Gemma Chan Creates Her Own Good Work

The Eternals star has a plan to tell better stories in Hollywood.

Interview by Lynn Hirschberg
Photographs by Tim Walker
Styled by Sara Moonves
Originally Published: 

Gemma Chan wears a Burberry sleeveless trenchcoat.
Gemma Chan wears a Burberry sleeveless trenchcoat.

Gemma Chan's curriculum vitae spans genres, areas of interest, and even industries: At one point, the Crazy Rich Asians star was a model, and she started out with ambitions of pursuing a legal career. Now, her current status still transcends arbitrary titles: Sure, she's an actress (her latest role: starring as Sersi, one of the genetically mutated beings in the Chloé Zhao–directed Marvel Studios Eternals film), but she's also a staunch AAPI-rights activist, consummately community-minded, and now, a producer too. For W’s annual Best Performances issue, Chan talks to Lynn Hirschberg about her very first gig, being painted blue in Captain Marvel, and returning as Sersi in a to-be-announced Marvel movie.

What was your first acting job?

I did a commercial for the now-defunct search engine Bing. I had to learn reams and reams of related words—it was a lot to memorize. The money from that commercial paid for drama school. But sadly, it did not do much for Bing.

Did you have trouble telling your parents that you wanted to be an actor?

Yes. I studied law initially. My parents were immigrants and wanted their child to have a steady profession. Not acting.

After school, you played a dominatrix in Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

That was fun! I'm still friends with most of that cast.

Chan wears a Maison Margiela tank top; Laura Andraschko dress and tights; Vivienne Westwood platform shoes.

You wore a lot of latex. Did that prepare you for playing Sersi in Eternals?

The latex was comfortable! My costume in the Marvel Universe was much more confining. But still far easier than my first time in the Marvel Universe, when I was famously painted blue in Captain Marvel.

Did you like being a god?

It was interesting. In Eternals, she starts out shy and then discovers her power as a leader. That was fun.

Will you play Sersi again?

Yes. Marvel owns us for life. [Laughs]

Did your life change after Crazy Rich Asians?

Not really. Good work is still hard to come by. I've started producing to find stories to tell.

Hair by Ali Pirzadeh for Dyson Hair at CLM; makeup by Sam Bryant at Bryant Artists; manicure by Michelle Class for Sally Hansen at LMC Worldwide. Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production manager: Zack Higginbottom at Connect the Dots; photo assistants: Antonio Perricone, Jeff Gros, Morgan Pierre; digital technician: Michael Preman; lighting technician: Keith Coleman; key grip: Scott Froschauer; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; senior style editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale; senior fashion market editor: Jenna Wojciechowski; fashion assistants: Julia McClatchy, Antonio Soto, Nycole Sariol, Sage McKee, Josephine Chumley, Rosa Schorr; production assistants: Tchad Cousins, Juan Diego Calvo, Gina York, Brandon Fried, Nico Robledo, Kein Milledge; hair assistants: Tommy Stanton, Sol Rodriquez, Andi Ojeda; makeup assistants: Tami Elsombati, Bridgett O’Donnell; manicure assistant: Pilar Lafargue; set assistants: Olivia Giles, Sarah Hein, Seth Powsner, King Owusu; tailors: Suzi Bezik, Cardi Mooshool Alvaji; tailor assistant: Elma Click

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