Coming off the success of Crazy Rich Asians, legendary Asian superstar Michelle Yeoh stars as “Santa,” the wistful-yet-stern store-owner of Yuletide Wonderful where Emilia Clarke’s Kate works, in Universal Pictures’ new romantic comedy Last Christmas.
In Last Christmas, Kate (Clarke) harrumphs around London, a bundle of bad decisions accompanied by the jangle of bells on her shoes, another irritating consequence from her job as an elf in a year-round Christmas shop. Tom (Henry Golding) seems too good to be true when he walks into her life and starts to see through so many of Kate’s barriers. As London transforms into the most wonderful time of the year, nothing should work for these two. But sometimes, you gotta let the snow fall where it may, you gotta listen to your heart … and you gotta have faith.
“Santa” is Kate’s firm-but-fair boss at the Yuletide Wonderful store. Whatever her birth name, “Santa,” is the name she has taken for herself, at least in her store. “Santa is Kate’s boss at a year-round Christmas shop,” Clarke says. “Santa is a bit sly, sarcastic and has a very particular taste in Christmas decorations. She looks out for Kate but doesn’t let her get away with anything. They have a tough-love relationship.”
Director Paul Feig is a huge fan of Michelle Yeoh and was thrilled to learn she’d accepted the role. “Honestly, the first person I cast when I read this script was Michelle. I was 10 pages in reading the Santa role and realized it was the perfect fit. What is great is I get to show Michelle being funny. She never plays that on screen, so I was delighted. Santa is a wonderful character. She is a hard-working woman who absolutely loves Christmas, and she has turned it into this amazing business. The Yuletide Wonderful shop is so overblown, but it’s still classy. She sells junk, and she sells beautiful stuff. She is Santa.”
Much like Kate, Santa is a survivor, and that “can-do” attitude quite spoke to the actress when she was considering the part. “Santa wants to make a good life for herself, no matter where she’s working,” Yeoh says. “When she worked at the pet store, she called herself ‘Kitty.’ At the health-food store, she was ‘Miso.’ When she worked at the bakery, she went by ‘Muffin.’ Now, working at a Christmas shop, it seems appropriate that she call herself ‘Santa.’
“Santa is devoted to her shop and has little time for anything else, but she has a soft spot for Kate or, whom she calls her, ‘Elf,'” Yeoh continues. “Kate is lazy, forgetful and doesn’t take responsibility for anything, but she can sell things off the shelf like no one’s business. Santa is like a big sister to Kate, and she won’t let her get away with anything,” Yeoh says. “They have quite a heartwarming relationship and watch each other’s backs.”
Almost at her wit’s end with the world’s worst employee, Santa is willing to give Kate one final chance. Santa notices a change in her formerly worthless No. 1 elf when Kate meets a mysterious stranger. “Santa thinks that Tom is a good guy,” Yeoh says. “She thinks he’s wise and sensible and feels like that’s the type of person that Kate needs in her life. Ultimately, Tom helps Kate feel good about herself and to see the wonderful things that surround her every day.”
Yeoh also appreciated that her character has a whirlwind love story of her own—when she meets the enigmatic Dane (Peter Mygind) whom she simply calls “Boy”—and wasn’t simply relegated to uplifting the romantic leads. “Santa is very pragmatic, single-minded and focused on her Christmas shop,” Yeoh says. “She’s very ‘by the book,’ career wise, but when she meets a man who excites her, she doesn’t quite know how to react. Luckily, Kate comes to the rescue and pushes these two unlikely characters together; that helps their love blossom.”
Feig’s passion for London is being captured in Last Christmas, and Yeoh likewise feels the city to be magic during the holidays. In fact, she attended school in London years prior. “Christmastime is special because it revolves around family, love and giving,” Yeoh says. “This film illustrates Kate’s journey in finding the value of loving others and, most importantly, learning to love herself.”
In Philippine cinemas November 27, Last Christmas is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. Use the hashtag #LastChristmas.