Michelle Yeoh says she felt pressure to win Oscar for ‘whole race of people’

Michelle Yeoh said she felt the pressure to win an Academy Award and not disappoint those she was representing.

The Malaysian actress became the first person from an Asian background to be named best actress at last year’s ceremony for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once, as well as the second non-white performer ever to win the award.

“When I was headed towards that direction, you felt the pressure, especially the people from my side, from our part of the world,” Yeoh said on The Goop Podcast with fellow Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow.

“Whether it’s in America and Europe, and especially in Asia that hunger, and it was tough because people would come and say ‘you can do this, you have to do this’.”

“Because you’re representing a whole race of people,” Paltrow said, to which Yeoh agreed.

Yeoh said while she was sat at the 95th Oscars ceremony she thought: “If I don’t win how am I going to go home, I don’t know how to walk into that room.”

She said: “…I was thinking ‘oh my god if I lose my mother is sitting there with like 400 people I wouldn’t know what to do, I seriously wouldn’t know what to do’.”

The actress described the win as “still overwhelming” – almost a year after the ceremony.

“(But) the best part is you see and you feel the joy, when they come up to you and they congratulate you, you can see how really, really happy they are for you and that’s really nice,” the 61-year-old said.

The 95th Academy Awards – Vanity Fair Party – Los Angeles
Michelle Yeoh, winner of the Oscar for lead actress (Doug Peters/PA)

“I think it changed the lives of so many youngsters who really felt we can do this,” adding that they fought “so long and hard” for representation in the industry over the years.

Yeoh also said she did not know she was going to win the prestigious award, even after winning a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award – which she described as her “proudest moment” as it was a “complete surprise”.

“I think it was Bafta that smacked us all in the head, nothing, I think we only won for editing so we all came away (thinking) ‘Oh my God’,” she said.

The actress also likened the run-up to awards season as a “political campaign”, adding that “you’re so scared that you’re going to say the wrong thing”.

Yeoh said that she took her Oscar award to Malaysia to be with her mother while her husband Jean Todt, who she married last year after a 19-year engagement, often carries it around because he is so proud.

Film – 71st Academy Awards – County Music Center, Los Angeles
Gwyneth Paltrow with her best actress Oscar which she won for her role in the film Shakespeare In Love (Peter Jordan/PA)

Meanwhile fellow Academy Award winning actress Paltrow spoke of her experience winning the same award in 1999 at the age of 26, for her role in Shakespeare In Love.

“It was really a lot,” the 51-year-old said.

“And then I feel like everybody stops rooting for you, when you’re that young. It’s sort of annoying that you won.

“I think it’s hard to win at that age when… I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what I wanted, I was such a kid still.

“My mum is an actress so I wanted to do what she did, she was so powerful when she was acting and so happy and so I was like ‘that’s how you get freedom is to go be on stage’ – so I just followed her.

“By the time I was about 30 is when I started to think I’m not sure that I really want to do this.

“And I think winning the Oscar, it’s probably much different when you are a grown-up and you win and you know who you are, and you have struggled, but I think I felt very exposed and that the energetic force of everybody looking at me and talking about me was a lot.”

Paltrow said she did not feel comfortable “at all” during that time.