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Michelle Yeoh didn’t work in Hollywood for two years after stereotype offers

The 60-year-old opens up about the difficulties in trying to make a name for herself in Hollywood as an Asian actress.

Michelle Yeoh attends the 29th Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 26, 2023. REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci

While Michelle Yeoh was already a popular actress in Asia, her Hollywood breakthrough wouldn’t come until she landed the role of Wai Lin in the 1997 James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. The role brought Yeoh much success in North America, but her Hollywood career then grew stagnant for two years due to stereotype offers.

Wai Lin is a Chinese spy and martial artist who also happens to be a “Bond girl” – the female love interest, companion or adversary to Bond. The character was praised for being progressive, but every offer that followed was not.

Yeoh told People: “At that point, people in the industry couldn’t really tell the difference between whether I was Chinese or Japanese or Korean or if I even spoke English.”

“They would talk very loudly and very slow [for me],” Yeoh continued. “I didn’t work for almost two years, until ‘Crouching Tiger’, simply because I could not agree with the stereotypical roles that were put forward on me.”

Trouble on ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

Yeoh’s most recent accomplishment has been starring as Evelyn Wang in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’. And though fans may find it difficult to imagine anyone else in the role, Yeoh almost passed on the opportunity due to issues with the character.

For starters, the character was originally written as being male, and directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert wanted Jackie Chan to play in the role. The role was eventually changed to be female, yet Yeoh had concerns in regards to the character’s name.

Yeoh told Variety: “The only thing I said to them was, ‘The character cannot be called Michelle Wang. They’re like, ‘But why? It’s so you.’”

“I’m like, ‘No, I’m not an Asian immigrant mother who’s running a laundromat. She needs her own voice.’ That’s the only thing. I’m like, ‘If you don’t change the name, I’m not coming in,’”

Thus, the character’s name was changed to Evelyn Wang.

Success for ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

Yeoh has since received several accolades for her role including a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and many more. Yeoh has also been nominated for an Academy Award.

‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ is nominated for 11 Academy Awards in total, including Best Picture.


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