The Untold Truth Of Gemma Chan

Gemma Chan is known for her demure on-screen performances and for appearing in several blockbuster franchises, and one look at the gorgeous British beauty may make fans believe she was destined for stardom. However, she almost didn't pursue acting as a career. 

Growing up as the daughter of Chinese parents from Hong Kong and Scotland, Chan swam competitively at a high level and went to school originally for something besides acting, per Elle. Education was always paramount in her parents' eyes, as her father used his schooling to substantially improve his life. "Both of my parents are immigrants who came from very humble backgrounds," she told the publication. "[My father's family] had absolutely nothing, they lived in a shack on a hillside in Hong Kong. I'm one generation away from that."

However, Chan knew what she wanted to do, and her persistence led her to land coveted roles and help change the face of Hollywood. But how did she get to be such a game-changer in the film industry? Her path might surprise you. This is the untold truth of Gemma Chan. 

Gemma Chan's parents were not initially supportive of her acting career

Things are different now, but there was a time when Gemma Chan's parents were not happy about her decision to pursue acting and modeling. In fact, things went so sour that she didn't speak to her father for months after she revealed her enrollment in the Drama Centre London and her part-time modeling work, per the Evening Standard.

In speaking to Allure, Chan explained that her parents were of a mindset that there were three suitable jobs: a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant. She further told the outlet that she told her parents she wouldn't be working at a law firm, but left out the part about enrolling in drama school at the time. Looking back, she told Allure that she understood why her parents were concerned, because they wouldn't be able to help her in a show business career. Now, however, her parents are very proud of her success.

"I took them to the London premiere of 'Crazy Rich Asians,' and they were so, so, so proud," Chan told Allure, adding that the film made her mother emotional in part because it included a Chinese folk song she hadn't heard since childhood. "And she said she never, never expected to hear that in a mainstream Hollywood film. So yeah, that's what it means to people."

She studied law before becoming an actor

Pivoting to acting from law isn't actually a super rare occurrence. Gemma Chan is one of several celebs who made the change. Other law-wielding folks include Rashida Jones, John Cleese, and even Rebel Wilson! Don't worry though, her time studying law wasn't in vain. Chan told Modern Luxury that her time at Oxford University was a huge help in her career switch (via HuffPost).

"It is quite helpful with the memorization, I had to learn about 2,000 cases by heart, so I am fairly good at learning scripts quickly," she told the outlet in 2019, according to HuffPo. "On the whole, it is quite a different part of the brain: Law is very analytical, and acting is more instinctive and emotionally driven. But, it does come in handy with learning lines ― and reading my own contract." Understanding the legalese of a performance contract is certainly a plus for anyone relying on the sometimes unsteady income of acting.

Gemma Chan can play the violin

Gemma Chan doesn't just play the violin, she excels at it. The Evening Standard reported that she had reached Grade 8 on the instrument at just 14 years old. The grading system was developed by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), which is the United Kingdom's largest music education organization. Her musical skills followed her into adulthood and, according to the Evening Standard, Chan can be heard on the soundtrack for "Humans," because composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer discovered her abilities and wanted to showcase her skills. "I cut my nails and picked up the violin for the first time the other day," Chan told the outlet. "Recorded it on my iPhone and emailed it to him."

While there isn't necessarily an age designated to each instrument grade level, Anne Witt at The Strad (in response to a query from an adult student about exam preparation for the Grade 8 designation) explained that Grade 8 is challenging, which only solidifies how impressive Chan's skills are.

"ABRSM Grade 8 is very difficult, especially the scales," she explained. "So you are a much better performer than you realize — I am amazed that you are playing at this level after only nine years." If Witt was impressed by an adult playing at that level after almost a decade, what does that say about a kiddo who excelled so quickly? We're impressed.

She appeared in Doctor Who and Sherlock before breaking out with Humans

Early on in her career, in 2009, Gemma Chan appeared in one episode of "Doctor Who." The episode, "The Waters of Mars," featured Chan playing a woman named Mia Bennett. This episode centers around a colony on Mars in 2059, where a water creature inhabits the bodies of the colony's humans. Showrunner Steven Moffat must have liked Chan, because a year later, he cast her in his other show, "Sherlock," where she played a character named Soo Lin Yao. Looking back, however, Chan isn't sure she'd make the same choice to play Yao, given the problematic tropes included in the episode, she told Vogue. But it was early in her career and most wouldn't turn down a role in such a popular show, even if problematic. 

"I think I would speak up more if I felt that a role was leaning into an orientalist trope of some sort," she told the magazine. "I'm much more aware. And I think I'm in more of a position where I could say something." At the same time, however, she added that she doesn't judge folks for getting work at that time. "I don't look down on anyone doing any position or in any job on set," she told Vogue. "The industry has really shifted, even in just the time that I've been working. Changing the actual culture — changing in practice — takes longer."

The actor was in a serious relationship with comedian Jack Whitehall

While working on the series "Fresh Meat" in 2011, Jack Whitehall met Gemma Chan. The two dated until December 2017, when they broke up because of scheduling conflicts, per Express. At the time, an insider told The Sun (via Express), "Jack and Gemma secretly pulled the plug on their relationship but remain good friends. For the past couple of years they've both been finding it difficult to make proper time for one another. ... It's sad but they remain supportive of one another."

Evidently, the breakup was not without its regrets though. According to Metro, on his Netflix series, "Travels with My Father," Whitehall said he messed up his chances of getting married, which alluded to his breakup with Chan. Both Chan and Whitehall have since moved on from their relationship, and it is unclear whether or not they are still good friends. Either way, we wish them both the best!

