September 14, 2023 - 9:46 am
Michelle Yeoh believes in the power of intuition.
She listened to “that big feeling deep inside my gut” when she said yes to a little movie, a role that would make her the first Asian to win a best actress Oscar.
“You are the one who leads the whole process of your life,” Yeoh declares. “You need to listen to what’s inside you.”
Forget her gut for a second. When she won an Academy Award for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in March, it was a different part of her that rumbled.
“I just heard a roar of joy in my own heart,” the 61-year-old Yeoh recalls with a laugh during an interview conducted before the Screen Actors Guild strike. “And just as wonderful was the roar of happiness I felt from people all over the world. This came at a time when people were saying, ‘Maybe you should think about retirement.’ But my gut told me, ‘There is so much more for you.’ ”
Yeoh — known for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Crazy Rich Asians” — is hitting her stride. She has a slew of upcoming roles, including the 2024 movie version of “Wicked” and the Agatha Christie mystery “A Haunting in Venice,” in theaters this weekend.
Set in post-World War II Venice, the film was directed by and stars Kenneth Branagh as former detective Hercule Poirot, who is now retired and living in his own exile. He reluctantly attends a séance, where one of the guests is murdered, and Poirot must uncover the killer.
Yeoh plays mysterious medium Mrs. Reynolds in an all-star cast that includes Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey and Kelly Reilly.
When she’s not working, Yeoh lives in Geneva with her husband, former Ferrari CEO Jean Todt (they finally tied the knot in July after a 19-year engagement), and Mr. O, as she calls him (her Oscar statuette).
“I love my life so much. I’m having so much fun,” Yeoh says.
Her good life tips:
Yeoh says her “Haunting in Venice” character called for an exploration into the metaphysical. “She is a very sensitive soul,” Yeoh says. “She talks to those in the beyond with the idea of helping people here move on.”
The genre drew Yeoh to the role, too. “I also love a good murder mystery, but this one has that horror that something is always lurking behind the shadows,” she adds.
“This was a historical moment,” she says of her Oscar win. “And we needed this because there are so many who have felt unseen and unheard. … My win was not just for the Asian community, but for anybody who is a minority. We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be seen. We just want our seat at the table. Let us prove we are worth it.”
“You should never give up on your dream. Once you give up, it’s a total loss,” Yeoh says. “If something is your love, your passion, you stand up for what you believe in and what you know you can do. … I’m still here today after 40 years. It just goes to show, you can win the battle.”
Yeoh begins each day with her “gratitude ritual.” “I will stretch every muscle, make note of any creaks and throbs and apologize to that part of me for the joy I’m taking challenging my limits,” she shares. “I’ll say to that little pain, ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me, I love you.’ ”
She doesn’t lament her body at this age. “I’m more clever and smarter in how I can sustain my stamina,” she says. “And I’m as fit as I was when I was younger because I focus on looking after myself better.”
“When falling in life, the tendency is to tighten up and brace for impact,” Yeoh observes. “But, in truth, the safest thing you can do is remain calm — even curious — about the world shifting around you.”
Yeoh says she lives by a simple three-step plan: “Stay loose, know your limits and find your people.”
Remember your roots
She is proud of her Malaysian roots and returns to visit family often. This includes indulging in her favorite local foods. “I have had curry laksa, nasi lemak, hor fun and ipoh chicken rice with nga choi. It’s all so wonderful,” she says. “The beauty is, I grew up in a place that is multiracial. We live together and embrace each other. I don’t see differences. I ask myself, ‘What can you learn from other people?’ ”
Don’t buy into stereotypes
Yeoh began her career doing action films in Hong Kong. “When I started off in 1984, women were relegated to being the damsel in distress,” she says. “We needed to be protected, according to our guys. But then I would go, ‘No, guys, I think we can protect ourselves pretty well. And if push comes to shove, maybe I can protect you, too.’ ”
Let failure fuel you
Yeoh has had her share of rejections in a long career. But she never let that stop her. “Every rejection, I knew, was just someone was simply underestimating me,” she says. “That’s how I found renewed motivation to get out there again.”
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re past your prime,” she says. “Blah, blah, blah to that talk. Your prime is not their prime. Keep that fire lit in your soul and stay on the path. And don’t let anybody put you in a box because of age.”
Have a world view
“There is so much to do. So many ways humans can make a real difference,” Yeoh points out. “Every single person can make a unique contribution. So, don’t isolate yourself. Let’s all work together and make the world a better place.”