Ever since Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh made the transition from Hong Kong action films to the 1997 James Bond thriller Tomorrow Never Dies, an already successful career began to expand into different types of roles. Most recently, the 56-year-old was one of the stars of the mega-success Crazy Rich Asians, and now comes word that her character of Captain Philippa Georgiou from Star Trek: Discovery is being spun off into her own show to be streamed by CBS All Access.
That show, which will see Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt as showrunners, will be focused on Section 31, an unacknowledged intelligence and defense organization that is a secret part of Starfleet (the people who send out the various starships making up the different Star Trek shows). Georgiou, who is actually a copy of the real captain from an alternate “mirror” universe far more savage than our own (too complicated to explain here), is brought into the organization due to her special skill set and having been Empress of that other universe.
Enthused executive producer Alex Kurtzman, “Michelle has shattered ceilings, broken boundaries, and astonished us with her grace and gravitas for decades. As a human, I adore her. As an actor, I revere her. Erika and Boey are remarkable, exciting writers who bring a fresh perspective to the world of Star Trek, and we’re all thrilled to explore the next wild chapter in the life of Captain Philippa Georgiou.”
The opportunity has been a long time coming.
In an exclusive interview with Michelle conducted at the time of Tomorrow Never Die‘s release, she admitted that the film was an opportunity for her to cross over from Hong Kong cinema. “When you have a chance to do a big movie like this, it does become an opportunity, because your exposure is immediately increased by so many folds. The Bond movie is something that is watched by everybody in the world. It has created this incredible opportunity for me to reach out to a much bigger audience than I’m used to,” she said.
In describing the difference between making American action films and Hong Kong efforts, she noted, “Even though you’re working on a big or smaller budget movie, it’s the same commitment at wanting to do a good movie. It doesn’t matter who you’re working with, the goal is still the same. The biggest difference, obviously, is time. Safety measures are taken a lot more seriously, and rightly so. Yes, you have a lot more special effects, a lot more blue screen, you have CGI and all these kinds of things that we do not have the luxury of in Hong Kong, so we end up having to do a lot of the things for real. At the end of the day, after doing this movie, you keep saying to yourself, ‘My God, this is what it’s about; moviemaking is about making a movie. You shouldn’t be out there risking your arm and limb for it, and really dodging out of a car’s way.’ If we did it in the Bond movie, it would have been all pre-planned. In Hong Kong, you’d probably be the first one to do it. It’s a big difference.”
Following the 007 film, Michelle has starred in a wide variety of productions, though few have achieved the kind of success that last year’s Crazy Rich Asians did. In it, she was, in a sense, the villain of the piece. Describes the official synopsis, “Rachel Chu is happy to accompany her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. She’s also surprised to learn that Nick’s family is extremely wealthy and he’s considered one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives, and something far, far worse — Nick’s disapproving mother.” That would be Michelle’s Eleanor Sung-Young.
But Michelle wanted to make sure that Eleanor was more than just a villain. “Everybody looks at her and trembles in their shoes, but Eleanor is a protective and caring mother,” she said. “She is trying to keep the family together — not just for themselves, but for the many others who depend on them. She sent her son abroad for an education but now wants him to come home to assume ownership of their company. She thinks this young woman is unsuitable because she has no idea what it takes to be in a traditional Chinese family. Her son needs someone to support him — as Eleanor has done for her own husband — and she feels it’s unfair to expect Rachel to do that because she is totally unprepared. She’s just not what Nick needs.”
Maybe not, but Michelle is exactly what Section 31 and Star Trek need. Last October, while at New York Comic-Con, she noted of Georgiou and Section 31, “In the whole universe, this is probably her best toy, because Section 31 has all the most updated gadgets because they are the most informed, and she, as an engineer, can hack into Section 31. And Leland [who recruited her] thinks he’s in charge of the ship, but she finds out secrets. That’s what Section 31 does. It’s collected secrets all over the universe about certain people, and history, and things like that. And so, when you have [those] kind of secrets, it’s power. And for Philippa Georgiou, that’s perfect! So, if she has to be here [in this universe], she wants to be in Section 31, and she wants to run it.”
The Star Trek universe is definitely expanding on CBS All Access. Besides Discovery, which returns on Jan. 17, there is a Patrick Stewart series in the works called Picard, continuing the story of his character from Star Trek: The Next Generation; two animated shows and, now, Section 31, with more reportedly on the way.