How Michelle Yeoh Rose From Being a Ballerina to the First Asian Nominee for Best Actress at the Oscars
Michelle Yeoh has starred in many hit movies and has been active for 4 decades. Unlike many actresses, she mostly does action films and continues to astonish us with her performances. Behind it all, there are certain things that people don’t know about her.
Ballet, a beauty pageant, and martial arts
The 60-year-old actress first aimed for a career as a ballet dancer. Yeoh’s passion for dancing had brought her from Malaysia to England to study at the Royal Academy of Dance. Moreover, she also wanted to teach ballet. That dream, unfortunately, couldn’t come true due to a back injury, which caused her dancing career to be cut short.
However, Michelle Yeoh didn’t back down. After successfully graduating, her mother entered her in the Miss World Malaysia pageant and she won the competition.
She mostly does her own stunts.
She had the opportunity to appear in a commercial with Jackie Chan after a friend introduced her to a businessman named Dickson Poon, the co-founder of D&B Films. Since then, Yeoh’s career in Hong Kong cinema took off, she starred in movies including Yes, Madam!, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Supercop. Thanks to her background, dancing made her a natural martial artist in those movies, even though she never attended any formal classes.
Becoming a Bond girl
Entering the English-speaking film world, the Hong Kong icon also appeared in the James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies. Yeoh revealed that she felt blessed to be able to perform in the movie, which became a major milestone for her, especially in that era. “It was a proud moment because here is a Chinese woman who is standing side-to-side, toe-to-toe with the greatest spy in the world, James Bond,” she noted.
Michelle Yeoh’s struggle as an Asian actress in Hollywood
Despite being in almost 50 movies, Yeoh admitted that she never became a Hollywood “number one.” Many offers came, but the roles she received in the industry were for someone who looked like her. “It shouldn’t be about my race, but it has been a battle. At least let me try.” At one point, she refused anything that might give Asian women a bad reputation for 3 years before getting involved in Hollywood films again.
But things changed when she portrayed the main role of Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All at Once, where she proved her talent and eventually had an important responsibility for the Academy Awards race of the year. “I’ve thought about it. And not just me — I feel like my full Asian community has thought about it. They come up to me, and they say, ’You’re doing it for us,’” said Yeoh.
The Golden Globe Awards aired on January 10, 2023. Yeoh was honored for her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once, winning in the Best Actress category. “40 years, not letting go of this,” said Yeoh in her acceptance speech. As everything began to wrap up, she was stopped by the pianist, indicating that her moment had come to an end, yet she refused to stop with every intention of finishing her memorable speech.
“This is also for all the shoulders that I’ve stood up for, all who came before me, who look like me, and all who are going on this journey with me forward,” she continued, referring to her fellow Asian performers. “Thank you for believing in us.”
On top of that, she was also nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars, which makes her the first Asian actor to actually have a chance to win one of the most prestigious awards out there.
Bonus: Jamie Lee Curtis’s priceless reaction as Michelle Yeoh received her first Golden Globe award
On one of her Instagram posts, Jamie Lee Curtis congratulated her friend by saying, “Once a cheerleader. ALWAYS a cheerleader. My Bae won a Golden Globe. Her first nomination and win.”
Just like Michelle Yeoh, all of us has our own fight. The important thing is to believe in it and keep going. How would you like to share your story with us?