Watch Michelle Yeoh Breaks Down Her Most Iconic Characters | Iconic Characters


[glass shattering]

[sirens blaring]

[smashing]

I think someone took the wrong turn

and that’s why the car suddenly swerved so hard.

And you see me literally go sideways like that,

that was not choreographed.

That was an accident.

[upbeat music]

Tomorrow Never Dies.

I will never forget when I was playing Wai Lin.

Someone said to me, Just enjoy it.

You’re in a bond movie,

you don’t have to take it so seriously.

Which, in a sense, is true

because there’s so many things going on

but then we all also knew

you have to take it seriously

because if your character,

you’re not convinced with your character,

you can’t deliver the sincerity of a character.

Nobody will believe what you are playing,

or what you are trying to tell them.

Ready, go! [guns firing]

[both wailing] [paper tearing]

[gasping]

The producers who understand

how important the legacy of Bond is

to the audiences around the world,

and how to maintain and expand.

‘Cause it was always very much the man’s world, right?

All the guys love to be James Bond.

And the women were almost always the Bond girls.

But they were ready at that time,

when they came looking for me,

was to have much more depth

in emotions and the quality of their nature in the film.

Here, allow me.

Don’t get any ideas Mr. Bond.

Maybe we go after General Chang together.

Thanks for washing my hair.

[metal clinks]

I work alone.

I was very blessed that that was the train of thought

going through their minds

when they were writing Tomorrow Never Dies.

I will never forget my first experience

meeting Barbara Broccoli, one of the main producers.

the most amazing, strong, powerful woman.

I think because of her,

that kind of character, that strong woman,

was pushed very much far forward in the front.

[grunting]

Because of my background

coming from having done a lot of stunt work

and actual fighting, and things like that.

Barbara and Michael also were very smart.

They said to me, bring your stunt team.

It was a great experience for them

because it was a luxury too.

Because normally in Hong Kong

we don’t have time to rehearse.

For us actors, we get on set,

we learn it and we shoot it.

So I remember when my guys came,

Barbara said to me, What, where’s your stunt team?

And I’m like, I went looking for them

and they were all in the green room.

I was going,

Guys, come on, what kind of example are you setting?

You know, they sent you the mock-up of the set to Hong Kong,

like weeks before you were supposed.

And now that you get here, you’re all just lounging.

They said, Well, we have five different ways.

Which one do you want?

Because they’d seen the set in the mock-up,

so they understood the layout.

So when they actually came to the layout, they went, okay

we know exactly what we’re doing.

They said, I’m waiting for your director to come

to show him the five different setups.

So that’s the speed that they work,

Barbara and Michael, my producers were more comfortable

because they could see that we work together

and we know each other and they would keep me safe.

But if not, it would have been very difficult for them

to say why is she on the second floor,

and there’s no harness?

You know? [laughs]

That was a great experience for both sides

to see how the east works in that way.

When we don’t have that kind of money

or the kind of time, you know, to have long setups

but we work efficiently and very, very quickly.

[upbeat music]

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Crouching tiger, Hidden Dragon is poetry in motion.

[dramatic music]

[grunts]

[grunting]

[thumping]

And it’s Ang Lee.

His vision, his passion for martial arts,

which, when I first met him

straight after Tomorrow Never Dies

to talk about Crouching Tiger,

all these martial arts movies,

the Kung Fu movies, as we call them,

it’s something that we all grow up with.

It’s like our Marvel Comics and he was so fascinated.

He wanted to try out every single form of martial arts

and every weapon there was.

I thought he was kidding

when I first walked into where he was prepping for all this,

the research he was doing,

I seriously thought he was kidding

until when I walked onto the set

on the final fight sequence

and all the weapons were there.

And he said, I want you to use all of them.

I’m like, You’re kidding, right? [laughs]

But he was not, he never jokes around with things like that.

[metal clinks]

[metal clinking]

[grunting]

We always say there is no action without drama.

It goes hand in hand.

You’re talking about the emotional feeling.

[speaking Japanese]

[thudding]

The drama of the fighting is the story.

And that is the storyteller telling you

this is the conflict between these two women over the sword.

And that’s very symbolic of the man.

I think in any movie, as well,

even for Tomorrow Never Dies,

when you have the most incredible explosions,

you know, planes and motorcycles and things like that,

the drama of it, the closeness of the two characters

that makes you believe the urgency,

the the reason for why,

why they are doing that.

[upbeat music]

Police Story 3: Supercop.

