Gemma Chan grew up in Kent, where neighbors complimented her ‘good English’

gemma chan porter

Gemma Chan covers the latest issue of Porter Magazine, net-a-porter.com’s in-house magazine. Gemma is mostly promoting The Eternals, but she has other films coming out over the next six months or so too. Everything is coming up Gemma: she’s got a very high heatscore these days, and after years of slowly building a career, things are suddenly happening all at once. The Porter editorial is gorgeous, although I’ve never seen a bad photo of Gemma. I don’t think she takes bad photos, ever. Gemma chatted with Porter about representation, growing up in the UK and more. Some highlights:

Growing up in Kent: Her mom immigrated to the UK from mainland China at the age of eleven and her dad from Hong Kong in his late twenties, and theirs was one of the few families of color in their community. She recalls feeling “like I was kind of between two cultures” as a child and not knowing how to respond when neighbors would compliment her on her “good English”.

How her parents responded to her fame: “They’re wonderfully constant, which I really love, but they’re also not overly impressed by anything. I do know they’re incredibly proud. And more than anything, they’re relieved that both my sister and I are okay.”

Her work to Stop Asian Hate: She calls herself an “accidental activist”, saying of her motivation: “I think a lot about how we can be useful as people, working in media or the arts. How can we work together across different industries to shift narratives and support our communities on the ground?”

Reconnecting with her roots: “One of the nicest things about getting older has been reconnecting and feeling like I can embrace and celebrate the Asian side of my heritage. I’ve met so many incredible people, so many more Asians than I knew when I was growing up, in my line of work.”

Asians in the film industry: “I love the fact that it doesn’t seem to be people elbowing each other out of the way anymore. It’s one of the best things about the past few years; it feels like the doors have finally opened a little bit and people are being allowed to tell their own stories and the stories of their histories and communities. And, naturally, the more we do that, the more we realize what we have in common with each other.”

On her Eternals character, Sersi: “Someone who has been on earth for the past 7,000 years and [has] seen everything that’s happened with humanity: the good and the bad, everything in between… The question [one starts to ask] is: is humanity worth saving?” Chan and Sersi are in agreement that the answer to this is yes. “We at least have to try. We can at least try to fix things and come up with the solutions. That’s our responsibility for having got us here in the first place.”

[From Porter]

“Is humanity worth saving” is a pretty complicated question actually. Look at any Trump rally or anti-mask demonstration and I would say no, humanity probably isn’t worth saving. But honestly, I agree – “we at least have to try.” As for the thing about growing up in an environment where people complimented her “good English” – yep, that happens to me. It happens to a lot of Asian people and Southeast Asian people. I was once complimented for “barely having an accent.”

Cover courtesy of Porter.

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44 Responses to “Gemma Chan grew up in Kent, where neighbors complimented her ‘good English’”

  1. minx says:

    She’s just perfection, I don’t know how else to say it.

    • CherHorowitz says:

      She really is. I rewatched Secret Diary of a Call Girl recently from the early-mid noughties and totally forgot she was in it. She is stunning!

      • BothSidesNow says:

        @ CherHorowitz, I love that show!! I don’t remember seeing her in it, I will have to rewatch it!!

        She is stunning!!

      • Lex says:

        She was the deadpan dominatrixy type call girl who wanted to run the agency over Belle (S05)!

  2. Fanciful says:

    She’s just gorgeous. My partner of 40 years is Asian as are most of my immediate family and I’ve heard it all. Mixed families especially cop a lot of comment from white and Asian people.

  3. rawiya says:

    She’s gorgeous. I’ve liked her since Almost Humans or Humans (I forget the correct name of the show. She played a robot.) I do side-eye some of the people she hangs out with, but we can’t all be perfect.

  4. Piratewench says:

    She is so so beautiful. Wow.
    What is it about asian features, particularly, that makes bigots so sure they are looking at an immigrant? I know Asian Americans have the same issue, people always asking “when did you come here? Where are you from?” And the person is like “I was born in Brooklyn ffs!”. It must be extremely irritating to deal with.

    • Lightpurple says:

      And they randomly pick where they think the “immigrant” is from. My cousin’s wife was born in Maryland to immigrants from Korea. She speaks only English. She did a cross-country trip with her brother to California and they were repeatedly told, almost daily, at motels and restaurants across the country that nobody could help them because staff didn’t speak Japanese.

      • Lyds says:

        I’ve had the reverse of that happen in my 14 (cumulative) years of living in the US. I am actually from Taiwan and have only a green card here, but had grown up all over the world as the result of my diplomat father. My English is certainly better than my Mandarin and for all intents and purposes, I appear pretty much like an ABC (American-born Chinese).

        When people ask me where I’m from, I’ll say, “Taiwan.” In response, they’ll be all shocked and proclaim something along the lines of: “I thought you might say California/you sound like you were born here.” Is that supposed to be a compliment? I guess you can never win….

    • GrnieWnie says:

      yeah, asking “where are you from” is a way of saying, “I can tell you’re not from here based on your appearance.” Yet you can’t, you literally cannot, in an immigrant country. So it then becomes a low-key way of establishing who is the insider and who is the outsider. Just don’t!

