Photos: Tammi Tan, the 26th Singapore International Film Festival, TPG
Video: Zhang Jiahao
As an actress who has gained acclaim for performing her own death-defying stunts in a variety of martial arts classics, it’s safe to say that Michelle Yeoh more than qualifies to be labelled an “action hero”.
However, the Malaysian-born superstar believes otherwise.
“I get stage fright, I’m afraid of heights, I’m claustrophobic – I’m no action hero!” Michelle quipped during an In Conversation session, part of this year’s Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), yesterday morning (Dec 6). She was also in town to receive the Cinema Legend Award at the Festival’s Silver Screen Awards on Saturday.
Throughout the hour-long discussion, which had Michelle fielding questions from the host and the floor, the 53-year-old touched on an extensive range of topics, from her pre-showbiz days as a ballet dancer (which came to a halt with a spinal injury when she was 16) to some of her recent roles (in Aung San Suu Kyi biopic The Lady and TV series Strike Back) to her passion for various causes, such as the fight against AIDS and road safety awareness. Two of her nephews and an aunt from Ipoh were also in the audience.
Michelle is presented the Cinema Legend Award by film producer Terence Chang and local veteran actress Zoe Tay at the Silver Screen Awards
Michelle’s phobias certainly have not stopped her from tackling some of the most dangerous stunt sequences in cinema, but that’s apparently a thing of the past. After recalling an amusing anecdote about how audiences mistook an iconic scene in 1992’s Police Story 3: Super Cop (where Michelle rides a motorcycle onto the roof of a moving train) as computer-generated, she said she is glad that the advancement of CGI has made creating these sequences a lot safer.
“Today, there is no way I would do something like that,” she declared.
Something else she would turn down immediately is onscreen nudity. “My parents wouldn’t like to see that, and I don’t think I could do that!” she said.
When we asked her in a later interview if this decision has ever affected her relationship with a director, she shared, “If they know who you are, then it won’t. Every person has certain limits and you must know your own. A filmmaker has to consider that some actors have principles that they don’t want to cross, and if they can’t come to a compromise then they have to find someone else.”
Michelle’s fiancé has to find time for her
Since announcing her engagement to 69-year-old French motor sports executive Jean Todt in 2005, many have been eagerly anticipating the day Michelle ties the knot for the second time (she was previously married to Hong Kong businessman Dickson Poon from 1988 to 1992, during which she retired temporarily from acting).
Although it has been a whole decade, no date has been set. In earlier reports, Michelle revealed that her wedding plans had to be pushed back when her father passed away in November last year. When we asked if they have already at least started the planning process, all she offered was, “It’s not going to be a lot of prep, I hope!”
Another factor that has likely been postponing their nuptials is her insanely busy schedule – the second season of Netflix series Marco Polo and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II are just a couple of projects that have been taking up her attention. So how does she manage to find precious time for Jean?
“He works even harder than I do – he finds time for me!” she said with a laugh. “We try to campaign for the same thing so we have more time together – for example, after I finished filming in Johor Bahru recently, I went to New York City to campaign for road safety with him. After that, we go home and just have a quiet dinner for two – that’s what I enjoy the most. (smiles)”