Michelle Yeoh Addresses Stereotypical Roles And Winding Road To Hollywood Stardom

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For Michelle Yeoh, everything everywhere didn’t happen all at once.

The actor, nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” looked back on her winding rise to fame in an interview with People magazine this week and reflected on her first American film, the stereotypical roles she was offered and how “that magical feeling” of watching movies as a child spurred her career.

Yeoh told the outlet that James Bond was still a “very macho” character when the producers of “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) cast her as Pierce Brosnan’s love interest in her American debut. They “realized the legacy needs to evolve with the world,” she said.

The Malaysia-born actor said she waited three years to sign on to her next major project because she “could not agree with the stereotypical roles that were put forward.” Her choice, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” went on to win four Oscars.

“Change in anything always takes time because we are comfort animals, right?” Yeoh told People. “And you can’t do that. Life is about being chaotic; life is about taking risks … and, given, we have to be mindful how to change, and what are the changes for?”

Yeoh said she never imagined herself as an actor when she was a child watching “the magic of cinema” from the audience. She couldn’t get enough of being taken “to all these incredible places” seen in “Ben Hur” and “The Sound of Music.”

Brosnan and Yeoh during production of "Tomorrow Never Dies" in Thailand.
Brosnan and Yeoh during production of “Tomorrow Never Dies” in Thailand.

Keith Hamshere via Getty Images

She got her start by winning the Miss Malaysia contest at 20 and being cast alongside Jackie Chan in a TV commercial, according to People. Yeoh became a Hong Kong star, with films like “Supercop” (1992) before “Bond” came calling.

Yeoh, who became the first Asian woman to win a Best Actress SAG Award last week, mentioned filmmaker Danny Boyle — whom she recently lauded in a Hollywood Reporter interview for hiring the right actors in his film “Sunshine,” regardless of race.

It was “Crazy Rich Asians,” however, that “lit a fire,” Yeoh said, and marked an international appreciation for the actor and the barriers she’s broken. That fire “grew bigger” and introduced her to a whole new generation.

“I remember doing the press, and young reporters would come in and say, ‘My parents are so excited I’m interviewing you,’” Yeoh told People. “And it strikes you. Now I have to think, what is a very innovative way to [connect] with my young audience?”

Yeoh became the first Asian woman to win a best actress SAG Award last week.
Yeoh became the first Asian woman to win a best actress SAG Award last week.

Michael Buckner/Variety/Getty Images

“I started to break open this thing so the young people could look at me and go, ‘Oh, she’s a scary mom, but she’s kinda cool,’ you know?” Yeoh continued. “And then, of course, the very iconic line, thanks to Jon [M.] Chu …‘You’ll never be enough.’”

Yeoh’s star has continued rising since the 2018 breakout hit became a box office behemoth. With “Everything Everywhere All At Once” a front-runner in this year’s Oscars race, she isn’t going anywhere.

“We said, ‘We are here to stay,’ and that’s what we need to do now is to keep pushing forwards — not to look back,” she said.