Michelle Yeoh wins best actress, Fraser best actor Oscar awards

March 13, 2023 10:29 AM

Michelle Yeoh on Sunday made history by becoming the first Asian woman to win the best actress Oscar, for her exuberant portrayal of an immigrant business owner thrust into a zany multiverse in the sci-fi trip "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

Brendan Fraser's best actor Oscar win on Sunday for his powerful performance as a morbidly obese man in "The Whale" caps a remarkable career comeback for the charismatic leading man.

Malaysian actress Mischelle Yeoh won over Academy voters with her complex take on Evelyn Wang, a Chinese American laundromat owner who is mired in a tax audit, stuck in a crumbling marriage and struggling to connect with her daughter Joy.

Oh, and she ends up traversing multiple universes to evade a powerful supernatural enemy, who happens to be an iteration of... her daughter.

"For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that.... dream big and dreams do come true," Yeoh said as she accepted the award.

"And ladies, don't let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime. Never give up," she said to cheers.

Yeoh won top honors over strong performances from Cate Blanchett ("Tar"), Michelle Williams ("The Fabelmans"), Andrea Riseborough ("To Leslie") and Ana de Armas ("Blonde").

"Everything," directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, arrived at Hollywood's biggest gala at the top of the nominations pile with 11 chances at Oscars glory, including for best picture.

But even amid such a haul, the 60-year-old Yeoh praise for her portrayal of middle-class immigrant Evelyn, who must navigate life in America as well as a complex multiverse that contains endless variations of her existence.

- Bizarre multiverse -

In one of the myriad versions of her life, Evelyn has hot dogs for fingers, and is in a relationship with the tax inspector who is auditing her (played with comic aplomb by Jamie Lee Curtis).

In another, she is a film star; the movie even uses footage of Yeoh at real events like screenings of her "Crazy Rich Asians."

Evelyn also experiences a place where she is a rock with plastic googly eyes debating the meaning of life with her daughter.

But ultimately Evelyn returns to a mundane "normal" life -- one which the audience can relate to -- in which she must navigate the complexity, pain and strength of family ties.

Yeoh says she felt that message was particularly important after the difficult years of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We've gone through such a crazy, chaotic time in our life, and we all needed something to fill us with hope and ensure... we can show each other kindness and compassion and love and never give up" on family, Yeoh told The New York Times.

The relationship between Evelyn and Joy (played by Stephanie Hsu) is the backbone of the film.

Yeoh uses all of her formidable acting skills, channeling her martial arts prowess in wacky fight scenes and tapping into her emotional register as she verse-jumps across time and space to reach Joy and her rebellious alter ego Jobu Tupaki.

Sunday's statuette for the Malaysian actress comes at the end of a very successful awards season, with wins at the Golden Globes, the Spirit Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The lack of Asian representation at Hollywood's highest levels had been a constant in her interviews on the road to the Oscars.

"I feel a little sad because I know there have been amazing actresses from Asia that come before me, and I stand on their shoulders," she told the New York Times.

"I hope this will shatter that frigging glass ceiling to no end, that this will continue, and we will see more of our faces up there."

- Beauty queen, action hero -

Yeoh was born to Malaysian-Chinese parents on August 6, 1962 in the city of Ipoh, 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

She embraced dance as a child and specialized in ballet, which she studied in England.

On a vacation while visiting family, her mother entered her in the Miss Malaysia contest without consulting her.

"I agreed to go to shut her up," a giggling Yeoh, who unwittingly won the beauty pageant, told a talk show.

A back injury made her give up her dancing career, but by the mid-1980s, she was using the body control she had learned in ballet to appear in action films alongside the likes of Jackie Chan.

Her global big break came in the James Bond installment "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997), in which she played a Chinese spy opposite Pierce Brosnan, redefining the typical Bond girl.

That was followed by the massively successful "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," directed by Ang Lee, and "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005), both alongside Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi.

With more than 50 credits over four decades, Yeoh has a busy upcoming slate, including three new installments of "Avatar" and the movie adaptation of the musical "Wicked," which will reunite her with "Crazy Rich Asians" director Jon Chu.

Yeoh lives with her partner, Jean Todt, the former head of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), which governs the Formula One circuit.

