Michelle Yeoh says she was pressured to retire from acting: 'Do not tell me what to do'

Michelle Yeoh says she had a culture shock when she first arrived in Hollywood in the mid 1990s. Photo: AP

It might look all rosy for Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh now as she's on a career high. But, just before she landed the plump role in the multiverse movie Everything Everywhere All At Once, the 60-year-old felt the pressure to retire from acting because of her age.

The Malaysian star told Los Angeles Times' The Envelope podcast that as one gets older, roles are harder to come by.

“You know, as you get older, the roles get smaller. It seems like the numbers go up and these things go narrow and then you start getting relegated to the side more and more.

"So when Everything Everywhere came, it was very emotional because this means that you are the one who’s leading this whole process, who’s telling the story,” she told the hosts of the podcast.

“You know, as you get older, people start saying, ‘Oh yeah, you should retire. You should do this. You should ...’ No, guys. Do not tell me what to do. I should be in control of what I am capable of, right?” she added.

Yeoh also reminisced about the time she first arrived in Hollywood to pursue a career in the mid 1990s.

"So, I get there and I think the first thing that strikes you – and you keep hearing this – 'Oh yeah, you’re a minority.' And I’m like, what does that even mean?

"Because I’m Malaysian. I grew up in a very multiracial society. So then coming here to America was like, 'Oh my God, OK, now I’m a minority.'

"How can Chinese people be a minority with so many (of us) – the numbers, right? I don’t know ... maybe I can say (it was a) culture shock. And then they don’t know China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia," she said, adding that people in Hollywood were stunned when they found out she spoke fluent English.

"And I was like, 'Guys, whoa, this is—!?' But this was how it was in Hollywood at that time. This was the norm at that time," the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star said.

Yeoh is currently making her rounds doing various interviews leading up to the Academy Awards on March 12, where she's nominated for Best Actress. If Yeoh wins the Oscar in her category, she will be the first Asian woman to do so, something that's not lost on her.

"Who doesn’t want to be validated by your peers, validated by people that you love and respect and in awe with, and say, 'I just want a seat at the table. I would like to be able to join you all and sit at the table.' Right?" she said.

Yeoh also said that her fans are cheering her on as the date for Oscars looms closer.

"And the scary thing is, like, people come up to you and say, 'You have to do it for us. You’re going to do it for us.' And you go, 'Oh, OK. All right. I’m going to do my best,'" Yeoh said.

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