Gemma Chan Talks Fame, Race, and Pole Dancing with Celine Dion
Gemma Chan has rocketed to fame in recent years – with roles in Crazy Rich Asians and Captain Marvel and as Madam Ya Zhou in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it’s hard to avoid the spotlight. Still, the actress insists that while she appreciates the recognition, she’s still quite shy when it comes to red carpets and press events. Chan sat down with the Guardian to discuss her success and her new show, I Am Hannah, which follows the scattered dating life of a woman in her mid-30s.
Chan says that her anxiety has been difficult to manage since she travels the world for her career. Her nerves have got the better of her on red carpets, where she’s often felt overwhelmed:
People don’t believe it, but I’m naturally quite shy. I’ve had to work really hard to mask that, not appear anxious or nervous. And I’ve nearly fainted before, because you don’t realise you’re not breathing and all of the flashes start going off in your face, and I’ve started to… Imagine! In character I feel like I can do anything, really. That’s part of what attracted me to acting. But if you ask me to make a speech as me, I find that so difficult. I hate my own birthday, I hate being the centre of attention.
Still, stardom has its benefits. Chan has had her share of starstruck moments, especially at this year’s Met Gala, where she found herself en route to an after-party with Celine Dion:
It was me and her and her dancers, just dancing on this bus. It was the best half an hour of my life. I can’t believe it happened. Nothing will top that. I pole-danced on a bus with Celine Dion.
Entering the world of acting was also a difficult transition for Chan, who left practicing law to pursue her passion. She faced pushback from her family and from some teachers, who expressed concern over her finding work as an actress of color. After starring in a film that features only Asian actors, Chan believes that there’s still progress to be made for Hollywood in terms of race:
The ideal place would be for it to be completely normalised and not a big deal. And I feel like we’re working towards that, in all different kinds of areas, not just to do with race, to do with sexuality, gender, body type, body size, everything. I feel like we’ve made huge strides in the last couple of years. But I’m really looking forward to the time when I no longer have to answer questions about race.
There’s still so much to come for Gemma Chan, who’s starting her own production company as well as starring in two new, as-yet-unannounced films. She’s still adjusting to her fame, but she remembers what it’s like to be a fan:
Like, Lucy Liu, I’ve run up to her and gone, ‘I love you,’ and she’s looked at me like, [‘]you’re insane.[‘] I’m like, [‘]oh my God, I can’t believe I just did that.[‘] So I totally get it.
I Am Hannah premieres on August 6 at 10 p.m.