      • Sealit says:

        I am so sick of being asked where are you from. No where are you REALLY from? I was adopted at 8 months and brought to CA. But I’ve recently stopped telling strangers on the street that to make them feel better. I simply say CA, or if I want to watch their heads explode doing mental gymnastics, I say NH because we moved there when I was 5. I never felt uncomfortable telling people I am foreign born until 2016. I won’t even usually type it on an anonymous website anymore.

      • ME says:

        Been asked that question so many times. I always say “I’m from Earth”.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        @ GrnieWnie, I would never ask someone where they are from. We are a melting pot of immigrants and have been many generations over. If someone looks different, having prominent features, I would never ask or judge them based on that. I automatically think they are from here as that is where they are now. Should the person I am speaking with bring it up, I will ask what brought them to America and how do they like it. We are people from all over the world and we should accept and never deny or question someone where are they from just from appearance. People are so ignorant and racist. I am just sick of it. We are all immigrants except Native Americans. I guess growing up with an immigrant father plays as big role in my views.

  5. Kay says:

    I like Gemma she is super smart and and Oxford uni graduate – I’m glad she is being recognised.

  6. heygingersnaps says:

    South East Asian here and when I moved to the UK, I would get similar comments but added with a bit that I have an American accent. When I used to talk to clients over the phone, they would say, they thought I was American although I really don’t hear it but I get it’s the terms (lift/elevator, car park/parking lot, etc) that I use or my pronunciations. My son’s Gran still tries to correct how I say certain things so that it will be “British” sounding 🙄 when she can understand my point fine.
    Some English people are odd, she even asks me questions like, if there were gardens in South East Asia, like seriously?! 🤦🏻‍♀️

    Gemma is gorgeous and I still cannot believe she was once married to Jack Whitehall.

  7. Cee says:

    I’m always complimented by my lack of accent and “excellent english” and I’m always baffled by it, especially when it comes from people in academia. Like, yes, I’m fully bilingual and have no accent even though spanish is my first language but is it really so hard to grasp that languages are learned and mastered by people all over the world?

  8. Karla says:

    It happened to me growing up in Germany in the 80s/90s. Although my mom is German and my mother tongue actually is German, people always asked my where I learned it. My father is from northern Africa and I was never the blond Germanic type…imagine the disappointment when I was announced as the German „girl“ on campus (20 years ago) and everyone expected Claudia Schiffer and in came short Mediterranean looking me. I still have to explain when I came, why I live here and sometimes when I intend to go back „home“… good thing-if it get‘s too annoying or when I am just not in the mood to recount my whole family history when buying sth over the counter I simply don’t respond anymore and smile like as if I didn’t understand the question ;-)

  9. Sealit says:

    She is amazing. I can’t count the number of times people have complimented my English or asked why I don’t have an accent. And they always believe they’re being so nice. Just the other day, my husband ran into an old Navy buddy. He looked at me and asked when were you in Japan? I didn’t know you brought a wife home. I don’t know what to say anymore.

    • ME says:

      Wow…what a completely ignorant thing to say !

      • dc says:

        Hah! I had that comment ALL THE TIME when I lived in the UK and even now in another ex-colonial country. The English don’t seem to realize they’re showing their utter ignorance, as well as being condescending when they make those remarks! Gemma’s right, lack of representation is part of the reason racist narratives are still deep-seated in the English psyche.

        She was amazing in Eternals. WIll be seeing it again on the big screen. If it’s safe healthwise, it’s best to see this in the theatre. Awesome & sublime cinematography & storytelling.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        @ ME & @ Sealit, it seems that Americans have this idea in their head that since they are from a generation of immigrants, they seem to think that it’s appropriate to question the looks of someone. I think it also boils down to racist views and that they have more ownership or rights than recent immigrants do. They don’t! And they need to STFU and take responsibility for their ignorance and racist attitudes. As a boomer, I have never questioned an immigrant in regards to where they are from.

        Americans have an ugly history regarding Asian Americans since WWII. We committed awful crimes against Asian Americans that are still being felt today. I am certain that some are still suffering from the trauma. Now that we had that awful racist last president, he has unleashed the racism out in the streets and brought it down to levels of open racism not felt for the last two decades or so. Americans that were closet racist felt that they were now given permission to be openly racist against anyone that wasn’t white. Then for him to make those calls of Chinese flu have taken us down a road on immense pain felt by people of AAPI. It’s sickening and unacceptable.

        We are failing as Americans. We are failing POC for protection and rights. We are failing POC for NOT holding police officers and departments for open racism from the killing of WOC and MOC. We have been failing POC for centuries and once we finally started to make progress to protect and give POC the same rights as white Americans, we have reversed and erased decades of the little progress we have made.

        The FBI found that hate crimes increased by 673% in the review of 2015. There is very telling coincidence as to why that happened. Now we need to get back to eliminating hate crimes and racism again.

  10. Normades says:

    She is absolutely stunning.

