NEW YORK (Dec 1, ANN): The Malaysian actress cut her teeth on Hong Kong action flicks and became an international name with the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and martial-arts hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
But as her peers faded from view, Michelle Yeoh revived her career with a scene-stealing role in the comedy Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Star Trek: Discovery (2017 to present).
As she tackles her first comedic role in the new movie Last Christmas, the 57-year-old tells how she keeps her career going:
1.SHE JUST DID HER FIRST BIG COMEDIC ROLE
In cinemas now, Last Christmas - a Yuletide tale starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding - has Yeoh playing a woman named Santa who owns a year-round Christmas shop.
The role is a significant departure for the lifelong action heroine, but director Paul Feig, who made Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013), thought she could pull it off.
Chatting to Life at a recent New York press day, Yeoh says she never thought Feig - who was introduced to her by her Crazy Rich Asians co-star Golding - would cast her in one of his films, given her resume.
"I've been in some romantic comedies but I always play the serious role and never get to be the funny one.
"But Paul refused to give up until I said yes and was convinced I could do it."
2. SHE IS HEADLINING AN UPCOMING STAR TREK SERIES THAT WAS HER IDEA
In Star Trek: Discovery, Yeoh had a recurring role as steely starship captain Philippa Georgiou. She made such an impression on series creator Alex Kurtzman that when she suggested he create a spin-off based on her character, he agreed. The new show is now in development.
3. SHE TRIES TO CHALLENGE HERSELF AND NOT BORE HER AUDIENCE
This is why she is especially grateful to Feig for offering her a comedy, she says. "As an actor, you always hope to work with directors who see something different than what you've already done, because otherwise you'd be doing the same kind of roles over and over.
Doing Last Christmas "was very challenging", she admits, because comic timing has never been her forte. "I can never tell a joke because I can't remember it and it never sounds funny (when I do)."
But she would love to do more comedy now. "It is a very liberating because I spent almost 30 years of my career being very contained."
4. SHE MAKES HER CHARACTERS HER OWN - INCLUDING WITH HER MALAYSIAN ACCENT
On Star Trek: Discovery, Yeoh decided to keep her Malaysian accent and the directors went along with it - a move hailed by some critics as a milestone for on-screen inclusivity. She did a similar thing on Last Christmas, where her character is a Chinese immigrant in Britain.
"When I got to the set, it was like, 'We have to make this character my own', even though I appreciate what (screenwriter) Emma Thompson has done with it on paper. And I worked with the costume designer to (convey) who Santa is. We wanted her to have her own style and retain her Asian ethnicity," says the star.
5. SHE IS BEATING THE ODDS FOR A WOMAN AND A MINORITY IN HOLLYWOOD
Yeoh is asked how she has thrived in an industry where women and non-white actors are still underrepresented. "Well, I can't take all the credit. It's also that things are changing," says the actress, who lives with French former rally driver Jean Todt, 73.
She credits both luck and tenacity for her success. "Certain roles came and I was given the opportunity over others. With James Bond, I did not look like the normal Bond girl but there was a call for someone to be on par with Bond in physicality," she said.
6. SHE LISTENS BEFORE SPEAKING UP ON SET
"The first thing I do on set is I listen. Then after that, I can have opinions and views on how I can make it better.
"Because it's about collaboration and making it work - that's what I love about the film industry. It never gets old and you're always learning and evolving." - The Asia News Network
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