“I have always been
very interested in other people’s lives and I think acting gives you that opportunity to step into other people’s shoes—even if just for a bit—and to see things from their point of view,” says actress Gemma Chan. “I was relatively shy as a child, and [acting] was an outlet where I felt I could be free to express myself.”
But, the British-born beauty did not begin as an actress. After graduating with a law degree from Oxford University, Chan declined a job with a leading firm in order to train at the prestigious Drama Centre in London. “I had always done drama and music as a hobby from childhood, but I really never realized you could do it as a viable career until much later on,” she says. “I enjoyed the challenge of my law degree, but I learned quite early on that I would have been a pretty miserable lawyer.” Yet, the experience was not without its merits. “It is quite helpful with the memorization,” she adds. “I had to learn about 2,000 cases by heart, so I am fairly good at learning scripts quickly. 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.”
Today, Chan, who resides in London, is a leading actress, counting projects such as BBC One’s True Love, a five-part drama exploring modern-day relationships from BAFTA-winning director Dominic Savage, as well as her recent role as Bess of Hardwick in Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots. Chan’s global star is now on the rise thanks to an expanding audience. “It may seem to a few people like I just appeared, but I have been an actress for the last 10 years,” she says. After starring as Astrid in the Warner Bros. film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book about Singapore’s social elite, Crazy Rich Asians, Chan was catapulted onto the international stage as a household name.