Malaysian born actress Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh recently sat down with the team at Anlene in a no holds barred interview about her life as a Hollywood star and how she approaches aging as an international movie icon. This interview has been republished here with permission.
How do you see your mobility past 60?
Age never bothers me, I still maintain my passion for doing my own stunts and I do a lot of exercise everyday. However, when it comes to dangerous stunt scenes nowadays, I am happy to let the stunt performers do it. I know how to protect myself and not get injured.
Do you think that people need to slow down as they get older?
No, I’m the opposite, I have more things to do as time is running out. Age should not stop our passion from what we love to do. I try to keep my body as fit as possible, I do one hour of elliptical everyday and stretching to keep my flexibility. My body is probably stronger than kids who stay at home all day long playing video games. I turned 60 in August last year and people around me are shocked that I still have some more live-action projects scheduled. And I plan to continue making action movies as long as it’s enjoyable and feasible.
Do you believe in the idea of a “second career” / “second phase of life” as you age?
In life, there are always many phases and chapters but age should not limit our career or what we love to do. There is a common notion that our career comes to an end when we age especially for women in the entertainment industry. But as you grow older, there are new opportunities that we can’t miss. I went from cruising on a motorcycle while handcu”ed to Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies to becoming a mum in Crazy Rich Asians and Everything Everywhere All at Once. I am very lucky and blessed I played different fun roles at my different times and ages.
Do you feel any different now than at 40, 50?
Of course, I feel different, body changes but it doesn’t mean I am not as strong as 40 or 50. It comes to sense that I need to know and take care of my body and health better. It’s all about strengthening
“TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF IS SOMETHING THAT YOU LEARN TO DO FOR YOURSELF AND FOR PEOPLE YOU LOVE.”MICHELLE YEOH
What kept you going all these years and how important was your overall health to getting to where you are today?
Passion and People. It’s about being able to work with people who have a meaningful story and giving a voice to people who are unheard and unseen. I only take on projects that I believe in and once I agree to do something, I must do it to the best of my ability. I do exercise and stretching everyday, I eat a lot of vegetables and don’t drink any sodas. Balanced diet is very important. My work can be physically intensive, so I need to take care of my body by living an active and healthy lifestyle and get the proper nutrition I need. This has allowed me to continue doing my own stunts and take on roles which are more physically challenging.
What are you still aspiring for at this stage in your life?
To keep learning and have humility. I’m still trying to find new ways to learn, and it never hurts to keep working hard and always do your best. The harder you work, the luckier you become and opportunities will fall into your hands. I will continue to try different roles to surprise my audiences.
When did you realize that you were aging? Any specific stories that made you confront aging?
When I start to feel pain in my back, hip and knees… And sometimes I hear my bones cracking. Contrary to my young, energetic and agile self, I get sti and exhausted during long hours of filming. That’s why I have taken the extra effort to care for my body to allow myself to work as long as I can. I want to continue to do what I love and grow as an actress and person as I continue to age.
Do you see yourself as an example for others to follow in terms of staying active and mobile as you age?
Absolutely yes. It is so important for us to stay active and mobile. Exercise has played a very important part of my life not just for my stunt work but for keeping myself both physically and mentally healthy. And what we eat is important too. Having a balanced diet is very important. It’s normal to age and not be as nimble as we used to but there is something we can do about it. We must take care of our health and get the proper nutrition that we need to do the things we love and be with the ones we love.
Why is mobility important- not just for your career but in all aspects of your life?
A lot of research has shown exercise helps to balance hormones which is the most challenging part for any age of women always. Exercise doesn’t only help your body shape look great but happier and more confident as well. I find peace and calm when I go on exercise, it is how I destress. Taking care of yourself is something that you learn to do for yourself and for people you love. Starting early in staying active and mobile can help to prevent the limitations we face as we age.
How do you feel that your career trajectory (Hong Kong action movie star to Hollywood star) has affected the way you think and approach life?
I came into this career by accident; I never once thought, ‘Oh, I want to be an actress.’ I always thought that one day I would have my own ballet school. I was to do a commercial in Hong Kong with Jackie Chan and subsequently, I was offered a film contract by D&B Films. I started off as a damsel in distress in The Owl vs Bumbo before I moved on to action films, where I started to do my own stunts. And this has defined the most of my career. Now, I’m acting in roles done by wonderful directors with their own distinctive voices. My life experiences have made me realize that we can’t wait for things to happen. We must roll with the punches and believe in what we are capable of. If we want to make things happen, we will make it happen. I also only choose to work on projects I believe in. It must be something that I am passionate about because I’m spending time away from the ones I love. And I only want to do things to the best of my ability.
As one of the biggest Asian stars in Hollywood today, how do you feel that representation of Asian culture and diversity has changed over the years?
When I first started, I didn’t feel accepted as an Asian actor. Some people were even surprised that I spoke English. After the success of Crazy Rich Asians, Shang-chi, Everything Everywhere All At Once, we are witnessing a profound shift – Great inclusion, more diverse stories, wider access and unlimited global reach. But inclusion is not a destination, there is always more we can do to improve our storytelling. We must stand up for ourselves and be courageous enough to have a voice. We deserve a voice. I think at this point in my career, that is what I’m really enjoying: the fact that we are getting more opportunities and the opportunities we deserve.
What would you say to other Asian women trying to achieve their dreams?
Believe in what you are capable of and be confident that you can achieve your dream. Don’t wait for things to happen. But take charge of what you love and do it for yourself. It’s been a long battle with me from the beginning to find roles that are representation of strong women. So, I fight constantly to do that. There are many women who have worked hard their entire lives and continue to remain unseen. But I believe that all women’s stories need to be told and seen. That’s why, keep fighting for your dreams, don’t let anyone limit the things you do, especially yourself. You can do what you set your mind to and show us everything you’ve got.
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