“My parents wanted me to study something academic at university, so I went to Oxford and I studied law. I had such a great time there…the life experience I got. I’m so glad that I just did the normal stuff of seeing a bit of the world before I went to drama school…” Raised near Sevenoaks in South East England by a father from Hong Kong and a mother from China, Gemma Chan proves that beauty and brains aren’t dichotomous attributes.
If she had followed the straight and narrow she’d be working as an attorney, successful no doubt, but we prefer to see her ambition on screen. “I knew pretty early on that it just wasn’t for me,” Gemma recalls of corporate law. “So I applied to drama school without telling anyone. I only told my mom and dad and my friends when I got in and said, ‘You know, I’m turning down the job with the law firm and this is what I’m going to do.’” As a model, she had already amassed loads of experience in front of a camera, which she used as a means to an end. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to drama school if I hadn’t been a model.” While modeling constrained her, acting allowed her to spread her wings. “Acting became really important to me when I realized that I found a freedom in it, in playing different characters and being part of telling stories.”
With a slew of TV roles under her belt over the past few years, Gemma recently got the plum opportunity to play opposite Johnny Depp as his “partner in crime” in the forthcoming film London Fields, which also features model turned actress Cara Delevingne, Billy Bob Thornton and Amber Heard. She’s also starring in TV sci-fi drama Humans as the lead role of “synth” Anita. “It’s very real, very grounded sci-fi, and it also has to do with artificial intelligence, but it’s really about the questions it raises…and one of the main things is, ‘What does it mean to be human?’”
For Gemma, being human means lending her talent to human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. She’s also lent her voice to a campaign to bring awareness to the sexist nature of The Sun’s notorious page three girls. “A picture of a naked woman in itself is not a sexist thing, but it’s the context of where it’s used that could make it a sexist thing,” explains Gemma. “When you put a large picture of a young woman topless in a newspaper on a daily basis where that’s the only real representation of women…I think that is sexist.” She’s not seeking to ban the images, but simply fighting for an overdue equal and honest representation of women. “I do consider myself a feminist. To me it just means you believe in gender equality. Anyone, male or female, who believes in that, is a feminist. I think it’s important to dispel the myth that feminism is about hating men. Gender equality should be everyone’s fight.”
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue
Photographed by Rachell Smith
Stylist: Nisha Grewal
Make-up by Maria Vittoria
Hair by Dayaruci
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015), pick up a print edition of the issue today!