Michelle Yeoh Plays Santa In Christmas Romantic Comedy

Angela Dawson

November 4, 2019

Article taken from Forbes

Audiences have come to know Michelle Yeoh as a martial arts star and dramatic actress, appearing in such worldwide blockbusters as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the 1997 James Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies, but the veteran performer lately has revealed yet another facet of herself—her comedic side.

Audiences first became acquainted with Yeoh’s comic sensibility in last year’s box office hit Crazy Rich Asians, playing star Henry Golding’s intimidating mother. She drew critical praise for her pitch-perfect performance.

In Universal Pictures’ rom-com, Last Christmas, she co-stars alongside Golding once again, although the two share no scenes together. The Emma Thompson-penned comedy centers on a young woman who has overcome a devastating illness but has yet to find her footing nearly a year after her life-saving surgery. The Paul Feig-directed film, as its title suggests, is infused with music by the late pop musician George Michael, including his perennial holiday hit, which he recorded as a member of the ‘80s pop duo Wham! Michael gave his blessing to the film while it was in development. He died on Christmas Day 2016. Last Christmas also includes a never-before-released Michael song, This is How (We Want You to Get High), that may have fans reaching for their hankies.

Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke plays Kate, a flaky yet likable clerk at a London shop that sells Christmas baubles year-round. Yeoh plays the quirky Chinese émigré proprietress of the quaint shop who simply calls herself “Santa,” because no one can pronounce her real name. She’s stern with Kate, whom she refers to simply as “Elf,” but she also shows remarkable empathy, giving the serial screw-up employee endless second chances, even covering for her with the police when Kate leaves the doors unlocked one night, leaving the shop open to vandals.

As Kate becomes involved with an almost too-good-to-be-true mysterious stranger (Golding) whom she meets cute in front of the shop one day, Santa too catches the romantic Christmas spirit when a handsome European customer drops in. Theirs is a love-at-first-sight encounter, yet it requires Kate’s intervention to convince the clearly lovestruck duo to embark on a romantic adventure.

Sci-fi fans know Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou on TV’s Star Trek: Discovery. The actress has several top-secret projects in the works, including a spinoff of the popular series, as well as a recurring role in James Cameron’s upcoming Avatar sequels.

Playful and chatty during a phone interview, Yeoh discusses her dive into comedy, celebrating Christmas, remembering George Michael and hinting at her upcoming projects.

With Crazy Rich Asians and now Last Christmas, is this entry into comedy something you planned?

Michelle Yeoh: No, this was nothing I planned. It wasn’t on my plate. I was doing the Star Trek: Discovery series and (the action film) Gunpowder Milkshake with Navot Papushado. So, no, that definitely wasn’t on the slate at all until Paul Feig, whom I’d met in Toronto while I was filming Star Trek, and he was filming A Simple Favor with Henry Golding. He introduced us and we became fast friends with Paul and his wife, Laurie. We agreed that we really needed to find something to work on together.

At the beginning of 2018, he called and said he’d just received this script (for Last Christmas). “You’ve got to play Santa,” he told me. I was a little confused. I said, “I know I fight for women’s rights but seriously, “ho ho ho, I don’t know.” But, bless him, I thank Paul for all this. He saw me as this funny character, this charming, lovable but straightforward hardworking woman as his “Santa.” He told me and so did Emma (Thompson) that I was the first person that Paul cast. After he read the script, he told her, “I know who’s playing Santa,” and he never deviated from that. So, it’s been an amazing experience.

Even though your character is funny to the audience, she’s dead serious about Christmas.

Yeoh: Christmas is a very special time to Santa.

How was it exploring that character and playing someone a little eccentric and passionate? Could you relate to her passion?

Yeoh: Emma Thompson, who wrote the script, based this character on her daughter-in-law, Bao, who comes from Shenyang (China) and moved to England to get her PhD. Unfortunately, she was on a mission outside of England while we were shooting this so I never got to meet her. So, I wasn’t trying to emulate Bao; I felt we needed to make Santa stand alone. The thought of an immigrant who comes from China, who’s single-minded and wanted to embrace this as a new home, but she also wants to fit in. That’s why she changed her name. She wasn’t ashamed of who she was, her culture or anything like that. It was about: this is her new home and people do things differently here so, if I’m going to fit in, I’m going to have to learn. So, when she worked at the pet store, she called herself Kitty. So, for me, this character was very single-minded, very clear in her objective. She’s been through the grind: she worked at a pet store, a health store, a bakery, and she would have gone on through various jobs, but she discovered about herself that she loved Christmas, and what better way to acknowledge that than to open her own (year-round) Christmas store. She’d saved enough money to be her own boss, which is even more work when you’re your own boss. You have to make it work.

