Hong Kong action icon Michelle Yeoh became a star in the U.S. with the 1997 James Bond installment “Tomorrow Never Dies.” In a recent interview with The Independent, the “Everything Everywhere All at Once” actress recalled being cast in a sidekick role opposite Pierce Brosnan, saying she never expected her character to be sexualized in ways many of her Bond Girl predecessors were.
“No! Looking like me, I don’t think sexualization was going to be a big problem!” Yeoh said, laughing. The martial artist added she was “blessed” to join the franchise in that era.
“Bond was ready for change,” Yeoh explained. “Bond had to evolve because the fan base was also evolving. Women were choosing the movies to go and watch, and we don’t always want to watch ones where we’re being sexualized.”
As for the fictional MI6 agent’s complicated portrayals of Asian stereotypes in the past, Yeoh said, “I think every film should have the right to speak for itself on its own merit. It’s only when you are given the opportunity to participate that you can make a difference.”
And with Yeoh’s more recent roles in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the iconic star hopes to add to the “evolution” of representation onscreen.
“With all minorities, it’s taken a while to get to where we are. But we’re here,” Yeoh said. “We have to take this responsibility very, very seriously, and make sure that the stories coming out are not rushed, and have been nurtured and continue to be told in the best way.”
Yeoh added, “We don’t want to be unnoticed anymore. We’ve waited for such a long time, there are so many stories to be told. We want to see our faces onscreen.”
The lead “Everything Everywhere All at Once” role was originally slated to go to Jackie Chan before writer-director duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert approached Yeoh.
“You get to that stage in your life and your career where you feel: ‘I’m being sort of overlooked here,’ because you are now relegated to these kinds of [minor] roles,” Yeoh previously reflected on intersectional representation. “The guys seem to be doing it. They’re still like superheroes in their 60s and 70s. Why does a woman not get the opportunity to be that?”