Michelle Yeoh calls Myanmar's Suu Kyi her 'hero'

February 1, 2012 - 1:16 PM
Thailand Suu Kyi Film

Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh smiles during an interview in Bangkok, Thailand on Wednesday Feb. 1, 2012. Yeoh plays Myanmar’s most prominent politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, in a new movie titled "The Lady," which will come out in U.S. theaters in February.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK (AP) — Michelle Yeoh remembers her pride as a Southeast Asian youth when Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the actress thinks she's the right person to portray the Myanmar democracy icon.

Suu Kyi "was fighting for democracy in a nonviolent way, where passion was the armor and love for liberty was the weapon," Yeoh told The Associated Press.

"I've been in the business long enough to recognize what an amazing story that she has that we can tell," she said. "If anybody should play her, it's me."

The 49-year-old Yeoh said Suu Kyi is a "very big hero" of hers and she was keen to play her as soon as she heard a film was being made about the life of the 1991 Nobel recipient.

"The Lady," directed by Frenchman Luc Besson, was screened at international film festivals last year and opens in U.S. theaters next month.

Yeoh, a former Miss Malaysia, is internationally known for roles in the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies," ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Memoirs of a Geisha."

She spoke to The Associated Press while promoting the movie in Thailand, Myanmar's eastern neighbor and where most of "The Lady" was filmed. It tracks Suu Kyi's involvement in her native country's politics and how her dedication tested her marriage with British scholar Michael Aris, played by David Thewlis.

Suu Kyi, 66, was released from house arrest in November 2010. She had spent 15 years of the past two decades locked away by the military, who had ruled Myanmar since 1962. A military-backed but elected government is now instituting reforms after the years of repression, and Suu Kyi plans to seek a parliament seat.

Yeoh recalled watching news coverage of Suu Kyi's 2010 release along with director Besson, the other lead actors, and Suu Kyi's son, Kim Aris. She said she played the identical scene of Suu Kyi coming up the gate and waving at the crowd earlier that morning.

"We were so crazily happy that finally ... she was freed," she said.

Yeoh traveled to Myanmar and met Suu Kyi in December 2010.

"I was extremely nervous because I was afraid she would look at me and go 'Whoa, my god, why are you portraying me?'" she said. "But when she was in front of me, all she did was she open her arms, (and) welcome me like a family member."

"She's one of those people that you meet and you'll never forget," Yeoh said.

The government was less welcoming. Yeoh was deported from Yangon, Myanmar's former capital, last June, and told that her name was on a blacklist.

Yeoh's enthusiasm for the cinematic Suu Kyi is not entirely requited. Suu Kyi said in an interview at her Yangon home last month that she doesn't plan to see the movie.

"I don't really like seeing films which are supposed to be about me," she said.

After the years of isolation, Suu Kyi is catching up with movies and the digital revolution, watching DVDs at home, she said, adding that she favors the films of actors she knew from her old moviegoing days, several decades ago.