Gemma Chan is opening up about her unique position in the industry.
The actress spoke with Harper’s Bazaar UK for their September cover story about her film career and how she hopes to advocate for her communities.
Despite being a star in blockbuster films like Marvel’s “Eternals”, starring alongside Harry Styles in “Don’t Worry Darling”, and charming audiences in “Crazy Rich Asians”, Chan wasn’t sure she was cut out for acting in the beginning.
“At the beginning, the question was very much, “Will I be able to make a living? Will I be able to survive doing this job?” I would do anything – bit parts, one-line parts,” she recalled.
Now a seasoned veteran in the industry, the 39-year-old actress is moving to providing opportunities for newcomers with the establishment of her production company Gold House.
“I want to work with good people and protect the people I’m working with right from the start,” she said of the initiative, which aims to support Asian and Pacific Islander-led projects.
Chan has been passionate about calling for more diversity in the film industry as well as shining a light on issues faced by the Asian communities.
“It’s really difficult in my industry to speak up, with the power structures that are there. I know you can be penalised in a way that means your livelihood has gone,” she explained. “Even if you try to do the right thing, speaking up against bad behaviour, all it takes is someone to interpret what you say the wrong way, or decide that you’re trouble… It’s a hierarchical, word-of-mouth kind of industry where, traditionally, bad behaviours have been indulged. There’s a lot of fear. It’s hard to change that culture. It takes years.”
Despite the “fear” of being blackballed in the industry for speaking out, the actress has never shied away from advocating for others. She lent her voice to the call to the “Stop Asian Hate” movement in 2021, a decision she attributes to the great support of her boyfriend Dominic Cooper.
“I think I’m so fortunate to be in a relationship where we can talk about anything. Dom was very understanding and empathetic,” she said. “I was quite open about how I was feeling during that time, and he was just incredibly supportive. I definitely didn’t feel I had to shoulder everything on my own. I’m really, really lucky.”
As for her next steps, the “Captain Marvel” actress is hoping to portray another Asian American legend who helped advance opportunities for her community – Anna May Wong.
“Her struggles and triumphs are reflective of the conversations we’re still having now. She was seen as the perpetual foreigner, even though she was third-generation American,” said Chan. “The one thing I’ll say about her is that she was never a victim. She was incredibly witty, a fighter and had joie de vivre. I hope our film will capture the complex woman she was.”
Chan is set to portray Wong in an upcoming biopic on her career and life.
The September issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK is on sale from July 28.