Michelle Yeoh on ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’: ‘I trained for 37 years to get to this role’

Michelle Yeoh waves to the crowd at the Castro Theater screening of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” on Sunday, March 20. Photo: Chris Victorio / ImageSPACE for A24

How is it possible that at the dawn of a fifth decade of an already fabulous career, Michelle Yeoh is more brilliant than she has ever been?

Yet here’s the proof: In the past five years, the actress who made her debut in Hong Kong martial arts films in the 1980s has directed three films that have surpassed the $100 million mark in American box office and became captain of “Star Trek”. , and this year, she will be one of the stars of “Avatar 2” by James Cameron.

But Yeoh thinks the mind-blowing freewheeling action-comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” his first Hollywood film as a star which opens in theaters on Friday, March 25, could well be his defining role in his career. .

“The first time I read the script I was like, ‘Oh my God, I trained for 37 years to get to this role,” Yeoh told The Chronicle while visiting San Francisco on Sunday, March 20 for the film’s California premiere at the Castro Theater. “Maybe I had to wait until this moment to be able to do it. … I felt like I could take this crazy journey.

Review: Michelle Yeoh beats Marvel in the multiverse game in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

Michelle Yeoh smashes her way into the action in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Photo: Allyson Riggs/A24

And oh, what a trip.

It’s a movie that was built around Yeoh, which has never happened before for her in Hollywood. She plays Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant who runs a laundromat with her husband Waymond (former child star Ke Huy Quan, best known for ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ and ‘The Goonies’), her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu , “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and 93-year-old father (acting legend James Hong, also the voice of Mr. Gao in Pixar’s “Turning Red”).

Evelyn also battles an IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis) who threatens to shut down her business.

Evelyn feels life has passed her – then she connects to her own multiverse. In these different universes, Evelyn is, among other personalities, a former warrior, a sushi chef, a lesbian with hot dogs for her fingers (you read that right, this movie is crazy) and, rightly, a star of movie theater. Evelyn, combining all of her talents, must fight across all of these multiverses to save her family.

There’s a phenomenon on YouTube where fans put together the films of their favorite stars, even combining different films, to create the “ultimate” film of a particular actor. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” looks like a Michelle Yeoh movie fan montage, but with Yeoh as a willing participant.

Indiana Jones Sidekick Ke Huy Quan Is Back With Michelle Yeoh In “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Stephanie Hsu (left), Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Photo: Allyson Riggs/A24

Well, that’s kind of what happened, except those fans were the Daniels, directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The creators of “Swiss Army Man” have concocted a Michelle Yeoh multiverse. In fact, Evelyn’s character was called Michelle in the script they sent to Yeoh, who immediately roundhoused the idea.

“I said, ‘She can’t be called Michelle in this scenario!’ ” recalled Yeoh, who recently sat down with Quan and Hsu during an interview with The Chronicle. “They were like, ‘Well, that East you,” and I was like, “No-no-no-no-no-no. This immigrant woman is do not me. You can’t keep reminding the public. The worst thing is to distract everyone.

“I said, ‘If you don’t change the name, I’m leaving. ”

So the Daniels changed the name.

“We’ve loved so many of his movies over the years,” Scheinert said in a separate interview. “We thought, ‘If she says yes, we’ll be so lucky!’ ”

Yeoh, who was born in Malaysia, moved to the UK with her family when she was 15 and studied ballet at the Royal Academy of Dance in London. But when an injury ended her dancing career, she turned to modeling, winning beauty pageants and starring in commercials. It was a commercial starring action star Jackie Chan that caught the attention of D&B Films, who turned his dance moves into martial arts moves in a series of groundbreaking action films beginning with the joyous ” Yes, Madam! (1985) in which she was a Hong Kong cop à la Dirty Harry.

Michelle Yeoh in her breakthrough film, “Yes, Madam!” (1985). Photo: D&B Films

She retired after marrying D&B founder Dickson Poon. But five years later, after their divorce, she returned to acting as Chan’s co-star in “Supercop” (1992), in which she did all her own stunts – including an incredible stunt in which she jumped a motorcycle onto a moving train. .

