Malaysian actress Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh sat down for a video interview with Time magazine on Aug 18.
Yeoh, 58, spoke about diversity in Hollywood, turning down roles that perpetuate Asian stereotypes and doing her own stunts, as part of Time100 Talks, a video series featuring influential people from a variety of fields.
Other interviewees who were part of Time100 Talks include former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, country music legend Dolly Parton and The Dalai Lama.
Here are six things we learned from the interview:
1. There's a reason for her recent social media posts on masking up while travelling
Yeoh flew from Paris to Sydney for work last month. She uploaded photos of herself wearing a face shield, mask and goggles throughout her journey in a series of social media posts.
"I shared my travels from Paris to Sydney because... I wanted to help each other understand how to keep ourselves, our friends, families, co-workers and communities safe by covering up and wearing a mask. It's not a political statement. It's a powerful weapon that keeps us safe."
She continued: "I'm a wimp. I would put sanitiser all over my seat and I had an air purifier if I ever took my mask off."
2. She gets tested for Covid-19 three times a week
While Yeoh did not confirm what film she is working on in Sydney (speculation is rife she's filming Marvel's Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings), she reveals the strict SOPs she must abide by during filming.
"When I'm on set, I'm very proud. They are writing the playbook as they go along, with the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of everyone.
"We get tested three times a week because we are not living in a bubble. We need everybody to have the mindset of looking after each other."
3. The success of Crazy Rich Asians meant Asian films aren't just limited to "flying across rooftops"
When Crazy Rich Asians came out, it changed the map. It changed the whole way Asians were represented and seen. We were no longer invisible. We were no longer just a token. We were really represented in the contemporary, in the today, ” said Yeoh who played the formidable protagonist Eleanor Young in the Singapore-set film.
“Not just in period pieces or flying across rooftops or something like that, but in a way little girls and little boys look up and go, ‘Oh my god, I can see that’s me up there.’ That is very, very important.”
4. She has turned down Hollywood roles that perpetuate Chinese stereotypes
Yeoh first arrived in Hollywood wanting to see Asian stories truly represented. Unfortunately, that was not what happened in the beginning. "I come from Malaysia where I grew up (wanting) to see my face as the superhero or the romantic lead and be part of real stories on the silver screen and on TV," she said.
"But once I got to America, I was like, 'I'm really a minority here, I have no representation.' One of the worst things was, every time there was a role to read, it was so stereotypical. It was of the Chinese girl from Chinatown or the waitress, you know, the old cliches.
"I fought against that for a very long time. I had the luxury of saying no, I won't endorse these kinds of roles. But I can totally understand that there are so many actors and actresses who (have to take on those roles) to work for a living.
5. The turning point in her career
Yeoh recalls playing the highly-capable Bond girl Wai Lin on 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies was a breakthrough not just for her career, but for Asians at large.
"It was a proud moment because here is a Chinese woman who is standing side-to-side, toe-to-toe with the greatest spy in the world, James Bond. It made such a huge difference in the way we Asians were looked at.
"It's something that I advocate for all the time. Now when I receive a script, and they say don't worry, it was actually written for a guy but we're going to change it. So you feel, now they really see us, they see us as equals.”
6. She continues doing her own stunts
Yeoh, who got her start in Hong Kong's martial arts films, still does her own stunts to this day. "Just before the lockdown, in Los Angeles, I finished up a movie called Everything Everywhere All At Once and I do some crazy action stuff in there with (co-star) the legendary Jamie Lee Curtis."
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