Michelle Yeoh relishes baddie role on TV

Michelle Yeoh plays Li-Na in Cinemax series Strike Back.
Michelle Yeoh plays Li-Na in Cinemax series Strike Back.PHOTO: CINEMAX /LIAM DANIEL

Action star relishes her bad-guy role in TV series Strike Back

After a career spent making movies, action star Michelle Yeoh takes a stab at the small screen for the first time, playing the wife of the British Ambassador to Thailand in the new season of the action series Strike Back.

But of course no one casts Yeoh just to play a wife.

The Malaysian-born actress says of her role: "She comes in very unassuming and you're thinking she's just a good wife of an ambassador and the next thing you know, she plays a double and almost triple (agent) role."

Unusually for her, she will be playing a villain and that was actually one of the main draws for her.

Having honed her fighting skills in wuxia flicks such as Wing Chun (1994) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the action scenes on the series posed little challenge to her.

Speaking to regional media over the telephone from Vienna, the jet-setting actress says: "The moves were lethal, quick and brutal, but they were not as complicated as sometimes you would see in a martial arts film."

The bigger challenge was learning to speak Korean.

"I did say to my instructor that I would like my Korean friends, when I see them next, not come and hit me on the head and say to me, 'How dare you massacre our language like that?'"

The British-American series is about Section 20, a secretive branch of the British Defence Intelligence service and is based on a 2007 novel of the same name by soldier and novelist Chris Ryan. It airs on Saturdays at 10pm on Cinemax.

Yeoh says: "TV seems to be the biggest thing in the past few years. And they say that in TV, you have more opportunities to really get into your character because it goes on for a much longer period of time."

The current season of Strike Back is the fourth and final one shown on Cinemax.

This meant that Yeoh was joining a tight-knit cast and crew.

She says: "I was a little worried about that because you feel like you are invading a family. But because they are so close-knit and so comfortable with each other, they're very welcoming."

On the subject of family, there has been great interest in when Yeoh, 53, will tie the knot with her fiance, French motor sport executive Jean Todt.

Thanking everyone for their concern, she says: "As you know, my dad just passed away at the end of last year, so I just want to give a little bit of time for us to settle down. We will find the right date, hopefully by the end of this year, if not, soon."

Marriage, when it comes, will not change the type of roles she goes for as an actress.

As Yeoh puts it: "Never has, never will. Who you are is who you are and a piece of paper that says you are married to somebody else should be a profession of love and not change your lifestyle."

•Strike Back airs on Cinemax (StarHub TV Channel 611) on Saturday at 10pm and is also available on HBO Go.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Michelle Yeoh the villain'. Print Edition | Subscribe