Hong Kong, Dec 22: The star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” slots into the leading role of Luc Besson's biopic of Aung San Suu Kyi with effortless ease.
But Yeoh says prepping to portray Burma's celebrated pro-democracy campaigner didn't come easily: “I read every single thing that was written about her and that she wrote because through the writing of someone you have an inkling to the sensibility of the way she thinks and the way she feels and then after that, thank God Rebecca Frayn, who is the script writer, she had also done a lot of research, so from her I was able to gather more information.”
Aung San Suu Kyi has devoted her whole life to fighting for democracy in Burma - now referred to as Myanmar. In 1990 she won a general election in her country, but was held under house arrest by the military government for more than fifteen years. She was eventually released in 2010.
Yeoh says taking on the part of such an internationally admired icon was daunting at first, but she managed to set her nerves aside and concentrate on what she describes as one of the best roles of her career: “I wanted to do this so badly, then I am committed. When you are committed you put aside everything and you just lock yourself down and you have to get it right. I think that is the most important thing, because of who Daw Suu is and what she represents, she is the beacon of the pursuit of democracy in the non violent way. You feel that if you waiver from the path and you don't give it your best, it becomes a labor of love, so then at the end of the day you know that whatever it is you've given, it really and truly it comes from your heart.”
Much has been written about Aung San Suu Kyi's persistent fight against the oppressive regime in Burma.
As such Yeoh is keen to point out that although politics plays a dominant role in Aung San's life, the film's focus is essentially on the love story between Aung San and her British husband, Michael Aris: “Her philosophy on politics are very simple, it is there. But it really is a human drama, this incredible love story that I think really made her such a strong person that she knew in her heart and mind the clarity. She had a duty to her people, but without the love of Michael Aris and the love of her family, you can't. It is almost impossible to try to be on this journey on your own.”
In 1999 Aung San decided it was too dangerous to accept a trip to England to see her husband who was dying of cancer. Her fear was that she would be denied re-entry into Burma. She was never to see her husband again.
Yeoh says Michael Aris' support of his wife was immeasurable, and it was high time that his story was revealed to the world: “It is an untold side part of their lives and Michael Aris has always been so low profile on that that you really see what he really did out of love for his wife and understood what her calling was. He truly enabled her to be who she is. He is such an incredible man that his story needed to be out there.”
Yeoh's similarity to Aung San Suu Kyi in the movie is remarkable.
The actress says she gorged on information about Aung San's pastimes, interests, family and friends as well as politics so that she could literally consume her personality in order to portray it on film. Looking the part physically was also a huge challenge.
“I remember the first time that I met with Kim and he said ... the younger son “you know Mimi (mom) is slimmer than you.” And I think at that point I lost about eight kilos and that is quite a lot for someone when we are already so slim, but because she is very very slender, with the help of the costumes, the longies, the flowers in her hair which is very recognizable, I think it was not just what I looked like but the journey inside. She exudes an aura, such serenity, dignity, grace, that you can't just impersonate her. The only way that you can do it you have to try and feed your soul with things that you think fed her soul.”