After a series of successful action films, she was seriously injured while filming “The Stunt Woman” (1996). She was nearly paralyzed from jumping off a bridge onto a moving truck and contemplating another retirement. But a strange thing happened. Hong Kong action films were spreading to America on home video. Hollywood was grooming Chan to be a star, and New Line Cinema released a dubbed version of “Rumble in the Bronx”, which became a hit in the United States. Encouraged by the box office trend, another studio, Dimension, released an edited and dubbed version. of “Supercop”, which did well in the United States in late summer 1996.

Yeoh’s performance in this 4-year-old film caught the attention of James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, and they cast her opposite Pierce Brosnan in “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997). The Bond movie grossed over $330 million worldwide, and by the time Yeoh starred in Ang Lee’s Oscar-nominated martial arts drama “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), she was a bona fide star. international.

Michelle Yeoh with Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Photo: Keith Hamshere/MGM/United Artists

But while she was constantly working — in Hong Kong, China and Hollywood (“Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2005, “Sunshine” in 2007) — she went through a dry spell. Box office hits were rare.

Then a decade later, to his delight, a wave began. Yeoh made a guest appearance in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” (2017) and continued with a villainous turn in “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), then played Captain/Emperor Philippa Georgiou in Seasons 1 through 3 from “Star Trek: Discovery” and had a meaty martial arts supporting role in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” last year. (Yeoh told The Chronicle that the long-rumored “Section 31,” a “Star Trek spin-off centered around his character Georgiou, is set to begin filming this year.)

By the time the Daniels came to call, she was ready.

“Even when I’m not filming, I practice every day,” Yeoh said. “Once you know your ABCs – and our ABCs are like the front kick, side kick, back kick, roundhouse kick – and punches are always the same… it’s just the choreography that’s different, and the people you’re dancing with are different.”

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) in her alternate life as a movie star in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Photo: Allyson Riggs/A24

Kwan, seated next to Scheinert, said Yeoh was everything they thought she would be, and more. He said she took the entire cast and crew under her wing and helped forge instant camaraderie.

“She’s very driven by passion,” Kwan said. “She’s the kind of woman who always builds families around her. So every relationship isn’t just a working relationship, it’s building her global family. Even now, she’s texting me and saying, “Send me a picture of your son!” ”

Quan, whose role as Evelyn’s husband is her first major role in two decades, said working with Yeoh was a privilege.

“What’s amazing is that I think we’ve all come to expect Michelle Yeoh in a certain type of role: she fucks ass, she’s still the beautiful heroine,” Quan said. “To see her in this film is a huge change from her previous work. Being on set and witnessing this phenomenal performance was incredible. I am in awe of her talent.”

Michelle Yeoh signs autographs and takes selfies with fans after the Castro Theater screening of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” on Sunday, March 20. Photo: Chris Victorio / ImageSPACE for A24

The last time Yeoh was in San Francisco, she said she had a blast as the Grand Marshal of the 2018 Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown. This time, she was the center of attention at a rousing reception to a packed house for the California premiere at the Castro Theater, where her fans made a name for themselves. (Yeoh was scheduled to appear at the film’s Los Angeles premiere on Wednesday, March 23, but tested positive for COVID-19 — or, as she announced on her Instagram, “jumped into the Covid universe!” — and sat down.)

It was only the second screening of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” after its world premiere at the South by Southwest festival in Austin on March 11. Naturally, Yeoh stayed after to sign autographs and take selfies with her Bay Area fans.

As he approaches his 60th birthday this year, it’s the best time of his life.

“I’m extremely proud of myself for letting go – of being a real woman, a mother who holds the family together, who is sometimes taken for granted and who is invisible,” Yeoh told the Castro crowd while playing Evelyn . “Was it hard? Damn, yeah! … But I think we all feel like we’re all everywhere at once.

“Everything, everywhere, all at once” (R) is in theaters Friday, March 25.

Chronicle Senior Arts and Entertainment Writer Mariecar Mendoza contributed to this story.

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