Personally, it was a very important movie at that time,

because I had moved away and retired from the film business

for about 4 years.

Police Story 3: Supercop was my first comeback.

So it was important to remind my audiences,

hey, I’m still here,

and hey, I’m still, you know, what you loved before.

[smacking] [grunting]

And then I was getting to work with Stanley Tong,

the director, who I met when he was a stuntman.

And so he came to me and said,

I have a Jackie Chan movie

and I want you to be part of it,

like his counterpart, okay?

It was like playing with James Bond,

opposite them as their equal.

That was a very huge statement on every level.

For me, it was a great privilege,

for the women, it was like yes! [laughs]

[tires screeching]

[smashes]

[car honks]

[smashes]

[car horn honking]

I will never be crazy enough to do those stunts again.

Well, we did have an accident, but I was fortunate.

I came out of it not hurt.

We don’t really rehearse our big scenes.

If you’re going to do it, you might as well shoot it.

Right, so let’s not waste it.

So I get up on the truck, dodging the bullets,

rolling off the van.

And I go off the van

and Jackie pulls up in his little convertible

and I land on his bonnet.

I crash the wind screen, which saves my fall,

and then I roll off his car.

And I go, Oh, that looks okay.

I can just, you know, roll down.

And then you’re standing up there and you go like,

Oh, this feels a little different, whey,

it’s not staying still.

And then his car is not staying still either,

everything is moving.

And I remember in my head, I went,

Well I’m never gonna know until I tried, right?

So I took the roll, everything went wrong.

The wind screen did not shatter,

the things that were supposed to make it go

[mimics explosion] it didn’t.

So Jackie couldn’t get a handle on me.

When you watch the outtakes,

he scrambled over the windscreen and tried to hold onto me.

Luckily, he grabbed onto a bit of my shirt

as I was sliding off the car.

He saved me, I think, my life.

[shushes] But don’t tell him that.

And as I rolled off,

if he didn’t give me that little extra jerk,

I would’ve landed on my head first.

And that would’ve been the disaster of my life.

You know the saying,

when you fall off the horse

you have to get back right on.

For me, at that moment, was like

I know what I didn’t do right.

Now I know the feeling.

Let’s do it, try and catch it this time.

Stanley went to Jackie It’s okay, it’s okay,

she said it’s okay, get back in the car. [laughs]

So we turned around and we did it in the next take.

That was crazy.

But you know, don’t do it. [laughs]

So at that time I did take more risks than usual.

Like, you know, hanging on the van.

[smashes] [tires screeching]

[sirens blaring]

[smashes]

I think someone took the wrong turn

and that’s why the car suddenly swerved so hard,

and you see me literally go sideways like that,

that was not choreographed, that was an accident.

[engine roaring]

[tires screeching]

Jackie was the one who had a bigger problem.

He actually came up to me at one stage, and he says

Michelle, are you trying to kill me?

And I’m like,

No, why would I do that, we’re buddies, right?

And he goes, No!

‘Cause I was doing this crazy motorcycle stunt, right.

When he saw me do that stunt, he was like,

Oh no, if you do anything more than that

where am I gonna come from?

That’s why he did the helicopter stunt.

It’s not fair for me to suddenly go, eh, look at me.

So we had to have a little bit of a balance.

And I think we managed to do that quite well

at the end of the day.

So that’s why we’re still great friends.

[upbeat music]

Crazy Rich Asians.

From the book, the mother is just an antagonist.

She was very more superficial.

Being able to work very closely with Jon Chu.

I had asked him at the beginning

What kind of movie are you making?

What’s the tone of your film?

Is it going to be like a Hangover, too?

Which is a very legitimate question,

because if you read the book,

it very much reads like that as well, right?

It’s fun, it’s crazy, it’s out there.

If he said that, I would have said

that would’ve been a wasted opportunity

to show in depth with real emotions, sincere integrity,

what this culture is.

And that was such a great opportunity

because we hadn’t had an all Asian cast.

I think since Joy Luck Club.

I wanted to be part of it

but I didn’t want to be part of something

that I didn’t believe in.

Jon Chu said to me,

If I did that, my mother would kill me, bang.

If you understand what your mother thinks,

there’s a lot of that in you.

Pursuing one’s passion, how American.

Well, your mother is very open minded.

Not like here, where parents are obsessed

with shaping the life of the children.

He said, I grew up with understanding

the hierarchy in family.

The filial piety that we have to show to our elders.

