Daring actress Michelle Yeoh will take on any role -- except this

8 December 2015 / 10 months 2 weeks ago

Joanne Soh
The New Paper
Dec 7, 2015

She was presented with the Cinema Legend Award at the 26th Singapore International Film Festival's Silver Screen Awards held here last Saturday, but it is an honour Michelle Yeoh would rather not have.

"I'm not a legend, the word makes me feel so old!" said the 53-year-old Malaysian actress during an interview with The New Paper at the Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatres yesterday afternoon.

The Cinema Legend Award recognises Asian actors and their achievements in bringing Asia's story to life on screen.

"The title is such an honour and I don't think I've done enough yet. I'm still learning my craft," she said, laughing, adding that "a legend is someone very old or has done something legendary".

"That's why I dedicated my award to my late father." Yeoh's dad, Datuk Yeoh Kian Teik, died last November at the age of 89, and it is also because of his passing that she has shelved her wedding plans indefinitely. She has been engaged to French motor sport bigwig Jean Todt since 2008.

"Besides remembering my dad's passing, Jean and I are very busy," said Yeoh.

"We want our wedding to be a quiet affair, but we haven't got a chance to plan anything yet."

Her first marriage was to Hong Kong millionaire Dickson Poon in 1988.At that point, Yeoh, who was then a rising actress in Hong Kong, "retired" from showbiz to focus on being "a wife and a possible mother". The marriage lasted four years.

Her marriage to Todt, 69, will be different, said Yeoh.

"Jean is very encouraging about me having an acting career. We're not going to start a family too, so that makes it easier to juggle work and family life."


She added: "We have great respect for each other's career, so there's no need to retire anymore.

"Also, I'm older now, so I can manage my time better and we're able to travel together or travel separately."

Yeoh has completed work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend, the 2016 sequel to the 2000 Oscar-winning Chinese martial arts hit directed by Ang Lee.

She will be the only original castmember returning to the English-language follow-up, now helmed by Yuen Woo-Ping, and will reprise her role as female warrior Yu Shu Lien.

She did not want to talk much about the film that also stars Donnie Yen, Harry Shum Jr and Jason Scott Lee, but she revealed that she knew from the start that Lee would never return as director as "it's just not his style to do something similar or do a sequel".

Yeoh may be in her 50s, but the former beauty queen still looks ravishing.

"I've never been one who lets my age dictate what I do. People always ask me, 'You're getting older, why are you still doing action movies?'" said Yeoh, who will be in Jason Statham's upcoming actioner Mechanic: Resurrection and has starred in US TV series Strike Back.

"But age is just a number. It has never mattered at all to me. I always tell myself to never be placed in a box. People may categorise you the way they perceive you, but you shouldn't compartmentalise yourself, as that will limit your potential."

One label Yeoh does not mind having is that of Bond babe.

"Being a Bond girl is the coolest thing ever," she said, laughing.

Her turn as a kick-a** Chinese spy in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) was said to have kick-started the change towards having more involved and less decorative Bond babes.

"I can't take that credit. I was just lucky that they wanted a Bond girl who could be Pierce (Brosnan)'s equal."

She added: "Thank God I had great chemistry with Pierce during my audition or I don't think I'd have got the part."

Yeoh acknowledged that while roles are still being offered to her, being an ageing actress is tough, as at times "you're neither too young nor too old for roles".

One role that Yeoh will not be seeking is going behind the camera.

"No way will I want to be a director. They have no life," she said, laughing.

"I love being an actor as we're the most pampered creatures in the world." She said that having worked with "some of the most amazing directors out there", she knows how taxing it is to be one.

"A director lives, eats and dreams his movie. He's a detailed maniac and I'm not.

"I'm a big-picture kind of person."

This article was first published on December 7, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.

Join in the talk