Brief History is a column that tells you all you need to know about your favorite — and not-so-favorite — pop culture topics. This entry looks at the relationship between Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Fraser and each’s return to the big screen in 2022.
It’s easy to get jaded during Oscars season. Between the seas of self-congratulatory speeches and watching the rich get richer, there is plenty to dislike. But one of the rare highlights of this year’s awards season has been getting to watch Brendan Fraser, nominated for his performance in The Whale, and Ke Huy Quan, nominated for his work in Everything Everywhere All at Once, interact in between accepting awards in their respective categories (Fraser for best actor, Quan for Best Supporting Actor). The actors have a shared history that extends far beyond this awards season. Here is a brief history of their relationship.
Collaborating in the 90s
Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan’s relationship can be traced back to their early 20s when they appeared in the 1992 comedy Encino Man. Fraser plays a caveman frozen in ice and discovered by two teenagers (Pauly Shore and Sean Astin). Enrico Man marked a breakout performance for Fraser, who received a nod from the Chicago Film Critics Association for “most promising actor.”
By that time, Quan had already distinguished himself as a child actor. He played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Richard “Data” Wang in The Goonies (1985). In Encino Man, he plays Kim, a fellow student at the high school. You can watch a clip of him interacting with Fraser here.
Their co-stars from Encino Man have weighed in on their 2022/23 success. As Shore told Good Morning America:
These guys — what a comeback. It’s almost like they were in Encino Man, they dethawed them and they’re coming back to life.
Breaks from Acting
The resurrection Shore mentions refers to the breaks both Quan and Fraser took from acting. After breakout roles like the one in Encino Man, Fraser became a Hollywood star, perhaps most notably in The Mummy franchise. But after a brief cameo in 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Farrell took a pause from acting that lasted until his work in The Whale. In a March 2018 story in GQ, Fraser talked about his career and hiatus. Among the reasons was the physical toll that stunts took on his body. Fraser also alleged in the interview and also in his memoir that in 2003 Philip Berk, the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press, sexually assaulted him. This was another factor in his break from performing. Fraser said:
I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry.
At around the same time, in the early 2000s, Quan made the decision to step away from acting. He recounted waiting by the phone, wondering if it would ever ring. He told Screen Daily:
I thought I wasn’t tall enough, I wasn’t good-looking enough, I was not a good enough actor. I didn’t have the maturity to think they were just not writing roles for Asian actors. I thought if I were six-feet tall, I would be a working actor. If I had the traditional training… All these insecurities started flooding my head and I thought I was the problem. It was a painful period, and I was so lost. I was confused, I was miserable, I was very dispirited.
He decided to enroll at a community college in Los Angeles before eventually graduating from film school at the University of Southern California.
Returns to the Screen
Quan got the itch to act again in 2018. As he stared up at the big screen, watching Crazy Rich Asians, he decided to once again pursue his dreams. Over the next year, he started to have conversations with his wife about returning to acting. He told Screen Daily:
I started to have reservations. But I was afraid I would turn 60 or 70 and have huge regrets of never giving this dream a chance; that fear overwhelmed any fear I had coming back.
He decided to take a chance. He called a friend, who was also his agent, and told him he was ready to get back in the game. Within two weeks, he was auditioning in front of writer-directors the Daniels for Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Fraser started to have similar thoughts around the same time. According to GQ, it was in 2019, while attending Comic Con in London, that Fraser realized he wanted to get back in the game. “I wanted to see the people,” he said.
Darren Aronofsky had spent more than a decade trying to bring The Whale, which is based on a play by screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter, to the screen. But he could not quite find the man to take on the leading role. Then, according to Variety, he saw the trailer for an old film starring Fraser and knew he had the man for the part. Aronofsky said that after their first meeting, it was clear Fraser would be his lead:
I knew he could play someone who most people would start off by dismissing, but within five minutes they’d start to feel something for him. Then, within 20 minutes, they’re starting to fall in love with the character, because there’s just something about Brendan. Pretty soon, he starts to break your heart.
Viral Awards Moments
Both Fraser and Quan have received critical acclaim for their performances and more awards and award nominations than one could list here. They have also each had a handful of opportunities to relish in each other’s success. The two saw each other for the first time in thirty years in January at the Critics Choice Awards. According to Quan, Fraser approached him at the ceremony for an emotional embrace. Via People:
“He put his hand on my shoulder and he said this, he was still here,” Quan told reporters of his reunion with Fraser. “I will never forget those three words and it’s actually right.”
Both Fraser and Quan walked away with wins that night. They also got to participate in the annual actors’ roundtable hosted by The Hollywood Reporter. And then, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, it was Quan’s turn to make Fraser cry. During his speech, Quan talked about how the acting landscape had changed and how there are now more parts that were previously unavailable to performers of color. His speech moved Fraser to tears:
And now, it is time for the Academy Awards. Who knows what this year’s Oscars will bring (unless, of course, you’re reading this in the days after). But if you’re like us, you will most likely be watching out for these two men. And, in the years ahead, we can’t wait to see the films and shows they appear in next.