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Last Christmas’ Michelle Yeoh on her quirkiest role yet – Santa

Michelle Yeoh may be in the same movie as Henry Golding, her on-screen son from Crazy Rich Asians, but they do not actually appear together in Last Christmas.

Instead, the 57-year-old Malaysian actress spends most of her screen time squabbling with Emilia Clarke's character Kate, as a Christmas store owner named Santa and her flaky employee respectively.

What did you think when Paul Feig asked you to play a character called Santa?

He said to me: "There is this really funny cool role and you will be perfect for it. It is playing Santa."

I was like: "Santa? You want me to put on a fat suit and a white beard and go, 'Ho, ho, ho? What are you talking about?'"

But Paul has a great sense of humour and he said: "No, not that Santa. You will make her your own Santa."

Then he went on to tell me about her and he sent me the script. And when I saw it, I thought this could be interesting because I have never played a character like that - so quirky.

Was English actress Emma Thompson - who co-wrote the script, produced the film and stars as Clarke's Yugoslavian mother - very present on set?

It was nerve-racking. But actually it was having the best person watching because she knows all the characters so well.

And there was a very specific and personal reason why she wrote the character as it was in the script.

I didn't want to play her too Chinese, very stereotypical with a really broad Chinese accent.

I wanted to tone that down and Emma said: "Oh, she has been here in England for quite a while now and she has been trying to immerse herself in the culture."

Of course, you don't lose your accent completely so I played with that.

Did you enjoy your character's romantic adventures?

That was quite a surprise because when you read it on paper you think, "How the heck do we play that scene?"

And I thought that Peter (Mygind) was just amazing. I was a little worried that we were going to be a bit over the top. And I was apprehensive because I have never played such a character. In all my movies, my characters are much more grounded, conscientious and true to who they are.

This one is a bit more flighty. I worked on her little swagger and the way she walks, things like that, to make her different. The way she flounces in is a little melodramatic.

And the love story, oh boy. Peter was the one who really brought that sense of "it is okay to be swept away".

There is a moment before the date where Santa has gone overboard with the make-up. Have you ever done that?

I have looked at some of my old pictures, especially when I started out in Hong Kong.

The make-up was like TV make-up - they outlined the jaws, they did the shadowing for the cheekbones and the very dark and accentuated eyebrows.

When you are a newcomer, you let them do all those kinds of things. And then I looked in the mirror and thought, "Wow! Who the hell is that?"

But how do I tell them because they are supposed to be the professionals?

The first stills that came out, I was like, "No way is anybody going to think that is beautiful." Even my mum would baulk.

What is a favourite memory from the shoot?

There was a really funny moment. We were shooting a scene with Santa and Kate. And Santa asks Kate whether she has slept with this guy.

But when I said the line to Emilia, it came out as: "Have you slept with Paul yet?"

Everyone burst out laughing.

And I was like, "Did I really say that?" It was so hysterical. We caught that on camera. I hope it makes the DVD extras.

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