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Buro 24/7 Exclusive: In conversation with Michelle Yeoh

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By Su Fen Tan

Buro 24/7 Exclusive: In conversation with Michelle Yeoh

It was a special Friday evening for Damiani; they were having a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for their second boutique in Malaysia at Pavilion KL, and brand vice president Mr Giorgio Damiani was in town for the event. But he wasn’t the only noteworthy guest that day—friend of Damiani Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Michelle Yeoh too was here to grace the opening, and Buro 24/7 had the pleasure to speak to the Malaysian silver screen darling. In this exclusive interview, we explore the actress’ blooming relationship with Damiani, her work with UN, as well as her favourite memories of Ipoh:

Can you tell us about your relationship with Damiani?

“I was living in Italy for a while when Jean was working with Ferrari, where I spent some time wandering the streets whenever I had the chance, and I came to know that Damiani is a really well-respected name over there. So I’ve known of the brand for quite a long time now, but it was only in recent years that we developed a closer relationship.”


What aspect or quality about Damiani do you admire the most?

“I definitely admire how they have great respect for who they are. Since they are a family business, they understand what is at stake—they’ve built a business upon years of tradition and family values, and I think it reflects greatly in their masterpieces. All their creations and heritage pieces are done by great craftsmen to ensure exquisite quality. The fact that it is a family business laden with traditions also fits in very nicely with who I am, because I believe in family values and traditions. 


I also love how every piece of jewellery from Damiani has its own theme and motif, making them unique. I am wearing the Damiani Masterpiece Emozioni Collection in White Gold with diamonds this evening—I chose this because it goes really well with my dress (laughs).”

Welcome home! What do you most look forward to each time you are back in Malaysia?

“Definitely family. Family, and then food—in that order. Most of my family are in KL now, but my mum is still in Ipoh, se we shuttle back and forth sometimes.”


Tell us about a little about growing up in Ipoh. What is your favourite memory of the place?

“Ipoh used to be this small mining town, so we grew up with open fields and the surrounding limestone hills, and we often went hiking. Since my dad was an avid fisherman, he brought us on fishing trips to Pangkor and Sembilan Island too. We also go to Cameron Highlands sometimes—places that put you in touch with nature.” 


So you are very much an outdoor person?

“Oh yes, when I was young I used to play football with my brother and his friends (laughs). We lived next to the Ipoh Swimming Club, so we had the gym and the swimming pool right next door. Everyday after school we would just climb over the fence and there we were. Even now, I really like being in touch with nature. Although we have lived in cities all our lives, nature is something that I’ll always gravitate to.”


What are you working on right now?

“In the beginning of the year I completed a Chinese movie, which is something I haven’t done in a long time. Now, towards the end of the year, my focus is turned towards the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). These few months I’ve been working very hard on a road safety campaign, which is part of my role as a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. So I have been working very closely with them to raise awareness for the 17 sustainable development goals.


I think it was quite a monumental moment when world leaders chose to put their signatures together and say by 2030, we must succeed in these 17 sustainable development goals, which includes the eradication of poverty, hunger, gender inequality, climate change. These are things that are very important to us, not just for now, but for the future, so that we have a better world.


I also really want to focus on championing for causes in Asia, because this is my turf after all. I’ve been doing work in Kathmandu, Nepal, but I really want to do more for the region, especially in the aspect of gender inequality.”

You have undertaken quite a variety of roles in your acting career. Is there a particular film genre or type of character you haven’t played but would love to take on?

“Yes, there are. I mean, there are so many roles out there right now. I think it is a work in progress—it is never easy to look for what is the most “original” role, or something that you have not done before, because I’ve already been in the industry for around 30 years. But I’ve been very blessed to have worked with some of the most important and talented directors, actors and film crew.


Having said that, we never give up in looking for surprises or new roles. I think it is very important, not just for me as an actor, but also for the audience, so that they don’t see Michelle Yeoh being Michelle Yeoh again. I do hope that every time will be a bit of a surprise for you.”


If you were not an actress, you would be…

“An actress (laughs). I’ve never really thought about it actually, I believe more in living in the moment. But I guess if it really came down to it, I would probably be a hiker or an adventurer, or join the Peace Corp.”

And finally, what keeps you going?

“Life, love and passion.” 


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