“Everything Everywhere All at Once” stars Michelle Yeoh at the table

The Best Actress nominee spoke to IndieWire about her groundbreaking role in the hit A24, thinking, “If I don’t get nominated, these people are going to be so damn disappointed.”

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On Sunday, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian actress ever to win the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Motion Picture. The moment was not lost on the star.

“This is not just for me; it’s for all little girls who look like me,” said the recipient in her acceptance speech, trying to control her excitement enough to get through the decisive moment on stage. “Thank you for giving me a seat at the table because so many of us need it. We want to be seen, we want to be heard, and tonight you showed us that it’s possible, and I’m grateful.”

The award, presented to her by her co-stars, is credited with making her the first Asian woman—and only the second woman of color—to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. But as she acknowledged in her SAG Awards speech, saying, “I know I’m up against titans, rightfully so,” Yeoh is in close competition with two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, who gave a tour de force performance in “THE LIBRARY,” which recently won a BAFTA.

On the eve of the UK awards ceremony, the Malaysian icon told IndieWire that even receiving all the nominations for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was a huge relief. Helmed by writer-director duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the dramedy follows a middle-aged Chinese immigrant, Evelyn, as she embarks on a zany, heartbreaking, multi-faceted adventure that rekindles her emotional bond with her husband, Waymond. (Ke Huy Quan) and his daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu).

“It was a joy, but at the same time (there’s) a sense of responsibility or stress (when fans) come up to you and say, ‘You’re doing this for us,'” Yeoh said over Zoom, holding it up. two peace signs indicate that you have escaped to your mental happy place. Reflecting on the early winter, when the film got a second wind that brought it to the forefront of awards talk, she said, “I swear to God, I thought, ‘What if they don’t get nominated. ?’ A year ago you didn’t even think about it, and then suddenly you’re like, “Please, please, please, nominate me. Please nominate me. And then you think, ‘If they don’t get nominated, these people are going to be so goddamn disappointed,'” the actress said.

Everything Everywhere At Once

“Everything everywhere at once”

Courtesy of Allyson Riggs, A24

The film premiered the same weekend as the last Oscars and has since given the awards a triumphant boost, finishing as the runner-up for Best Picture after major wins at the DGA, PGA and SAG awards.

“Promoting a film for a year is hard work. But it’s easy work when people respond to it and respond so beautifully,” said Yeoh. “I have mothers who say, ‘I’m not sure I understand your movie, but you were very interesting. All good.’ Then they say, “But the most important thing is that my daughter saw her and called me, and I haven’t spoken to her in a few months,” because the mother-daughter relationship is always complicated. This film kind of started the healing process and opened a communication platform for husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, people.”

Although this is Yeoh’s first official Oscar nomination, he has previously played significant roles in several Oscar-winning films, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). When asked if he ever thought his past work would lead to an awards campaign, Yeoh paused.

“It’s almost sad,” he said. “This has become the norm. During “Memoirs of a Geisha,” because it was Rob Marshall and Steven Spielberg, and it was such a beautifully shot film, and the characters were so rich, we thought, “I don’t know, maybe they can lift us up, right?

Actors from a majority Asian ensemble are very rarely nominated for an Oscar. It was just three years ago that Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” won best picture — without the entire Korean cast receiving individual awards at the Oscars.

When Yeoh received her Oscar nomination for Best Actress in January, her performance as the first Asian actress to be nominated for the award was marked with an asterisk. Merle Oberon, star of the 1935 film “Angel in the Night,” received the same honor, but was never openly Asian for fear of losing leading roles. It’s an unfortunate reality that Yeoh understands.

“For us (it was) the name change. If you want to be sure that distributors or buyers will buy your film, you should give them more Caucasian names,” said the actress, who goes by the name Yeoh Choo Kheng. He cited his co-stars who got their start in 1980s Hong Kong Kung Fu films, including Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Sammo Hung. “We all added an English name instead of just using our own names because we understood at the time that it made things easier,” she said. “It would make it more acceptable.”


“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

©Courtesy of Sony Pictures/Everett Collection

Having spent nearly two-thirds of his life on screen, Yeoh feels the changes in real time. “Times have changed. We’ve changed. The audience, the people, everyone. The people who make films, the people who watch films, the whole world has changed to ‘accept each other’. Yes, we’re different, but we’re the same. We’re still people of the world we are,” said the actress.

Look no further than Evelyn herself, a seemingly ordinary woman who becomes a hero of the multiverse. He—and the film—resonated so deeply with global audiences that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” became A24’s highest-grossing release ever.

Yeoh’s work in the film hits the beats that have led other stars to Best Actress wins in the past. It was Yeoh who made the apt decision not to call her character Michelle, as “the audience will always relate to her, and then she doesn’t have a voice, (and) Evelyn needs a voice. He deserves to speak out,” said the actress.

The role also required a physical transformation. “Everything had to be accentuated, you have to see the fatigue on his face, and then as he walks, always with the limp,” said Yeoh. “Due to years of training in dance, just like in martial arts, I always keep my head straight. But he is impressed. He almost shuffled while walking.

Finally, Evelyn is a resilient woman of a certain age, similar to Frances McDormand’s recent Oscar-winning roles in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017) and “Nomadland” (2020). “Every hard-working mother trying to support a family is Evelyn. And you have to give him the opportunity to be a superhero, to use his superpowers, which is love, which is patience, which is compassion, which is the feeling of never giving up, because I’m going to make it, because it’s not for me. , but to my family, the people I love,” said Yeoh. “So Evelyn was so important in that regard.”

Although he didn’t expect the off-beat film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” to become such a critical and commercial success, Yeoh is so proud that it was one of the films that lured people back to theaters last year. – Even though it’s a small film, it has scope. It takes your breath away. And sometimes you feel like you’re falling from the sky and learning to fly somewhere else again,” said the star.

Harry Shum Jr., Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis

Harry Shum Jr., Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis received the “Everything Everywhere All At Once” award at the 29th annual screening. Actors’ Association awards

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

And while there remains a nagging perception that the push to recognize actors of color at the Oscars is somehow prescriptive and not about Academy members watching acclaimed films they’re expected to enjoy, Yeoh is working with cautious optimism . that this could be the year those conversations gradually shift.

What do you hope for? “To start becoming a normal thing. So that it doesn’t look like, “Oh my god, they nominated four Asians!” Does that mean there are too many of us? I really hope that’s not the case,” he said. “Our filmmakers, especially our community, are generous enough and understand how we need to embrace each other — and continue to do so.”

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