Gemma Chan SuccessStory
As more individuals with foreign backgrounds continue to get recognized in Hollywood, there is one name that many consider will leave a huge mark in the filmmaking industry for at least the next few years: British Asian actress Gemma Chan. In her young career, she already has a portfolio of supporting roles (“Crazy Rich Asians”, “Mary Queen of Scots”, “Captain Marvel”) and will be a big part in the upcoming Marvel blockbuster “Eternals”.
Childhood and Education
Gemma Chan was born in London, England on November 29, 1982. Both of her parents hail from China but later immigrated to the United Kingdom. Together with her parents and younger sister Helen, Chan spent most of her childhood in Locksbottom which is a suburb in London’s Bromley borough.
Chan finished college at Newstead Wood School for Girls and decided to take up a law degree upon the encouragement of her parents. She would eventually finish law school at Oxford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
With a job offer ready from law firm Slaughter and May, Chan decided to reject the offer and go into a completely different career path: acting. Naturally, her parents were initially dismayed by her decision but Chan was convinced that it was the right path to take while also contemplating that she would have a “miserable” career if she chose to be a full-time lawyer. She soon enrolled at the Drama Center London, also doing some part-time modeling to fund her studies and drama school training.
After signing with talent agent Nicki van Gelder, Chan made her professional debut in the 2006 miniseries “When Evil Calls” while also competing in the fashion design reality show “Project Catwalk”. In 2008, she made her stage debut in Bertolt Brecht’s “Turandot” at the Hampstead Theatre, London.
In the next few years, Chan would garner more roles as she appeared in multiple television shows such as “Doctor Who”, “The IT Crowd”, “Sherlock”, “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” and “Bedlam”, among others. Despite only appearing in a single episode of “Doctor Who” portraying geologist Mia Bennett in the 2009 autumn special “The Waters of Mars”, the episode was considered as one of the best in the show’s history, winning numerous accolades including the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Design.
Chan played a small role in the 2013 comedy thriller “The Double” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska. The film received critical acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival. In the same year, she performed in “Yellow Face” (written by American playwright David Henry Hwang) which premiered at The Park Theatre in London.
Chan made her blockbuster debut in 2014’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” alongside Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, and Keira Knightley. She was then cast as Madam Ya Zhou in the 2016 Harry Potter spin-off “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” while also voicing the villain Quintessa in 2017’s “Transformers: The Last Knight”. The three films would gross a total of $1.5 billion in the global box office.
2018 would be a big year for Chan as she would receive raving reviews for two performances: first in the science-fiction series “Humans” and second in the comedy film “Crazy Rich Asians”. Her performance as the anthropomorphic robot Anita/Mia in “Humans” earned her multiple nominations while the show itself won a BAFTA for Digital Creativity and a British Screenwriters Award for Best British TV Drama Writing.
In one of Chan’s most iconic roles to date, she portrayed socialite Astrid Leong-Teo in the highly popular “Crazy Rich Asians”. She was initially offered the role of Rachel Chu but turned it down as she was more intrigued with Astrid’s character. The role was eventually offered to Taiwanese American actress Constance Wu.
Upon its theatrical release, “Crazy Rich Asians” became the highest-grossing romantic comedy film of 2018, grossing $238 million in the global box office. The film, which also starred top Asian actors such as Henry Golding, Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh, and Awkwafina, was also praised for breaking stereotypes on Asian actors in Hollywood films. "I hope that this is just the beginning, (I hope) that it opens the door for more diverse stories to be told", said Chan shortly after the film’s release. Most of the cast will be returning in the sequels “China Rich Girlfriend” and “Rich People Problems” but release dates are yet to be announced.
Fresh off her success from “Crazy Rich Asians”, Chan would start to gain more recognition as one of the fastest rising Asian actors today. She portrayed Elizabeth Hardwick in the historical drama “Mary Queen of Scots” (2018); a film that retells the life of Scotland’s controversial monarch Mary I. She then appeared in the Marvel Studios film “Captain Marvel” (2019), portraying the alien Kree soldier Minn-Erva.
“Eternals” and Future Projects
Chan returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a new and bigger role, as the cosmic being Sersi in the upcoming film “Eternals”. The film is directed by Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and stars an all-star cast including Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Kit Harrington, and Dan Stevens.
“Eternals” takes place after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) and revolves around the story of a group of superpowered immortals called “Eternals”. Initially introduced as a comic book series by Jack Kirby in 1976, the movie pits the Eternals against an evil cosmic race called the Deviants led by their leader Kro (portrayed by Stevens). The film will be released globally in theatres in October 2021.
Aside from reprising her role as Astrid in the two “Crazy Rich Asians” sequels, Chan will be appearing in the 2022 psychological thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” and the Apple TV anthology series “Extrapolations”.
Chan is a member of multiple charity organizations including UNICEF and Save the Children. In 2019, she participated in the annual charity event Soccer Aid which showcases a football game between retired football players and celebrities.
Previously a model before becoming an actress, Chan has maintained her love for fashion is currently one of the ambassadors for French cosmetics company L'Oreal. She is currently dating “Preacher” actor Dominic Cooper since 2018.
Asian representation is making big strides in Hollywood. With this, expect the beautiful and talented Gemma Chan to continue making big strides in her acting career as well. At the age of 38, the sky is the limit for the British Asian actress.