Christmas is about something for everyone. So, in her store, no matter what your taste is, there’s something for you. That was what made her so different and special. She has a heart. She knows that when customers come to her store, they’re going to walk out with something that means something to them.

What makes this film special is the infusion of George Michael songs.

Yeoh: His music would wake me up almost every morning when these songs first came out. Those songs are timeless.

What is your favorite George Michael song?

Yeoh: I’d have to say Careless Whisper.

I think he wrote that song when he was just 17 years old.

Yeoh: That’s when we’re most sentimental and not afraid to make crazy declarations. As we get older, we get embarrassed and think others will laugh at us.

Most of your scenes in the film are with Emilia Clarke. What was she like to work with because audiences mostly think of her as a serious dramatic actress? She was the Khaleesi.

Yeoh: As an actor, I know you’re not the character you play. So, the minute I walked in and saw her crazy (dark) eyebrows, I just knew we were going to have a lot of fun. I think he shows how much fun we had having it on with each other. It was easy. And, with Paul right there with us—even Emma (Thompson) was there all the time because she’s also a producer on the show—it was like we had our angels watching out for us the whole time.

Do you remember days on set that were the most interesting? That set in the Christmas shop is so beautiful; you just want to grab a bunch of the displays and take them home.

Yeoh: I felt the same way every time I was on set. I think they ended up super-gluing them down because some of the props would disappear. (She laughs.) The set decorator and the set designer did such a phenomenal job. When I first saw the shop, my jaw dropped because I love Christmas, personally. I love going to Christmas stores and finding that special ornament I want to hang on my tree. It was very magical. I also had a wonderful wardrobe that made it even more spectacular and glamorous that it matched her stage.

And you get a love interest in the movie with Danish actor Peter Mygind.

Yeoh: He was just fabulous. He brought the character (“Dane”/ “Boy”) to another level. You know, because when you read a script, you wonder, “How are we going to convince the audience we have love at first sight?” But when Peter arrived on set, it just happened. It was just so funny. We knew we were onto something when Paul would yell cut, and the ADs would just burst out laughing.

What’s happening with the Star Trek: Discovery spinoff?

Yeoh: (whispering) I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about it. All I can say is, we’re working on it.

Here’s another one I want to ask you about that you can’t talk about…

Yeoh: You’re talking about the “A”-word. (Avatar sequels). It’s been so fabulous. I’ve been shooting it and I go back. It was just a dream to work with James Cameron. When watching him and listening to him talk about his vision, I was like a little kid back in school. I would sign on to be his assistant at the drop of a hat, if he would have me.

You have another film you’ve wrapped called Boss Level, right?

Yeoh: Yeah, with (director) Joe Carnahan. I’m wondering when that’s coming out. And I did Gunpowder Milkshake with Navot Papushado with Angela Bassett and Lena Headey, Karen Gillan and Carla Gugino, which was so much fun. I think they’re finishing editing it now. I suspect it would be coming out next year.

What are your plans between now and the end of the year?

Yeoh: I’m back in space.

What’s coming up on Star Trek: Discovery?

Yeoh: I can’t say anything. That’s why you don’t see me at Comic-Cons because I’m not allowed to talk about anything.

You’re in all these top-secret projects. It must be tricky doing these interviews.

Yeoh: I know and everyone’s trying to get (the secrets) out of me. I’d be in so much trouble if I leaked anything. Just wait and see. It’ll be worth the wait.

Since we’re discussing Last Christmas, what do you usually do during the holidays?

Yeoh: I will be celebrating with my family, for sure. We always try to get together over Christmas because it’s really about family. I love decorating the Christmas tree so I have to be somewhere where I can put up a tree. Otherwise, it doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Script developed by Never Enough Design