Michelle Yeoh on Inspiring Younger Generations of Asian Actors: 'We Deserve a Voice'

The Everything Everywhere All at Once star tells PEOPLE about her nearly 40-year career and excitement about new opportunities for Asian actors in film and television

Michelle Yeoh Rollout
Photo: Thomas Laisné

Nearly 40 years into her acclaimed career, Michelle Yeoh is receiving her best reviews to date, for her performance in the genre-defying fantasy Everything Everywhere All at Once.

"Every time I make a movie, I hope the audience discovers something new about me," the star, 59, tells PEOPLE in the latest issue.

"What I really enjoyed doing [in Everything Everywhere All at Once] was the physical comedy, which I've not really done before. You've seen me in martial arts films — I'm always serene. I know exactly what I'm doing. I am the teacher, the mentor. And suddenly in this one, [my character] Evelyn Wang, she knows nothing. She's a very ordinary, aging housewife who's got so many troubles in her head. It was really fun."

The celebrated star is known for playing captivating superspy Wai Lin opposite Pierce Brosnan's James Bond in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies, the formidable warrior Yu Shu Lien in 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and more recently the regal and unwavering Eleanor Young in 2018's Crazy Rich Asians and the fierce Ying Nan in Marvel's 2021 hit Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

She says she feels encouraged and excited about this moment in her career — both for the varied opportunities she has had and what it means for other Asian actors.

"What [is special about] this moment in my career is having so many people who look like me, especially the younger generation [of Asian actors], come up to me and say, 'Finally, I can see myself doing all these kinds of things because you are doing it,' " she says. "We have to stand up for ourselves and be courageous enough to have a voice. We deserve a voice. I think at this point in my career, that is what I'm really enjoying: the fact that we are getting more opportunities and the opportunities we deserve."

Michelle Yeoh Rollout
Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). Allyson Riggs

For much more on Michelle Yeoh, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

The Malaysia-born actress says when it comes to thinking about her work and what else she would like to accomplish, she prefers to go with the flow versus making to-do lists.

"When I was younger, I used to make that to-do list and cross it off and feel like I had accomplished something," she says. "But [now] I find that limiting. Sometimes you stop listening or seeing the things that are around you. So that's what I do now: I go with the flow. Because especially in our line of work, you don't know what amazing directors are going to pop around the corner and say, 'Well, I really like your work, and I'd love to work with you.' So I don't make lists anymore."

Tackling the various and unexpected challenges involved with making Everything Everywhere All at Once was incredibly gratifying for Yeoh, who became fast friends with her costar and new fan Jamie Lee Curtis.

MIchelle Yeoh
Robby Klein/Contour/Getty

"Michelle gives one of the great performances onscreen ever," raves Curtis. "Her ability to dodge in and out of multiple dialects and physical comedy and real drama and wacky sci-fi martial arts stuff — all seemingly effortlessly — is really quite jaw-dropping and thrilling to behold."

Yeoh returns the compliment to Curtis, whom she calls "the most generous, amazing woman, not just a brilliant artist talent." She adds, "But she brings her heart and soul she's so giving and always kind and thoughtful to everyone around her."

Looking ahead, the actress says she keeps an open mind and positive outlook on what she gets to do and will do in the future.

"I have to appreciate the ride I've been on," she says. "And I [continue to] appreciate it, because I believe if you sit back and keep thinking, 'Oh, how I could have done that [differently]...' No. You have to think forward. If you made a mistake, how do you make sure you don't do it again? It's by letting go and moving forward."

Everything Everywhere All at Once is now playing in theaters.

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