Michelle Yeoh - Actress and campaigner

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2011, 12:00am


Michelle Yeoh will remain for many movie fans a 'Bond girl' and 'kung fu action star', thanks to her roles in Tomorrow Never Dies and a string of martial-arts-themed hits, most notably the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

But the Hong Kong-based Malaysian actress should not be pigeonholed. This year, for example, has seen the release of two wildly contrasting productions. In the 3-D animated comedy Kung Fu Panda 2, Yeoh was the voice of the Soothsayer, an old goat with the gift of second sight. In The Lady, she plays Aung San Suu Kyi, tracing the love story that kept the Burmese opposition leader apart from her husband for much of their married life.

Yeoh has described her latest turn as 'the role of a lifetime', and she admits to feeling a great sense of responsibility portraying a woman seen internationally as an iconic, modern-day heroine.

Yeoh has also taken on campaigning roles: for road safety on behalf of the UN, as an ambassador for Save China's Tigers and filming a National Geographic documentary about the great apes. She is no stranger to challenges. 'My biggest test came when I tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my knee when filming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I had to have surgery and coming back from that was a physical and physiological battle to face every step,' the former ballerina says.

'Challenges become more difficult when you lack confidence, have insecurities or are under a lot of stress. A lot of this probably comes from pressure that we place on ourselves.'

Yeoh regards standing behind the podium at the UN in New York as perhaps her proudest moment. 'Ten years ago, road safety probably wasn't an issue on many people's minds,' she says. 'But being part of that long journey with the Make Roads Safe advocates and being there when the UN committed to a decade of road safety efforts is certainly something that gives me a deep sense of achievement.'

Such dedication typifies Yeoh's approach to life and explains her success. 'Even if goals seem unattainable, you need to be determined. Never, ever give up,' she says. 'We are not alone. It's important to have the right people around you. Always be honest with yourself.'