Michelle Yeoh Has Some Advice for the Cannes Jury
May 23, 2023
Before Michelle Yeoh was introduced as the guest of honor at the Kering Women in Motion dinner in Cannes, the festival director, Thierry Frémaux, reminisced about Yeoh’s first visit to Cannes, in 2002 when she was invited to be part of the jury that decided the Palme d’Or.
Since Yeoh recently navigated an awards season that culminated in her best actress Oscar win for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” I stopped by her table on Sunday to ask if that Cannes trip two decades ago gave her a formative perspective on handing out awards.
Yeoh brightened. “We were just having a conversation about this!” she said, referring to her table mates, who included the actors Brie Larson and Paul Dano, members of this year’s Cannes jury.
Yeoh said that back in 2002, not long after her hit “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was released, she had little idea of what she was getting into when she accepted Frémaux’s invitation to join the jury. “It is very intense, because you’re watching two or three movies a day, and the movies are not lighthearted,” she said. “Sometimes they are three hours long and not always easy to process.”
Though the president of her jury, David Lynch, proved to be a steadying force on the group — “David is always calm, and it set the tone,” she said — the experience of watching films like Gaspar Noé’s harrowing “Irreversible” and the Holocaust drama “The Pianist” (which won the Palme) was more fraught than Yeoh expected: “A couple of us felt kind of emotional toward the end, where you feel as an artist yourself, you are processing what you’re watching and going through these roller-coaster rides.”
She exhaled at the memory. “Whew! It was a little too emotional. At that time, I was still maybe too young and had not enough experience,” Yeoh, now 60, said, “but since then, I don’t think I’ve agreed to do another jury.”
Could anything convince her to come back? I floated one tantalizing hypothetical: What if Frémaux offered her the position of jury president?
“If Thierry asks me to do anything, I’d do it,” Yeoh said. “That is a very simple answer.”
The Kering dinner proved to be a fun night for the actress, who later stood on her chair to dance with Larson as a saxophonist played nearby. But Yeoh told me that the soirée that most mattered to her recently was a Hong Kong dinner celebrating her Oscar win and attended by some of the Asian film luminaries she got her start with, like Chow Yun-fat and Donnie Yen.
“The most important thing is you have to acknowledge where you came from,” she said. “Coming from Malaysia is one thing, but my career really started in Hong Kong, where I learned the craft and began my journey. So it was important to go back and tell them how much they had meant to me over the years.”
They’ve all remained friends, she added: “You know how sometimes, you don’t have to call each other every day or see each other all the time if you are true friends?” She smiled. “You just pick up where you left off.”