Michelle Yeoh Interview: Last Christmas
November 11, 2019
Screen Rant sat down with Michelle Yeoh to discuss Last Christmas, the heartwarming new romantic comedy from Bridesmaids and Spy director Paul Feig.
The music of George Michael plays a key role in Last Christmas, a celebration of love and friendship during the holiday season. Emilia Clarke stars as a young woman trying to keep her life from falling apart while struggling to find her place in the world. A chance meeting with a handsome stranger (Henry Golding) encourages her to “look up” and appreciate the beauty all around her. The latest film from Paul Feig, Last Christmas is a delightfully jolly and heartfelt romantic comedy interested in nothing more than spreading cheer to all who see it.
One of the standout performances in Last Christmas comes from Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: Discovery), who shines as “Santa,” the boss of the holiday store where Katerina, Emilia Clarke’s character, works. She’s a mysterious figure who is far deeper than Katerina initially assumes. When kept at arm’s length, people remain the caricatures we draw of them, but in letting down our guard, we can learn more about each other, and ourselves. This human interaction is a big part of the magic of Last Christmas.
At a New York City press day for Last Christmas, Screen Rant sat down with Yeoh to discuss her character, the film, and the magic of Christmastime. She talks about Santa’s incredible sense of style, the beauty of racial and cultural diversity in big cities across the world, and getting to work with people like Paul Feig and Emma Thompson. She also shares some insight into the development of her own romantic subplot in the film, with the character, “Boy,” played by Peter Mygind.
Last Christmas is out now in theaters nationwide.
Let’s talk about Last Christmas!
Did you like it?
Yeah, it’s the most adorable thing I’ve seen all year. It’s so nice to see a movie that’s just so sincere.
Yes. I think, with someone like Emma Thompson, when she penned it, I think they were working on the script for a very long time. Even before George Michael passed. I think she said it was only in 2016, after he passed, that they all went, “we have to make an homage to him” because his songs were so much a part of us. We grew up with his songs. So when she wrote this, I think she also wanted to deal with so many issues that she felt were around her. Emma is a very serious filmmaker, apart from being an actress, director, producer, writer, all that. Sometimes, I think because it was with the George Michael song, Last Christmas, it had to be around Christmas. And you know what? Christmastime is the time for romance. It’s how we see it, right? It’s a time for family. So how do you incorporate it? I think she found a really beautiful way of doing it. It’s a story about family and redemption. There’s so many issues that she touches on, the things that we are. “Look up.”
Please, look around you, not just to stop and smell the roses, but to see there’s someone who needs you, for a change. And the issues of immigration. The character I play is an immigrant from China, who’s come to a new place to start a new life of her own, and she’s determined to be successful and do whatever it takes. She was very single-minded. It was like, If I work in a pet store, I have to be somebody people can relate to, so I’m Kitty. Right? If I’m in a heath store, I’m Miso, like miso soup. Right? Everybody can understand that. And with the family of Katerina, “Kate,” her father was a professional lawyer but could not do it in his new country. But his eldest daughter did. And Kate spiraled because she was ill and couldn’t find herself anymore.
It’s a jolly family movie, but it’s in a dense and layered script.
There’s so many great issues she was dealing with. But she did it in such a gentle, warm way. It was like, this is what it is, how it is. And I loved the fact that Christmas is a time of giving and sharing and caring. People don’t feel so embarrassed to give and share. Sometimes we do feel that way, like, “Oh, if I go over and say hello, that person might think I’m mad at them!” We’re always afraid to do that.
Especially in New York!
In a lot of cities, you find it becomes so like disassociation is better. So you get on with your thing and I get on with my thing. So it was nice to walk into a film like this thanks to Paul. He called and said, “Come and play Santa!” And I’m like… “Santa?”
Yes. I’m not wearing that red suit and going around ho-ho-ho, right? But then, understanding the script and where it was coming from, and you know when you read a script and it makes you tear up, you know there’s something very special there. We read a lot of scripts and things come your way. But it was an opportunity to work with Paul Feig, who I think is amazing, and he’s such a champion for women. The women’s stories. And then, a chance to work with Emma Thompson, who I’ve admired for a long time. And then, to have amazing scenes with Emilia Clarke, who I think is great!
