A message to everyone in Hollywood: Don’t tell Michelle Yeoh what she can and can’t do. Speaking on the latest episode of the Los Angeles Times’ “The Envelope” podcast, Yeoh disclosed that many people were telling her to retire from acting prior to her accepting the lead role in the Daniels’ multiverse family adventure “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which has garnered her an Oscar nomination for best actress. The industry thought Yeoh was too old to keep working. Yeoh disagreed.
“You know, as you get older, the roles get smaller,” Yeoh said. “It seems like the numbers go up and these things go narrow and then you start getting relegated to the side more and more. So when ‘Everything Everywhere’ came… it was very emotional because this means that you are the one who’s leading this whole process, who’s telling the story.”
Yeoh continued, “You know, as you get older, people start saying, ‘Oh yeah, you should retire. You should do this. You should…’ No, guys. Do not tell me what to do. I should be in control of what I am capable of, right?”
To say that “Everything Everywhere” has been a landmark for Yeoh’s career is an understatement. The film has garnered the icon her first Academy Award nomination, and she won the Golden Globe for actress in a motion picture comedy or musical earlier this year. The movie has also become a cultural phenomenon with over $100 million at the worldwide box office, ranking as A24’s biggest grosser in history.
“The first thing is you feel like, ‘Finally, thank you. You guys see me, you guys really see, and you’re giving me the opportunity to show that I’m capable of doing all this,’” Yeoh added about the movie’s breakthrough success. “As an actor, you need the opportunity. You need the role that will help you showcase what you are capable to do.”
In a previous interview with Variety, Yeoh confirmed reports that her role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was originally written for a man. It was Jackie Chan who the Daniels first wanted to hire before they changed the script to make the lead character a woman. Even then, Yeoh had reasonable demands regarding her character’s name.
“The only thing I said to them was, ‘The character cannot be called Michelle Wang,’” Yoeh said. “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 was the only thing. I’m like, ‘If you don’t change the name, I’m not coming in.’”
The character’s name was ultimately changed to Evelyn Wang, and the rest is history.