When Quentin Tarantino was determined to meet Michelle Yeoh in the mid-90s, Yeoh was not in the mood. Now, before you get mad or think Yeoh was being arrogant, you have to understand the situation. According to THR, at the time the martial arts star was recovering from a severe back injury she suffered while filming 1996’s The Stunt Woman, and couldn’t even sit up for very long without being in significant pain — not exactly the condition in which you want to meet an Oscar-winning writer/director. Tarantino was apparently annoyingly persistent and thank Hulk he was. Yeoh says that if the meeting hadn’t taken place, she might not be acting today.
The way Yeoh tells the story, mind you, it isn’t that Quentin Tarantino made an impassioned speech for her to continue acting. Judging by the story, Tarantino may not have even known she was considering it. After suffering her back injury, Yeoh says many of her closest friends blamed her injury on her own unwillingness to limit herself in her work. While recovering, Yeoh apparently “fell into an existential depression” that found her questioning herself even more than her friends were. She was worried about hurting herself again, and questioned why she was bothering to continue working if this — being stuck in her home in braces on her neck and torso — was her reward.
Quentin Tarantino convinced her to keep acting not with any argument or speech, but with one of his trademark qualities — his inestimable passion for cinema. THR says the director sat on a pillow on the floor in front of Yeoh when he visited her, and that he immediately began talking about all of his favorite Yeoh movies, along with talking about all of his favorite action scenes she was in, “frame for frame.”
“The next thing I knew, we were talking and I was coming back to life,” Yeoh told THR. “I’ll never forget it. It was like, ‘I do love what I do.’ And that was a turning point where I felt, ‘I’ve paid my dues.’” Though she initially granted Quentin Tarantino only five minutes to visit her, judging by Yeoh’s words we’re guessing she was a little flexible with that.
The year after The Stunt Woman was released, thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s trademark zeal, Michelle Yeoh made one of her first big Western film appearances in Tomorrow Never Dies. Her star on this side of the ocean has only continued to rise with films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as her two and a half season run on Star Trek: Discovery. She’ll be playing an elf in the Netflix prequel series The Witcher: Blood Origin, and a scientist in James Cameron’s long-awaited Avatar sequels.
Right now she’s in theaters in what looks to be possibly the crowning jewel of her career. In the mind-bending sci-fi flick Everything Everywhere All at Once, Yeoh plays a woman who has different versions of herself all over a vast multiverse. The film is written ad directed by the team of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man). It stars Stephanie Hsu (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Ke Huy Quan (The Goonies), James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), and Harry Shum Jr. (Crazy Rich Asians).