    I am thrilled with the rise of roles for Asians in Hwood but I also want to see more color blind casting, not just roles which are bookmarked for someone of a particular race. Sandra Oh is a great example of this.

  11. jo says:

    She’s gorgeous but can’t act. She was terrible in The Eternals.

    • FF says:

      She’s a lovely actress. You only have to look at the disparity between Minerva and Sersei. I was so glad they cast her in another Marvel movie because she was wasted in Captain Marvel.

      A lot of people claim Sersei is bland or boring when she’s just a lowkey introvert who doesn’t initially see herself as a leader but is very aadmirable in her determination. Watching her quiet turns was a lot fun. She also comes out best when surrounded by humans, so I’m looking forward to her coming out of her shell in future films.

      I loved Gemma’s performance (along with that of the entire cast). My point being the character was meant to be wallflower-centric and was likely directed as such. Same goes for her relationship with Ikaris, we’re meant to root for her and Dane.

    • molly says:

      I’ve only seen her in Crazy Rich Asians, and the acting was… not great.
      But yes, she’s gorgeous and seems like a really wonderful, smart, kind person.

    • EBS says:

      I can’t speak to her film acting because I don’t do Marvel or superhero or any kind of franchise, but she was in Pinter’s The Homecoming at Trafalgar Studios, and she was stunning. She more than held her own against John Simm, Ron Cook etc, and these guys are hardened stage actors.

  12. ME says:

    I remember being in the second or third grade. The teacher asked us where each of us was born. I said “U.K”. He wouldn’t believe me. I’m brown, therefore I couldn’t be from there. He told me to go ask my parents because I must be mistaken. This was a school in Canada by the way.

    • Sealit says:

      This is terrible. Teachers are some of the worst offenders in my experience. They set the tone for their classroom and then say some of the worst things.

    • Mel says:

      What? That is absolutely horrible! Especially coming from a teacher asking a young kid. Im sorry you had to go through that as such young age. I hope your parents set that teacher straight.

    • Mustlovedogs says:

      When I was in fourth grade, the school received funding for “teaching English as a second language”. Despite being top of my class in English, I, along with every other Australian-born child of migrant parents, was placed in this class. They were teaching, ‘Jane runs. See Jane run’ from 1st grade readers — and I was reading novels at that stage. I remember being heart broken and simply couldn’t understand why this was happening to me…

  13. lucy2 says:

    She is so beautiful, and really has that star quality. I’m sorry she and so many others are still subject to such ignorance and racism. I’m glad she’s speaking out about it, and is seeing progress in the industry.

  14. Libellule says:

    I’m sick to death of this. I’m getting asked by strangers e.g. in train where i am from (half Vietnamese, born and raised in Poland) and whenever i answer with the name of the polish city i was born in, you can see they short circut and are completely lost what to do with that information.

    The worst people will fetishize you for looking “exotic” and then they tell to go back where you came from the minute you tell them to fuck off

  15. Sof says:

    East of Eden came out in 1952 and this sh*t stills happens! Why some people expect you to speak a certain way is beyond me.

  16. els says:

    I love Gemma Chan, she’s so beautiful. And her being Sersi made me squeal to see an East Asian as a lead female Superhero. I’m happy to see more people of colors being represented other than stereotypical stuff. We need more interesting stories with poc as leads

    I feel for her, I was born and raised in France. How many times I was asked about where I come from or speculating I’m from China because we all know Asia = China. ( –”) One time, a creepy guy asked me for money and before I could answer he said: She’s chinese, she must not understand. Even from some “friends” (Ex friends), they assumed stuff about me because of my roots. And one time, my half sister who’s mixed Asian and Caucasian (with mostly Asian feature) was bullied at her school for “bringing” Covid.

    And if humanity worth saving? I agree with Kaiser: I see more ignorant people walking around in public places and transport without masks. Trump and his supporters (From France but the media covered his presidency and oh boi….) Trying is best but most of the time, I feel we’re doomed because of our own self destructive kind..

  17. AmelieOriginal says:

    I remember seeing her in a few episodes of the show Shetland (detective show set on the Scottish Shetland islands) and I remembered her vividly because she was the only POC on the show at the time and it’s not every day you see an Asian woman speaking in a Scottish accent (I had to use subtitles for that show because I couldn’t understand half the characters and otherwise would have been totally lost). This was before she blew up with Crazy Rich Asians. I absolutely love her.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I’ve been streaming Shetland the past week or so, and I remember that episode where she played an archaeologist. I love seeing the earlier work of people after they make it big.

  18. Grant says:

    She’s great in the Eternals. I really enjoyed Angelina too.

  19. Eleonora says:

    The Eternals is probably my fave Marvel.movie

  20. DeluxeDuckling says:

    She’s so beautiful 😍

  21. Melly says:

    I know this is a serious subject, but my God she is so hot! I feel Gemma on her experience though, black woman here who had the misfortune to grow up in Kent in the 70s and 80s.

  22. Woo woo says:

    South-East Asian who grew up in English speaking country. My husband’s aunt complimented my English the first time she met me! I had just graduated with a law degree and I’m not sure she finished high school.

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