Michelle Yeoh reveals she ‘didn’t work for two years’ due to stereotype offers
Michelle Yeoh has been making rounds both in headlines and award-giving bodies with her performance in the film Everything Everywhere All at Once and her iconic interactions with other celebrities.
In an interview with People, the 60-year-old award-winning actress looked back on her history in the industry—starting from her first commercial with actor-martial artist Jackie Chan, her first movie The Owl vs. Bumbo in Hong Kong, until her Supercop film in 1992 that paved her way to Hollywood.
The actress’ first movie in the U.S. was Tomorrow Never Dies where she played Wai Lin, a Chinese spy. She starred in the movie with Pierce Brosnan who played James Bond.
"The first movie I did after I came to America was Tomorrow Never Dies with Pierce Brosnan," she recalled. "James Bond at that point had only been known as macho, and the girls were just the ones with cutesy names."
Yeoh received many offers after her portrayal in the 1997 film. "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," she told People.
Despite the success, the actress wasn’t exempted from racial discrimination in the industry. "They would talk very loudly and very slow,” which prompted her to turn down offers for two years.
"I didn't work for almost two years, until Crouching Tiger,” she said, "Simply because I could not agree with the stereotypical roles that were put forward to me."
Looking back on her success and gaining more recognition from Asian artists like Stephanie Hsu and Key Huy Quan, among others, the actress couldn't be more grateful.
"A lot of actresses find, as the numbers get bigger, the roles start to dwindle," she said.
"Over the last few years, I'm very proud that we have been breaking away from stereotypes—it's not just lip service. It is happening. And it's happening to me."
Besides her possible win at this year’s Academy Awards, Yeoh is currently gearing up for her new role as Madame Morrible in the upcoming film Wicked. Joining her in the cast are pop singer Ariana Grande, Jeff Goldblum, Cynthia Erivo, among others.
Talking more about the importance of inclusivity, Yeoh puts a spotlight in her new role in the upcoming film. "In the past, this role would've been for a Caucasian lady," she said, adding, "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."