For Michelle Yeoh, "The Lady" is role of lifetime

Tue Sep 13, 2011 1:24pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Hodgson

TORONTO (Reuters) - For action star Michelle Yeoh, one of Asia's best known actresses, the chance to play Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi posed perhaps the biggest challenge in her nearly three-decade career, and that is exactly what she wanted.

Taking the lead role in "The Lady", which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, meant the responsibility of playing one of the world's most revered pro-democracy figures, who is still fighting for reform in her native Myanmar.

But it also meant finding the humanity behind Suu Kyi's iconic image, and capturing the highs and lows of the love affair that helped sustain her through years of detention.

"I knew that this was not just the role of a lifetime, but an incredible story that really needed to be told," Yeoh said at a press conference in Toronto on Monday.

"I lived and breathed her for the past four years. Every day. Every night. I learned Burmese. I slept with her. I woke up with her. Because it was necessary ... (to) allow you to come into her world."

Directed by France's Luc Besson, also known for action films like "La Femme Nikita" and "The Fifth Element", "The Lady" follows Suu Kyi starting in 1988 when she returned to Myanmar, formerly Burma, to care for her ailing mother.

But as the daughter of slain independence hero General Aung San, the charismatic Oxford graduate soon became the figurehead for the country's fight against the military dictatorship.

While Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won the 1990 election by a landslide, the military nullified the results and refused to hand over power. Suu Kyi spent 15 years in detention under house arrest for spearheading the campaign.   Continued...