Everything Everywhere But not all at Once
Michelle Yeoh makes history with her Oscar for Best Actress in 2023
A Staff Writer chats with the first Asian woman to win in this category
Even at 60, the 2023 Academy Award win may be the beginning of something big for Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh.
Multiverse sci-fi brain wrecker Everything Everywhere All At Once – starring Academy Award winner Michelle Yeoh, who scooped the coveted Best Actress gong – is a movie that has divided opinion.
There are those who enjoyed the work for what it is and how it was intended – a far-reaching film about love and acceptance: fun, creative, hilarious and unique – while others found it difficult to find that necessary suspension of disbelief required for such a complex piece of cinematic theatre.
Either way, Yeoh gave a virtuoso performance, which deservedly won her nominated category. It is one of seven awards that the film scooped at the Oscars. And in the process, she became the first Asian and only the second woman of colour to do so.
“When I was young, back home in Malaysia, I never ever dreamt of being where I am today,” says the star, who is now in her fifth decade of performing.
Yeoh adds: “There wasn’t a huge movie industry there; and when I looked up at the screen, I saw mostly stars from the Western hemisphere, shining bright and looking so amazing. It was never in my mind to think that I could emulate them.”
However, after she won a Malaysian beauty pageant in 1983 when she was 21, Michelle became her country’s representative at the following year’s Miss World competition in London.
“Although I had experienced a taste of the rest of the world, it all seemed so far away from me, in my mind,” she admits, adding: “I had appeared in an advertisement with Jackie Chan for Guy Laroche watches. But even then, I thought that was the furthest I’d venture, and that my life and career were destined to remain back at home.”
“When I was young, back home in Malaysia, I never ever dreamt of being where I am today
As her career began to blossom however, Yeoh started to realise that she had much more in common with martial arts legend Chan than a simple timepiece, given that she performed most of her own stunts in films such as Yes, Madam and Magnificent Warriors.
Yet, a series of accidents on set and marriage to Hong Kong businessman Sir Dickson Poon led to her retirement from acting in 1987. Several years after they divorced, he received a knighthood in 2015.
Michelle says: “I felt I had a duty to something else, someone else other than myself, and there was something selfless I wanted to do. Looking back on it, I know that it was a mistake.”
After the couple divorced, Yeoh returned to the movie industry and was soon starring in action films. She was back alongside Chan in the third instalment of the Police Story series Super Cop.
“I would also suggest to people – both in this industry and life in general – never to push too hard
“Martial arts films had moved on a lot and there were more backstories instead of only fight scenes. I think I learned a lot at that time – in fact, one of the actors I had worked with earlier gave me some rather harsh feedback on my acting skills,” Michelle recalls.
Yeoh worked hard at refining the way she went about acting and global acclaim arrived soon when she appeared alongside Pierce Brosnan in the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies.
She says: “Moving away from Asian movies was a stylistic and emotional departure like no other. Before that, I had always invested too much of myself in a character. There was always a big part of me in there somewhere.”
“When I started working with different actors including Westerners, I realised that the best way to make movies was to remove myself completely from the experience. You’re meant to be playing a part that isn’t based on you, which means it has to come from somewhere else. It was a big departure from me – and it was really valuable,” Yeoh explains.
Then came major projects such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and a slew of Hollywood projects including Memoirs of a Geisha, Reign of Assassins, The Lady and Last Christmas.
An almost constant upward curve has given the international star iconic status, which in turn has resulted in others turning to her for advice and guidance.
Michelle muses: “We all go in with ideas of people loving us for being ourselves, whereas we’re all products of everyone else’s influence – and we should be proud of that. You can never stop being enriched by others, no matter where you are in your career.”
“I would also suggest to people – both in this industry and life in general – never to push too hard,” she urges, adding: “Jackie Chan was the person who picked up on the fact that I was doing too much too quickly, and it was actually impacting my creative spark. He said that I would know when the right moment comes and won’t need to force it.”
– Compiled by hub.branded