Michelle Yeoh is Total Film's Woman of the Year

Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once
(Image credit: A24)

As an icon of Hong Kong cinema and one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses, Michelle Yeoh has garnered plenty of accolades during her prolific career, but she's still buzzing with excitement at being named Total Film's Woman of the Year. "Thank you!" she smiles over Zoom. "It's such a privilege."

While the 60-year-old Malaysian actress has already enjoyed decades of fame and success, 2022 is the year that her career exploded like a supernova. That's all thanks to Everything Everywhere All At Once. Directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as the Daniels) delivered an exhilarating, genre-bending fantasy that was genuinely unique, dazzling, and unpredictable. 

It was grounded by Yeoh's magnetic performance as Evelyn, a frazzled laundrette owner who is suddenly tasked with saving the multiverse. "At the core of the story, it's about family, it's about love, so it's very relatable," says Yeoh. "I gave a voice to a very ordinary woman, [someone] you pass by on the streets, [who] you don't even give a second thought or glance to, but these are the women who are the solid foundation of families. And at the end of the day, she gets to be a superhero."

Evelyn, a Chinese-American immigrant trying to balance strained relationships with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) while kicking ass across the multiverse, was the role of a lifetime for Yeoh. For years before that, "I kept getting scripts where the women are always relegated to sitting by the phone [while] the guy takes my daughter for an adventure. Women are strong, they're powerful, they have such capabilities, and we should not be left behind. So this, for me, was such a beautiful opportunity. And I thank my Daniels for having the courage to put their love for strong women into a script."

Yeoh, a former beauty-pageant queen who trained as a ballet dancer, was already a huge action star in Hong Kong when she was cast as Bond girl Wai Lin in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies alongside Pierce Brosnan's 007. Roles as a skilled swordswoman in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi in The Lady, and a tough matriarch in Crazy Rich Asians have cemented her status as a versatile actress with a fiercely commanding presence. But Everything Everywhere All At Once could be the first film to win her an Oscar. Yeoh is already being tipped as a frontrunner in the Best Actress race next year. 

"I am doing cartwheels and front flips and backflips all at the same time!" she says. "It's a little overwhelming; it's very humbling. It's the first time in all the years of my career. So I'm praying. I'm very thankful to even be in the thoughts of people in that way."

For more from our interview with Yeoh, pick up a copy of Total Film's 2023 Preview issue, fronted by Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer – the print version of this new issue comes with a special 52-page supplement counting down the best films, must-see moments, and breakout stars of 2022. You can order here, and the magazine will be available in shops and on digital newsstands from Thursday, December 15.  

Total Film's 2023 Preview and Review of the Year 2022

(Image credit: Universal/Syncopy/Total Film)

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Freelance Writer

Ann is a freelance film writer and editor. Member of the London Critics, Ann has written for The Guardian, Total Film, the BFI, Radio Times, The Independent, the Telegraph, the iPaper, and more.