Michelle Yeoh Inspired Danny Boyle To Give Sunshine A More Diverse Cast

Michelle Yeoh has been working hard both in Hollywood and internationally for decades now, but this award season in particular has given Americans who may have missed her star power before the chance to celebrate her as she deserves. Yeoh earned the accolades she's been receiving, not just for her starring turn in "Everything Everywhere All At Once," but for who she clearly is as a person. As is inevitable on the award circuit, the actress has been digging into some never-before-shared stories about her time in the film industry. One of the best ones came via The Hollywood Reporter's actress roundtable, in which she swapped stories with Michelle Williams, Jennifer Lawrence, Danielle Deadwyler, Claire Foy, and Emma Corrin.

In recent years, award season roundtables have become places where women, actors of color, and other marginalized performers have been able to speak up about how the fight for equity has changed over the years. Often, there are some disheartening anecdotes involved, but this time Yeoh shared a story of a director who lead by example, taking her advice about a movie script that was apparently looking quite, well, white. "A lot of the times I get the script and it's not written for a woman like me," Yeoh shares. "If the director is kind enough to take a meeting with you, that's the time when you think, 'Should I voice, 'maybe you should give me this role which I think is more suited for me'?"

The future is bright, but does it have to be so white?

Yeoh says one of the times she decided to speak up was when in talks to work on Danny Boyle's "Sunshine," the 2007 cosmic horror sci-fi film about a group of astronauts who attempt to save the earth by fixing the dying sun. On their journey toward the fireball, they begin to develop a sort of space madness, and their mission becomes the least of their worries as some shipmates begin acting erratically. According to Yeoh, Boyle had already approached her with an open mind. "When I first received the script, it was written for a man to start off with," she says. "So that was already such a joy that Danny thought, 'Well, you know, I would change it for you.'"

The actress decided to take a chance and share some feedback on the script, despite the fact that it would've been easy for a director to respond, as she puts it, "'Okay, bye, thank you but no thank you!'" Yeoh pointed out that in a futuristic setting, it would make sense for a coalition of global astronauts to try to save earth, as opposed to two largely white demographics. She shared:

"At that point I said to him, 'Why do you think at that time it's still the Russians and the Americans going to space? Wouldn't you have more Japanese, Chinese, and it would be a more united group going up to save the earth. It's not like a mission to Mars on your own, right? It would be a more collaborative effort.'"

Boyle took her feedback to heart

The actress, who would go on to play a biologist who cares for the ship's oxygen garden in the film, says that Boyle took her feedback to heart. "I think it takes a director with great confidence of who they are and their vision" to accept that, she says, "and he changed it." In the end, the movie ended up with a fairly diverse cast that included Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Cliff Curtis, and Yeoh as members of the Icarus II. "We had a real good, diverse group of astronauts going to save the world instead of just all caucasians," Yeoh tells the THR roundtable with a laugh.

I wish what Yeoh calls her "bold step" didn't feel like such a big deal, but as a woman who has previously worked with men who take any feedback or collaboration as an insult to their authority, I know exactly why it is. There can't be true equity until the people with the power to shape art and culture take a look at their own blind spots, but pointing those blind spots out can come at a detrimental cost to a person's livelihood. Yeoh's tenacity here and elsewhere is genuinely inspiring, and it's also great — for once — to hear a story about a filmmaker whose ego didn't get the better of them.

In the end, "Sunshine" is a weird, awe-inspiring, deeply freaky movie, one that wouldn't be nearly as powerful without Yeoh and her co-stars.