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Michelle Yeoh Q&A
By Patrick Frater
Sat, 04 February 2012, 15:59 PM (HKT)
On one of the last legs of the promo tour for The Lady (2011), Asian superstar, Michelle YEOH 楊紫瓊 took time out with Film Business Asia. She discusses how she was instrumental in getting the film made, and how she is considering a possible return to production.
What attracted you to the role?
What is not attractive about it? I read an article in the newspaper saying that someone wanted to make a movie about Aung San Suu Kyi. I called my agent right away and said 'find it for me'. Just think about it, how many iconic Asian women do we have?
Interestingly, we all think we know Aung San Suu Kyi, and at the same time we don't really know the story, or had forgotten about it.
That was one of the things that the junta did so successfully. Once they locked her away, put her under house arrest and cut off all communications, we forget. There are so many things going on in our lives and the world that you forget.
But once I saw it, I was on a mission.
How did you get to the Rebecca FRAYN script, for which you then attached a director?
It is interesting. While we were looking for them, they were looking for us.
It was Rebecca Frayn's husband, Andy Harries who knew my people in America. I didn't know her before and this was her first script. In fact she was a little bit shy and said it was not quite ready. But scripts are never ready until you get you director and key people on board, they continue to evolve.
It is a difficult story to tell because you try to find an angle that people don't know about. Rebecca had researched it for several years. Frayn and Harries had gone to Burma for a holiday together, they discovered this woman under house arrest, discovered that you weren't supposed to say her name, hence the description 'The Lady.'
Frayn went back a few years later and managed to write the story. She also discovered that Michael Aris [Aung San Suu Kyi's husband) had a twin brother who lived in London and she [Frayn] has twins herself, so she managed to get in touch and somehow inspired Anthony Aris to tell the story. There are also several other people who have been involved, but who can never be credited.
But as a twin, he understood Frayn and gave Michael's story. For us the story of Aung San Suu Kyi cannot stand on its own, because [she and Aris] were soul mates. It was an extraordinary love story.
Was it always pitched as a romance?
Actually, no. For Frayn, Aung San Suu Kyi was impossible to reach. When I read the first draft it was Michael's story, from his point of view, his life in Oxford... We worked on it and it became their two stories.
You were instrumental in getting this made and took it to director Luc BESSON. Why?
Yes, Luc [Besson] is very good friends with [my partner] Jean Todt.
Trying to get financing for a non-commercial, non-action, non-comedy film about a political woman is not easy. I wish it were not so, that our world were more caring, but it isn't. Once I had my hands on this, I had to get is done, but with the right people. It wasn't just a movie that you would make and simply find a director with the time available. We had to get people truly engaged.
Luc has become a mentor to me. Initially we spoke with him a good friend and as a producer. He gave me all the reasons why, if we were going to do it, all the things we would have to watch out for. The rights, where it is coming from.. the last thing you want is someone jumping out of the shadows and saying it is their story.. especially when you are dealing with a public figure about whom there have been many books written. So who is the one to claim the rights to her life story if it is not coming from her or the family?
He went through all these things, after which I asked whether he wanted to read the script. I wanted people with heart and scope. People say he is an action director, but The Big Blue is not an action film, it is a film about two guys underwater and is absolutely mesmerising.
The problem was how you are going to tell Aung San Suu Kyi's story. She is under house arrest most of the time. She is not trying to do anything except empower herself for all the tasks that are going to come in the future. And at the same time you need scope, to be able to breathe in the air of Burma, feel the lushness of that place. The most important thing was that [Besson] had to believe in the project.
Would it have been more appropriate to have had an Asian director make the film?
It would have been great to have had a Burmese director. Culturally, there would have been things that did not need to be explained. But at the end of the day we need a director who could reach audiences around the world. As film-makers we always hope that people do not judge us from where we come from, but rather how you tell the story. And anyway the movie is part-Western, it is also Michael Aris' story.
Luc had real Burmese people on the set, he went to the refugee camps and cast people from there for the film, so they could always give us an insight.
Do you and the film take any credit for the recent 'Burmese Spring' political changes?
It would be very presumptuous for us to do that. But the timing is just incredible. When we started to make the film she was still under arrest. Then there was her release. Now look at what is happening. I think every bit helps to raise the awareness of the Burmese people, for what Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to do. It does help for people to remember where it all started. A movie in two hours gives you that, flashback to that time. And we've had [non-Burmese] ministers ask to see the film before they went to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and we were happy to be able to do that. It is important for the people here in Asia, to know about our neighbours. Now [Burma] is opening up, sanctions are being lifted, but the history is important, so that mistakes are not made again.
[The film was set to start two years ago.] She was ill and, as I'm not a good multi-tasker, I'd told her that we had a window to do it or it would have to wait till all this stuff with The Lady was over. That's where we are.
I'd like to go back into production myself. I've always loved that part of the creative process. But I will not star in a production that I'm doing. You don't enjoy the process as an actor, and as a producer it is all about crisis management.
I had one of the worst experiences with Silver Hawk 飛鷹 (2004), when we were hit by SARS and many other problems. It has not left a bad taste, but I have learned a lesson.
I love being an actor, and I enjoy being a producer. Just not at the same time.