When I decided to return to my roots in acting, my name was the very first thing I was positive about. I thought, if I work hard enough and get my name out there enough, one day people will learn to pronounce it. For me, it really completes the puzzle.
You’ve said that when you first read the script for EverythingEverywhere, you felt like the part was written for you. At the same time, you’ve also said that if this role had been presented to you 10 or 15 years ago, you wouldn’t have been ready for it. How are you different today from the person you were back then?
Hopefully I’m a little wise now. I have come to appreciate all the low points, and now hopefully I’ll get to enjoy some of the highs, because you can’t really know what sweet tastes like unless you know the sour. Over the years I’ve learned to look at things from different angles, and I could never have played Waymond had I not believed in his empathy, in his optimism, in his kindness, in his true belief that we should treat people with respect. I’ve come to realize that family’s really important, friendship is really important, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Because that’s what makes life beautiful: to have someone to share it with.
Does it feel, then, that this movie is a gift that’s been given to you at precisely the right time?
Absolutely. Had you told me a few years ago that, “Ke, you’re going to be doing this movie with this crazy talented cast,” I would say, “You’re crazy.” No way. But everything had to happen in the order that it did for this very moment to happen.
Our movie deals with multiverses, and when things are not going according to plan, it’s human to be tempted by the idea of all the “What ifs?” But our movie speaks perfectly to the notion that the grass is not always greener on the other side. I love all the ups and downs. I love the peaks and the valleys, because that’s what makes a beautiful landscape.
I needed to work with Wong Kar-Wai for all those years, to watch Tony Leung from behind the camera, to pay homage to those guys in this movie. I needed to work with Corey Yuen, who taught me how to choreograph and shoot action scenes in order to do the fight sequences in this movie. Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing, because the present universe right now is looking pretty good.
You’ve worked with some groundbreaking directors over the years: Spielberg, Wong Kar-Wai, and now Daniels. What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned from each?
Over all the years I worked with Wong Kar-Wai, I learned one word really well: perseverance. As you know, he makes one movie over the span of five years. Every year, we would miss the deadline to Cannes. Every single year, right before the deadline, everybody would say, “Oh my God, we need to rush!” And then we would miss that deadline. three deadlines. Three years later, we’re still making the same movie. And yet, the entire time we were so composed, we were so calm, and he kept to his vision, and he never gave up. I remember being on a set where he would finesse one shot for hours. We would be at it for five, six, seven hours just to finesse this one dolly shot. He didn’t shoot a single frame until that shot was ready. And at the end of that day, when he began to roll camera, it was the most breathtaking, jaw-dropping shot I’ve ever seen.