Brendan Fraser caps 'Brenaissance' with best actor Oscar win

Brendan Fraser's best actor Oscar win on Sunday for his powerful performance as a morbidly obese man in "The Whale" caps a remarkable career comeback for the charismatic leading man.

The former star of 1990s hits such as "The Mummy" endured a decade in the Hollywood wilderness before winning over Academy voters with his portrayal of a reclusive teacher who eats compulsively as he is tormented by grief.

"So this is what the multiverse looks like," an emotional Fraser told the audience at the Dolby Theatre.

"I started in this business 30 years ago, and things -- they didn't come easily to me, but there was a facility that I didn't appreciate at the time until it stopped," he said, referring to his long absence from the big screen.

"Thank you for this acknowledgment."

In Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale," Fraser plays Charlie, a 600-pound (250-kilogram) English teacher whose only regular contact with the real world is his nurse and friend Liz (Hong Chau).

Charlie rarely leaves his couch, teaching his students via video calls while gorging on delivery food, and resisting Liz's pleas to seek medical help for his rapidly deteriorating health.

The drama follows Charlie's attempts to secretly reconnect with his rebellious and aloof teenage daughter Ellie, while he is also visited by a young missionary who is seemingly determined to save him.

Fraser delivers an intense performance, imbuing his character with depths of regret and agony which are punctuated by bursts of passion and hope sparked by Ellie's presence.

"Charlie is by far the most heroic man I've ever played," Fraser said at the film's world premiere in Venice last year.

"His superpower is to see the good in others and bring that out in them."

- 'The Mummy' -

Fraser was born in December 1968 to Canadian parents in the US state of Indiana.

Theater sparked his interest in acting at a young age, and after graduating from a Seattle arts college, Fraser moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s to pursue his dream.

Success came swiftly -- he landed his breakthrough role as a frozen caveman discovered by two modern-day California teens in 1992 hit comedy "Encino Man."

That sparked a run of major roles for the tall, hunky, wide-eyed leading man, ranging from anti-Semitism drama "School Ties" to rock-and-roll comedy "Airheads" to family blockbuster "George of the Jungle."

In 1998, Fraser married actress Afton Smith, with whom he had three children.

Fraser's greatest commercial success would be his trilogy of "The Mummy" films.

Loosely based on the 1930s ancient Egypt horror film franchise, the movies starred Fraser as Rick O'Connell, a maverick American adventurer who battles sinister immortals and greedy treasure hunters.

Collectively, the film and its two sequels earned well over $1 billion, also spawning the "Scorpion King" spin-off film series and a poorly received Tom Cruise reboot in 2017.

Fraser also starred opposite Liz Hurley in a 2000 remake of "Bedazzled," and led the live action-animation hybrid "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" three years later.

- Lost decade -

But Fraser's A-list career would soon be derailed.

In 2003, Fraser was the alleged victim of sexual assault by a former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes.

Fraser only made the incident public more than a decade later, saying in an interview that he had been blacklisted by the industry after accusing Philip Berk of groping him at a Beverly Hills hotel luncheon.

Berk denies the incident.

But Fraser has said the psychological impact of the alleged attack, combined with the industry's response, and a bitter and costly divorce from Smith, all took their toll on his mental health.

Fraser refused to attend this year's Golden Globes, despite being nominated for "The Whale," due to his history with the group.

Back in the 2000s, he also suffered a series of physical injuries -- many acquired on-set during his action movie stunt sequences -- which eventually required multiple surgeries across a seven-year period on his knees, back and vocal cords.

While he appeared in best picture Oscar winner "Crash" in 2004, and guest starred in hospital sitcom "Scrubs," the big-screen roles soon dried up and Fraser largely vanished from the public eye.

- 'Brenaissance' -

Fraser's comeback -- dubbed the "Brenaissance" by fans -- began in earnest with a villainous role in the third season of hit television drama "The Affair."

But it was his role in "The Whale," which appropriately tells its own story of redemption, that brought him back to star status, with Hollywood flocking to praise his vulnerable, heartfelt performance.

In the run-up to the Oscars, he won a Critics Choice and a Screen Actors Guild award.

Future projects for Fraser include Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon."

In claiming his first Oscar, Fraser saw off Austin Butler ("Elvis"), Colin Farrell ("The Banshees of Inisherin"), Paul Mescal ("Aftersun") and Bill Nighy ("Living").

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