If you watch any amount of British television, you’ve seen Gemma Chan. Sherlock, Shetland, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Humans—and that’s only stuff where she has leading or featured roles. She’s a side character in a LOT of stuff, too. Or maybe you remember her from Richard Ayoade’s superb Submarine, or caught her credit on Transformers: The Last Knight and wondered why the f*ck she was relegated to voicing the robot fairy goddess. (That whole movie is one big ???.) What I’m saying is, Gemma Chan has been around for a while, doing the kind of work that drives you to check IMDb and make a point of remembering her name. And now all that work is paying off and Chan is poised to have a breakout year.
It starts with Crazy Rich Asians, in which she plays Astrid Leong, aka the real romantic heroine of the series. (Let’s be honest, Nick and Rachel are just the means by which we meet a far more interesting cast of characters.) We’re all hoping CRA has a cultural moment the way Black Panther is having, which would translate to breakout opportunities for its stars. But Chan, already established on the other side of the pond, doesn’t need to wait, she’s already adding to her big year. Besides Crazy Rich Asians, she’s playing Bess of Hardwick in Mary Queen of Scots, alongside Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan. That’s poised to be a prestige pic later in the year, which means she will, potentially—hopefully—go from the summer success of CRA to an award season splash with Mary.
But wait, THERE’S MORE. Because Chan has just been cast in Captain Marvel, as the Kree agent Minn-Erva. That means sh*t to you now, but just remember this time last year you didn’t know Nakia and Shuri and Okoye, either. The Kree are some badass intergalactic warriors, and I will be extremely let down if Captain Marvel doesn’t nail that sh*t to the wall. (Also, I deserve a medal for restraining myself and not writing a dissertation to Lainey about Kree history.) I have not been the most excited about Captain Marvel, but some of the recent casting is intriguing. Besides Gemma Chan FINALLY getting recognition on this side of the Atlantic, DeWanda Wise, from the Netflix adaptation of She’s Gotta Have It, was also cast recently. I can get behind DeWanda Wise and Gemma Chan.
It’s going to be a big year for Gemma Chan. From Crazy Rich Asians to Mary Queen of Scots, and then, next March, she’ll be repping Marvel. This is the kind of year that comes to define careers. Her opportunities now are supporting other people’s big-deal projects. My hope is, after Crazy Rich Asians, she IS the big-deal project.