BORN TO ENTERTAIN
Her World Malaysia|May - June 2020
YOU MIGHT RECOGNISE HER AS THE GENTLE AND LOVING MOTHER IN LEE CHONG WEI, THE BIOPIC OF THE BADMINTON LEGEND, OR THE VULNERABLE YET RESILIENT TEACHER IN WET SEASON, WHICH HIT THE CINEMAS IN MARCH. SOME OF US MAY HAVE SEEN YEO YANN YANN ON THE BIG SCREEN PLAYING VARIOUS CHARACTERS FOR MORE THAN A DECADE. STILL, SHE NEVER FAILS LEAVE HER AUDIENCE IN AWE OF HER ACTING PROWESS.
LORRAINE CHAI

HER STORY

TOUCHING LIVES WITH EVERY TALE TOLD

I WOULD LOVE TO BREAK AWAY FROM THE CHARACTERS I’VE PLAYED, BUT IF THEY LINGER, I LET THEM BE. IT’S SOMETHING I FEEL ACTORS SHOULD ACCEPT – IT’S INEVITABLE, A CHARACTER YOU’VE PLAYED WILL SOMEHOW AFFECT YOUR LIFE.

When I ask Yann Yann what’s the most challenging part of her journey into becoming an actor, “Poverty, of course!” is her reply. Not an answer one would expect from an award-winning actor.

With much anticipation, I walk into a hotel room filled with people pacing up and down, preparing to shoot this issue’s cover. Amidst the bustle, Yann Yann and I seat ourselves by a window that overlooks the busy streets surrounding us, basking in the warmth of the morning lighting pouring in. “I’m not unlike the others who left their family home to eke out a living. Like many, I’ve been through times where I didn’t have any cash in hand and had instant noodles every day,” she says. Instead of an encounter with a movie star, the laid-back vibe she exudes puts me at ease and makes me feel as though I’m having a leisurely chat with my favourite friend over a cup of coffee.

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

Yann Yann is not new to winning awards. Six years ago, the 43-year-old performer was named Best Supporting Actress for her outstanding performance in the Singapore-made film, Ilo Ilo, at the 50th Golden Awards – Taiwan’s equivalent to the Academy Awards. The glory she attained is more than just an acknowledgement of her acting skills; it’s also a recognition for talents from Malaysian. “The 56th Golden Awards was my second experience, and I’d be lying if I were to say that I didn’t expect to be nominated at all,” she chuckles. Overjoyed with the nomination, her initial thought was only to enjoy the glitzy night in the company of other Malaysian nominees – a rare opportunity indeed – and prepare herself to present an award. Winning an award was the last thing she had expected.

“It was a crazy night” is all she remembers, regaling me on her experience at the Golden Horse Awards in 2013 where she met her idol, Tony Leung, the eminent Hong Kong actor. I catch a glimpse of that ‘craziness’ in the wide smile that slowly spreads across her face. “And this year, I hugged Ang Lee. Twice!” she shrieks dramatically, resulting in everyone in the room stifling a laugh. At the verge of bursting into an emotional puddle after receiving the Best Leading Actress award for her role in Wet Season, she was trying to calm herself backstage when the world-renowned and acclaimed director, Ang Lee – known for his classics like Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi – walked over and gave her a hug. “I guess he was trying to comfort me, but it wasn’t helping at all. I started crying after that! He hugged me again but how does one stay cool when Ang Lee hugs you twice?! It was such an incredible moment for me,” she shares. The simple joy that she emanates is so delightful, I can’t help but adore her down-to-earth persona. She has a charm that makes her approachable and even lovable.

Although winning an award is a great career milestone, the humble actor still holds firmly to the ethos she had embraced when she started acting: “When we make a film, the film itself is what matters most; the good news that comes after a good film is merely a bonus.” For Yann Yann, award ceremonies are not a stage to celebrate her fame but rather, an opportunity for her to express her gratitude to everyone who had lent her a hand on her journey. “To be named ‘best actress’, that was truly unexpected; I’m not exaggerating when I say that my mind went completely blank as my name was called out. As soon as I returned to my senses, I collected my thoughts and kept myself together, so I wouldn’t leave any names out. I wanted to thank them all on stage,” she says, with deep sincerity.

THE GIRL IN THE ‘BOX’

Acting fell into place naturally in Yann Yann’s life, or in her own words, “There’s nothing like an eventful turning point.” I suggest that perhaps the thought of becoming an actress had been simmering in her mind, but she’d failed to notice it before. After musing on that thought for a moment, she nods and is somewhat convinced by my words.

Looking back to the time when she was preparing to put up a play during her last year at secondary school, the young Yann Yann was told to direct and perform a show that was close to her heart. A scene that took place when she was six years old sprang to mind.

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