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is Emilia on the bus. For myself, I look very, uh, Anglo, but my mom is Honduran, from Central America, so I’ve heard so many people being openly racist around me because they don’t think I’ll mind, you know, “How about those Latinos?” in so many words.
That’s so sad, right?
It’s like, you can see someone and judge them, but you don’t know them, you don’t know their story, and a lot of the time, you don’t even know their ethnicity or race, you’re just guessing. It’s like, we’re in New York, it’s a melting pot, we’re all different colors. That’s the point of the city, of America!
Exactly! Honestly… All the cities in the world are melting pots, and especially in America. Everybody, almost everybody is an immigrant. Right?
Okay, I want to ask you a lighter question. Your outfits in this movie are incredible. I mean, I’m sitting across from you at this table, and I’m looking right at one of the most beautiful people of all time.
Awww, thank you!
You are dressed to the nines, as they say, throughout the whole movie. How do you curate your look for a role? What’s your approach to your glam?
There are certain designers that we know very well. Doing Last Christmas, we called on a very dear friend from Taiwan, her name is Madam Wang, and her brand name is Shiatzy Chen. It’s all the very Asian details that are there. Santa is proud of who she is. She’s not trying to forget her own culture, her ethnicity. She does want to blend in, but she doesn’t want to forget who she is. So she tries to bring it all together. So you see her with the Chinese brocade, but then she’ll throw on a boa scarf or something like that, which blends in the two. But the most important thing for Santa is her shop. It’s one of the most beautiful in the world. I mean… She will not allow the store to overshadow her; after all, she is the boss! So it becomes her stage. Everyday when she walks on is like a statement because she loves being there. She wants the people who come in and go, “Oh my God.” You know how you can get swept away? That is how she wanted her place to be. This magical place. It has to start from her. So that’s why. And Renee, our costume designer, is just brilliant. For me, the look of the character was important. I wanted the people to be drawn to Santa. It wasn’t just about her funny lines. It was her.
She’s interesting to watch. She’s funny, but not crazy-funny. She’s elegant, but not classical stern, that kind of thing.
That would be a stereotype, right? The hardened Chinese lady.
Correct! That would be, like, if I wore the stilettos, and the “tic tic tic tic” (of walking). It had that, but not that. I think a lot of my shoes were Roger Vivier. That woman has class! But she was playful, as well. I think it was very important to do it like that. She had such love for what she did. And she wanted to share that, even though she wanted to be a successful business person. It was important that anyone who came into her store would walk out with something that would be special for them. That’s what Christmas is about! It was very interesting, how we put her together. And all the different looks. I mean, it was very hard, because Kate had the elf look. (Laughs) Right? And when you’re Santa, it’s not just the red outfit, but it was almost like a fashion show. Every time she shows up, you’re like, “what is she going to put on today?” It was intentional, in that way, to make you very curious, and you don’t want to take your eyes off her, because you don’t know what she’s going to do; one minute, she’s so ladylike, and the next thing, she’s throwing things at her elf.
You’ve got a great little romantic subplot, it’s told so efficiently, your relationship with “Boy.”
That was so special. And thanks to Peter (Mygind). He is a very special actor. And it was very… You know when you read it, you’re like, how the hell do you show two people falling in love instantly? Love at first sight?
What does that even look like in the script? So often, there’s no dialogue between you two.
Exactly that! You read it going, “Uh-huh. Okay. Alright. I don’t know what Paul is going to do here…”
“Gonna have to do some acting here!”
Yes! And it would be okay. I thought, I’m gonna need some help here! Maybe with the camerawork, I didn’t know what they were going to do. But it read very beautiful. It’s gonna have to, like, tug at your heart and make you believe you can fall in love. There is love at first sight. That was the challenge. And I think it was quite interesting… Right?
Absolutely! It was just a perfect example of what we’ve been talking about. In the city, it doesn’t matter what race you are, if you maybe don’t speak the same language, or have trouble pronouncing each other’s names, it doesn’t even matter!
No, and it shouldn’t! You don’t need words.