Gemma Chan has been in a long-term relationship with Dominic Cooper

It didn't take long for Gemma Chan to pick romance back up after her breakup with Jack Whitehall. She started dating Dominic Cooper on the down-low in 2018, after they, too, met on set filming the movie "Stratton." According to Us Weekly, the dating rumors started when the two were seen in Spain together. And their relationship still seems to be going strong, weathering the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-Asian rhetoric that formed as its result. Chan told Harper's Bazaar that she felt extremely blessed to have someone so supportive by her side.

"Dom was very understanding and empathetic," she told the outlet of being a pillar of the Asian community during the pandemic. "I was quite open about how I was feeling during that time, and he was just incredibly supportive. I definitely didn't feel I had to shoulder everything on my own. I'm really, really lucky."

She's played two characters in the MCU

At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (there are almost 30 films after all), it's not uncommon for actors to be cast in a Marvel movie. What is uncommon, however, is for an actor to portray more than one character. Marvel producers are well aware that casting someone twice isn't something they do, which is why Gemma Chan's casting in "Eternals" happened so late in the game, according to producer Nate Moore, who gave an interview to Screen Rant.

"Sersi was a character that it took us a long time to find and Gemma again wasn't necessarily the first person we thought of, but as we were reading people and I do remember the point where we said maybe should we read Gemma, is that weird?" Moore told the outlet. "Is our audience going to go with us or are they going to say no? But we read her and she was perfect for us we said, well, let's see. But you know I think if Minerva's [sic] not blue I don't know if we would have pulled that trigger."

"Eternals" director Kevin Feige told Entertainment Weekly that overlooking Chan for the role of Sersei because she'd been in the MCU already would've been a mistake. He cited Chris Evans as Captain America as an example, as he had previously played the Human Torch in 2005's "Fantastic Four" and its 2007 sequel before taking on the role of the first Avenger.

She turned down the chance to audition for the lead in Crazy Rich Asians

After falling in love with the book "Crazy Rich Asians" a few years before the film was announced, Gemma Chan was handed a huge opportunity — to audition for the leading role of Rachel Chu. But that part didn't speak to her, as she explained to Stylecaster. Chan said that she was more interested in playing Astrid Leong Teo (the role she was eventually cast in) because of the duality of her character. "Everybody thinks that this character has the perfect existence and the perfect marriage and the perfect life," Chan told the outlet. "But she really is someone who is struggling to hold everything together."

Before "Crazy Rich Asians" became a worldwide sensation, Chan told Elle that she couldn't get leading role consideration. But now? That's a whole other story. After the immense success of "Crazy Rich Asians," Chan has been in two different Marvel films, done voices for Disney, and continues booking role after role.

Gemma Chan hasn't commented on her role in Don't Worry Darling

Gemma Chan stars as Shelley in the 2022 film "Don't Worry Darling," a movie about a 1950s couple living in a utopian experimental community. While she did appear alongside some of her co-stars for the press conference prior to the film's premiere at the Venice Film Festival, others weren't there due to alleged scheduling conflicts, though many think the embroiled problems that had the film in the press for several weeks contributed to a certain star's absence. Chan posted a simple promo for the movie on her Instagram in mid-August, but hasn't really talked about it otherwise.

Even her Instagram post from the film festival didn't focus on "Don't Worry Darling." Instead, it was dedicated to her stunning dress, with a simple hashtag naming the movie at the end. She wrote: "My first time at @labiennale and it was one to remember. Thank you to the Venice Film Festival for inviting us and to @louisvuitton for this dream of a dress. It's a joy and an honour to collaborate with @nicolasghesquiere, @rebeccacorbinmurray and the whole team of artisans of the Maison from the first sketch to reality."

Chan has also not commented publicly on the alleged unsafe circumstances on set of the film or the supposed feud between Florence Pugh and Olivia Wilde.

The actor took on voice acting for Raya and the Last Dragon

In 2021, Gemma Chan gave voice to the badass wonder that is Namaari in Disney's "Raya and the Last Dragon." Like her role in "Crazy Rich Asians," "Raya" is another film that tells a story that might not have been told by Hollywood before. Those are projects Chan likes to align herself with — to tell the untold. She's on a mission to be part of the positive change for representation in Hollywood.

"It's really difficult in my industry to speak up, with the power structures that are there," she told Harper's Bazaar. "I know you can be penalised in a way that means your livelihood has gone. Even if you try to do the right thing, speaking up against bad behaviour, all it takes is someone to interpret what you say the wrong way, or decide that you're trouble. ... It's a hierarchical, word-of-mouth kind of industry where, traditionally, bad behaviours have been indulged. There's a lot of fear. It's hard to change that culture. It takes years." That work may be incredibly difficult, but Chan takes it on headfirst with unfathomable grace. Her goals as an artist are not going unnoticed by fans, either. Keep fighting the good fight!

She made a cameo in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Did you remember that Gemma Chan was in "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?" Her role of Madam Ya Zhou, an International Confederation of Wizards delegate, may have been small, but it was nonetheless important, with Screen Rant called her casting one of the roles that saved the franchise. The "Harry Potter" universe isn't exactly known for being diverse, so it was a thrill to see Chan in this role, even if it was just for a moment. Unsurprisingly, she's unafraid to call out Hollywood on its diversity issues, while simultaneously doing something about them.

She got flack from trolls online after being cast as Bess of Hardwick in "Mary Queen of Scots," but she wasn't going to let the haters get her down. "Why are actors of color, who have fewer opportunities anyway, only allowed to play their own race?" she asked Allure. "And sometimes they're not even allowed to play their own race. In the past, the role would be given to a white actor who would tape up their eyes and do the role in yellowface. John Wayne played Genghis Khan. If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick." Chan can forever play roles like Hardwick or Zhou, so long as we're past problematically naming Asian characters Cho Chang. 

No matter what, we look forward to Chan continuing to support and bring diverse stories to the mainstream film industry.