Martial-Arts Movie Star Gets a Kick Out of Daily Exercise


Guest Workout ends its run with this column. However, you can read Candace Wedlan’s celebrity interviews in Southern California Living.


We’ll call this the “whenever / wherever workout.” That sums up how Michelle Yeoh has learned to keep fit after she starred with Pierce Brosnan in the Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies.” After the release of the 1997 film, her busy travel schedule didn’t allow for her usual exercise routine at the gym and dance classes. “What I do is from the minute I wake up, before I get out of bed, I’m stretching.”

Yeoh said she used to spend eight hours a day in a gym when she was doing action films in Hong Kong. Those were the pre-Bond years, starting with a commercial she did with actor Jackie Chan in 1984, which led to her first movie, in 1985. “Now I can hop onto a StairMaster and be on it for 1 1/2 hours. I’m very fit because of all the years as an athlete and as a dancer.” One of Hong Kong’s top female action stars, she began studying dance when she was 4 in her native Malaysia.


When we hooked up while she was in Los Angeles, Yeoh, who’s 5 feet, 4 1/2 inches, added that she does leg kicks and squats while she’s brushing her teeth.

Question: You also probably brush longer that way.

Answer: And then when I’m putting on my lotion, I do my stretches again. And throughout the day--if I’m reading, I do my sit-ups. If I’m in plane rides, I do sit-ups. If I’m waiting for a meeting--if someone else is not there--I would be doing push-ups.

Q: Where did you get all this discipline?

A: From dance. From, I think, going to school in Malaysia, you know. We are very regimented. It’s the education system as well. It’s a very strict way of studying, of going to school. And then doing all that with dance, it’s about discipline. It’s about dedication.

Q: Any other exercises?

A: I play a lot of squash. I swim. I’ve started to do rock climbing. It’s how hard you want to push yourself, how high you want to go. It’s about making and attaining goals.

Q: Let’s talk about food. Don’t you appreciate home cooking now?

A: Oh, my God. Whenever I go home, the first thing my mom always says to me is, “You’re so skinny.” I have eight meals a day. My mom and her friends, who are wonderful, they bring you food at 7:30 in the morning. They’ll sit there and they want to watch you eat.

Q: What happens when you’re traveling so much--what do you eat?

A: I’ve always been one that never deprives myself of anything, especially when it comes to food. There’s one thing I do stay away from because my dad and my grandmother have diabetes. I have a sweet tooth, but I am able to cut out sugar in my coffee, for example. I won’t drink any sodas, you know, those kinds of things. But if I want to have a cheesecake or a double chocolate whammy, I will. I just don’t overindulge. I’ve always loved vegetables. My friends know whenever they invite me for a meal as long as they have tons of vegetables I’m happy.


Q: Well, what would you have for breakfast?

A: Cereals, bran flakes, milk, coffee. I mean, if I don’t have my cereal, if I see a muffin down the road, I will have that. And I find I eat a lot of meals a day. I can’t sit down and have a big meal. People think, “Oh, God, you eat like a bird,” but if they look at me, they’ll see I eat slowly because I really love savoring my foods.

Q: You enjoy the whole ritual of a meal, don’t you?

A: Yeah. Exactly. Sitting there, it’s an experience and having a good glass of wine. And I will have a cigar. I love that too.

Q: How soon do you eat after breakfast?

A: Probably about 10:30-11 I’ll have a peanut butter sandwich on toast and then lunch. I love pasta. I love salads. Salad’s the big thing for me. I love breads. I’m not a very big meat eater. I used to be, but I gave it up for Lent because I’m a Buddhist and I made a wish because my dad was not well. . . . So I gave that up. I never thought I could live without my beef and my hamburger and all that, but I’ve done so now for almost two years.

And then after lunch, I love going for teas because I lived in England for so long. High teas. Food, for me, is also about ambience--that feeling of sitting by the fireplace or being outside in the sunlight.

Q: What happens after high tea?

A: Dinner. That is the time when I’m most sociable. Especially if I’m away. I’m in some places for short periods of time and there’s so many friends I want to see and I love bringing people together.

Q: What would be a perfect dinner for you?

A: Oh, God, a perfect dinner. Let me see. I love seafood. Lobster and lots of vegetables. I love oysters too. Wherever I travel, I eat the things that are very local. I find that you learn a lot about the place by eating the food, you know. I mean, what is the point of me coming in from Hong Kong and going straight for a Chinese meal?


Q: Saving the best for last--dessert?

A: I love desserts. Ice creams, cakes. A lot of times if I see the dessert tray go by, I’ll just say, “Stop.” At the beginning of a meal. Whoever made the rule that I have to start with a salad or appetizer?

Afterward, I couldn’t hold back. “What size are you--a 2?”

“Zero,” Yeoh replied while standing and showing her profile. “You know, flat. Yeah, I do have a butt--and I have to work on that.”