I’m sure you heard of Michelle Yeoh, the actor who is snagging all the major film awards this year — but the icon is anything but a rookie to the industry.
In a cover story interview for “Women Changing the World” in People magazine, Michelle opened up about her career, how far she’s come, and how at one point, she had to refuse work to protect her peace.
Long before she was the Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild Award-winning lead actor in Everything Everywhere All At Once, Michelle was a martial arts film star in the ’80s and ’90s.
Before her unforgettable supporting roles in major Hollywood franchises, she was a leading actor in Hong Kong thanks to Police Story 3: Super Cop and Supercop 2 alongside fellow martial arts superstar, Jackie Chan — and it gained the attention of Hollywood.
Michelle’s crossover brought a welcome change to a tired old, sexist Hollywood trope. “The first movie I did after I came to America was Tomorrow Never Dies with Pierce Brosnan,” she said. “James Bond at that point had only been known as macho, and the girls were just the ones with cutesy names.”
But, in the ’90s, the progress was short-lived and Asian representation in Hollywood had a long way to go. “When I first came to Hollywood, I was a little taken aback to be told, ‘First of all, you’re a minority,'” she said. “At that point, people in the industry couldn’t really tell the difference between whether I was Chinese or Japanese or Korean or if I even spoke English.”
And this ultimately led to Michelle refusing work. “They would talk very loudly and very slow [at me] … I didn’t work for almost two years, until Crouching Tiger [Hidden Dragon], simply because I could not agree with the stereotypical roles that were put forward.”
Now, with an upcoming role as Madam Morrible in the film adaptation of Wicked, the 60-year-old actor is at the top of her game — and still making progress for women of color in Hollywood. “In the past, this role would’ve been for a Caucasian lady,” she said. “This is what we call diversity, inclusivity. This is how you make it work. It is a natural process — progress, evolution that we can have as storytellers.”
You seriously kick ass, Michelle Yeoh — literally.