Christ­mas gift

Ac­tion star Michelle Yeoh couldn’t be­lieve she was be­ing asked to star in a com­edy, let alone play the role of Santa, she tells Jonathan Moran

Herald Sun - - HIT.TV -

Michelle Yeoh was un­der­stand­ably ap­pre­hen­sive when Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor Paul Feig asked her to play Santa in Last

Christ­mas.

Known for ac­tion roles in films such as Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon or as Bond girl

Wai Lin in To­mor­row Never Dies, the cel­e­brated ac­tor had never tried com­edy in her nearly four decades on screen.

“This is my first se­ri­ous try to make you laugh movie. I think Paul (Feig) saw a comedic el­e­ment in me which I never fully re­alised be­fore, no one else has,” Yeoh says.

“Have you ever seen me in a role like that? I was a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive, es­pe­cially when Paul came to me and said he wanted me to play Santa. Did he mean Santa Claus? Would I have to put on a white beard?”

No red and white cos­tume was re­quired — the role of Santa in Feig’s film is a slightly quirky woman who loves all things fes­tive and owns a Christ­mas store in Lon­don that op­er­ates all year round.

Feig says Yeoh was the first per­son he thought of when he read the script — and was so taken by the idea of her in the part he wouldn’t have done the film if she had not said yes.

The Brides­maids di­rec­tor has been a long-time fan of the Malaysian-born dancer turned ac­tor and was in­tro­duced by Henry Gold­ing, who had played Yeoh’s son in Crazy Rich Asians and also stars in Last Christ­mas.

Gold­ing and Feig had been shoot­ing A Sim­ple Favour in Toronto while Yeoh was mak­ing

Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery in the same city and they all ended up hav­ing din­ner to­gether.

“I had been a fan of hers for 20 years but one of th­ese peo­ple where you think ‘is she go­ing to be re­ally se­ri­ous?’,” Feig re­calls.

“And the minute you meet her, her face lights up and she’s funny and jok­ing and I walked away think­ing ‘I have got to get you on screen’. But she’s funny be­cause she says ‘I’m not funny’. Now I have a whole movie to prove oth­er­wise so she can’t say that any more.”

The script for Last Christ­mas was writ­ten by Academy Award­win­ning ac­tor Emma Thomp­son (who also stars in the movie) and her part­ner Greg Wise. “Of course when I read the script know­ing it was writ­ten by Emma Thomp­son, I knew I couldn’t say no to it,” Yeoh says. “But it was a stretch be­cause I hadn’t done a char­ac­ter like that be­fore and I re­ally thank Paul for hav­ing the con­fi­dence in me. He was just so in­sis­tent that I was the only one who could carry out this role.

“Paul brought the com­edy out in me. As an ac­tor, what I am con­stantly hop­ing to do is to chal­lenge my­self in roles with things I have not done be­fore or have at­tempted be­fore and for me that is al­ways very chal­leng­ing and is an op­por­tu­nity to grow.

“In Santa, that is what I saw, a woman who was so pas­sion­ate and who found her call­ing in lov­ing Christ­mas and opened a store that sold Christ­mas all year round. That char­ac­ter just touched some­thing in every­one that saw her.”

In real life, Yeoh agrees with Feig’s ini­tial assess­ment that some might find her more in­tim­i­dat­ing than funny.

“Peo­ple find me quite se­ri­ous and then they laugh a lit­tle, sort of afraid,” she says. “I think I am quite funny but I am def­i­nitely not the Ken Jeong or

Awk­wa­fina kind of funny. I have an in­ter­est­ing sense of hu­mour and I en­joy a good laugh, let’s put it that way.”

Yeoh is a leader in the field, hav­ing won count­less awards, in­clud­ing be­ing nom­i­nated for a BAFTA for Courch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon.

She’s strad­dled both Chi­nese lan­guage cinema and Hol­ly­wood and paved the way for many to come be­hind her.

Yeoh has been ranked one of the great­est ac­tion hero­ines of all time and one of the top screen beau­ties. While those ac­co­lades are great, they are not the rea­son she gets up and goes to work in the morn­ing.

“We don’t do it for those ac­co­lades,” she says. “I am very grate­ful for the things that I have done be­cause it is part of your job and some­thing you work so hard at. It is very grat­i­fy­ing and I am thank­ful for them be­cause there are so many of us in the world, so to be put up there in that way is very touch­ing.”

Most of Yeoh’s scenes in Last

Christ­mas are with Game Of Thrones star Emelia Clarke, who also gets to show off her funny side as the two trade barbs as boss and em­ployee.

“I am very blessed with the roles that come my way,” Yeoh says. “Some­times those amaz­ing di­rec­tors and roles, they come choos­ing you and you just have to make time. But choos­ing a role is very im­por­tant be­cause it takes me away from my fam­ily and I want that role to be mean­ing­ful. ”

At 57, she is proud to ad­mit she still does her own ac­tion scenes. “I re­ally do en­joy that very much and the only way I feel I can do it is if I keep up my end of the bar­gain and be dili­gent in be­ing flex­i­ble, fit, on my feet and toes. If I didn’t have to be on cam­era, I might not be so dili­gent. ”

Com­ing up is a re­turn to the world of Crazy Rich Asians with two se­quels set to be shot backto-back next year.

And she’s also been busy with James Cameron’s ea­gerlyan­tic­i­pated but se­cre­cyshrouded Avatar se­quels.

“Am I al­lowed to speak about them? Let’s put it this way, I am in the Avatar movies and I love work­ing with James Cameron, he is a ge­nius.”

WATCH LAST CHRIST­MAS opens to­mor­row

MICHELLE YEOH IN A SCENE FROM LAST CHRIST­MAS, AND BE­LOW, WITH CO-STARS EMMA THOMP­SON, EMILIA CLARKE AND HENRY GOLD­ING

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