While most people will rest on the laurels of a successful sci-fi series, starring in an upcoming feature film like Crazy Rich Asians, or being inducted into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s not Gemma Chan. Her busy shooting schedule is followed by traveling the globe for charitable work. Most recently she visited war-torn Lebanon with the international non-profit Save the Children. Explore the complexity of the characters as Gemma Chan discusses her roles, and listen in on how the British-born feels about activism and the best ways to spend time away from work.
Your career spans across many forms. From television to theater and the silver screen is there a medium that you prefer?
My first love was theater. It’s where I started working after I finished drama school and there’s an immediacy to it that’s thrilling and terrifying in equal measure—you know immediately if an audience is right there with you or if you haven’t managed to land a joke. And every performance is different because every audience is different—they’re an integral part of the show. I love film as well, as a performer and as a viewer. I think there’s still magic in going to the cinema and having that collective experience of being transported to another world. That being said, I also appreciate the opportunity that long-form storytelling in television presents, to be able to have the time to build and explore worlds and characters in a different way. I enjoy working across all the mediums and really it comes down to whether I connect with the script and the character when it comes to choosing projects.
Many of your roles have avoided the Asian stereotype, but Crazy Rich Asians kinda embraces it. How did you react when you first learned you got the role?
I wouldn’t say Crazy Rich Asians has stereotypes as such—there’s a big cast of colorful characters, who happen to be Asian. I’d read the book on holiday before the film was announced and loved that it gave this fun, satirical glimpse into this crazy world, but ultimately there are characters you care about. Moreover, the story, whilst being specific to these characters, is also a universal one about love, family and feeling like an outsider. For so long, the universal experience has been presumed to be white. I’m so proud to be part of this film, particularly as it’s the first Hollywood studio film in 25 years (since The Joy Luck Club) to have a predominantly Asian cast. I hope it’s the start of something rather than us having to wait another 25 years!
Did your role as Astrid open your eyes to a lavish new world, or did it simply confirm a life of wealth and privilege?
Astrid was my favorite character from the books because although she comes from an undeniably privileged background, she’s very much a human being who is real and who is suffering. To the outside world she has the perfect life, the perfect wardrobe, the perfect marriage, but really it’s all crumbling apart. She’s also one of the most down to earth characters in the film who is kind and supportive of Rachel because she empathizes with what she’s going through, even in the midst of her own crisis. The dresses were pretty fabulous too!
Your name is also attached to the upcoming Captain Marvel. Are you ready for the devoted fans that fill the Marvel universe?
It’s great that Marvel has such passionate fans and they’ve been very welcoming so far. It’s going to be a fun film I think and different from any others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel is so good at allowing every film to have its own unique character and I’ve loved working with the directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who come from an independent film background.
Knowing the scope and weight Marvel has in the movie world are there things you are doing differently to prepare?
There’s quite a lot of action in the film—more than I’ve ever had to do before—so I’ve been training and doing some boxing for the first time, which has been fun.
Your work takes you around the world. Is there a location that you want to re-visit as soon as possible?
We were lucky enough to stay and film at the Four Seasons resort in Langkawi in Malaysia. The sunsets were truly spectacular, like a different show every night.
This is a digital extract from the print version of THE LATERALS MAGAZINE | Issue 01.
To read the full interview, get a copy here.