Gemma Chan on capturing ‘complex woman’ of first Chinese-American Hollywood star

Gemma Chan hopes the upcoming biopic on Anna May Wong, considered the first Chinese-American Hollywood actress, will capture the “complex woman she was”.

The Eternals actress, 39, will executive produce the film as well as portray the late Wong in the new project.

Wong’s career spanned film, television, stage and radio and featured roles alongside the likes of Marlene Dietrich until she died in 1961.

Cecil Beaton portraits to go on display
Anna May Wong’s career spanned film, television, stage and radio (Cecil Beaton/Sotheby’s/PA)

Chan, who stars on the September cover of Harper’s Bazaar UK, told the magazine about Wong’s resilience in the industry despite facing prejudiced perceptions.

She said: “Her struggles and triumphs are reflective of the conversations we’re still having now.

“She was seen as the perpetual foreigner, even though she was third-generation American.

“The one thing I’ll say about her is that she was never a victim.

“She was incredibly witty, a fighter and had joie de vivre. I hope our film will capture the complex woman she was.”

Chan, who has starred in a number of blockbusters including 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians and 2021’s Eternals, feels power structures within the industry that limited Wong are still present today.

Gemma Chan (Josh Shinner/Harper’s Bazaar UK/PA)
Gemma Chan (Josh Shinner/Harper’s Bazaar UK/PA)

She said: “It’s really difficult in my industry to speak up, with the power structures that are there.

“I know you can be penalised in a way that means your livelihood has gone.

“Even if you try to do the right thing, speaking up against bad behaviour, all it takes is someone to interpret what you say the wrong way, or decide that you’re trouble…

“It’s a hierarchical, word-of-mouth kind of industry where, traditionally, bad behaviours have been indulged.

“There’s a lot of fear. It’s hard to change that culture. It takes years.”

The actress will also star alongside Harry Styles and Florence Pugh in the upcoming psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling.

The September issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK is on sale from July 28.