amazing guy. So down-to-earth, so humble, and really generous as an actor. And he taught me how to swim. We were just hanging out at the swimming pool in Sri Lanka in our hotel, and he says, “Ke, do you know how to swim?” I didn’t, so he says, “Come on, I’ll teach you.”

A year later you’re in “The Goonies,” which was another big hit.

Yeah, that was another amazing adventure. But I didn’t grow up wanting to be an actor. As I got older, though, when I realized I wanted to do this, there were just not a lot of offers. When there was one, the role was very stereotypical, and you had every Asian in Hollywood fighting for it.