How to greet, not just who to greet, but how to greet.

When we sit down for dinner, who starts to eat first

and who you have to address, you know, and greet.

So he understood the cultural,

the real cultural and not just a superficial, you know,

I don’t want to know about my history or culture,

or where I come from.

That gave me great confidence

that he would understand

why this mother character was so important.

Because initially she only appears not that many times.

In fact, with her son, only twice.

Some things I need to figure out on my own.

Is that an American accent I’m hearing?

How do I look?

Perfect.

But in those moments, you have to feel the love.

That strong bond and connection.

If you don’t, then what is the reason

for him to go back to Singapore, right?

That must be something that will always pull him back.

And that’s love of a family.

That’s keeping a family together.

For me, that was a very, very important role.

You don’t know me.

I know you are not what Nick needs.

The Mahjong scene, a battle of wit without the fist.

The tiles, that sound, the clickity clack, you know?

That tempo, that rhythm,

the women telling each other what they feel

and why they are going in that direction.

It was beautiful, but it was powerful.

There were many days when I wondered

if I would ever measure up,

but having been through it all, I know this much.

You will never be enough.

Everybody loved the line,

when I said You will never be enough. [laughing]

Everybody’s always very scared when I say that.

Jon Chu said, You terrified me. [laughs]

But I think what I loved most about

was the reaction to that character.

I had young people come up to me and say

I understand my mom better now.

Or, I understand my mother-in-law better now.,

I can go back and have a conversation with my mom now.

And I think that was very important.

When I approach, it’s like I have to know the character.

Where is she really coming from?

She was dutiful, she was loyal,

she was fiercely devoted to her family.

But most of all, that was love.

That was real love.

The general mother’s role, to nurture, to protect.

But then the most important is to let go.

And I approach it like that.

Knowing these are the feelings that a mother would have

so that when I am there as Eleanor Young, I am a mother.

I am just simply a mother who loves her son.

[upbeat music]

Everything Everywhere All At Once.

I always try not to inject me into the character,

because I see the character as a real person

who needs to have real emotions, a path.

What I saw in Evelyn was a very hard-working immigrant,

who’s trying so hard to be keeping her family together,

to be a success in her father’s eyes,

to prove that she’s a good daughter.

And I see Evelyn in so many people around me.

I felt that need to tell their story,

but in a very, not the usual way.

‘Cause the Daniels presented it

in such a psychedelic crazy, insane, contemporary way.

Sometimes in science fiction,

that’s where you can really go to the stars

and across the universes like we have done,

and still be credible and believable

because this is the universe that we have created.

I think that was the challenge.

And it kept me, as the actor, grounded

because I felt this character.

And because every day when I go onto the set

I was like, okay, sometimes I have no idea.

We are jumping from one universe to the other one.

The chaos at that moment of filming

is also what the character was going,

Evelyn was going through.

Evelyn was confused, was fractured.

She was trying to come to terms

with what was happening with her.

It was like taking a look at your own life

and going like, Am I a failure?

Am I this, am I that?

Could I have done better?

Maybe that is one thing that I do put in,

taking from my experiences,

because it is very personal.

Not every decision that you make

is going to be the perfect one.

And that’s when mistakes hopefully makes you wiser,

and smarter, and don’t do it again.

And if you do it again, that means you’re really dumb

[laughs]

For me, this whole journey was about Evelyn,

the character who understood she will never give up.

That also reflects on me, as a person,

because I refuse to give up.

I think when you give up or give in,

you’ve already lost.

Whatever it is, it’s the character.

And if you find that character and you connect,

you’re almost living vicariously through that character.

That’s when you really love

what you are watching or feeling.

In Everything Everywhere All At Once, my god.

I think it has to start from the moment I got the script.

Fortunately, I was coming to LA,

met with the Daniels.

Had to meet with the Daniels,

because I would only take on a project

if there is real passion.

If, when I speak to them, I see the passion in their eyes.

I hear it coming from here.

Because I’m not gonna go and leave my family

and people I love,

for three, four months at a time on lip service,

on doing something that even you don’t believe in.

How are you gonna convince me to be part of that?

So when I met them, I didn’t tell them.

Because when I read the script, I thought,

This is something.

Oh dear.

No, this is something I’ve been waiting for

for a long time.

That’s going to give me the opportunity to show my fans,

my family, my audience, what I’m capable of.

To be funny, to be real, to be sad.

Finally, somebody understood that I can do all these things.

[laughs]



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