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Beauty is much more than just the exterior, says Gemma Chan

In an interview with Lounge, the actor talks about self-care, work-life balance and diversity

Gemma Chan during the closing ceremony of the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival on 28 May.
Gemma Chan during the closing ceremony of the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival on 28 May. (AFP)

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For Gemma Chan, beauty is as much about the inside as it is the outside. “Your face reflects what you are actually feeling. Makeup helps only to an extent,” the actor says over a Zoom call. 

We are talking just before she’s about to walk the red carpet as a L’Oreal Paris brand ambassador for the closing ceremony of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, which concluded on 28 May.

Also read: Helen Mirren: People are realising agency of older women

In an interview with Lounge, Chan talks about her idea of beauty, striking work-life balance and the need for more diversity in the film industry. Edited excerpts:

In this world of Instagram filters, the meaning of beauty has become complicated. What’s your idea of real beauty?

That’s a very loaded question (laughs). I think I always look at the whole, it’s important to do so, especially in today’s digital world where we are constantly looking at others and ourselves. Beauty is much more than just the exterior. It compasses everything in a more holistic way. So it’s as much about you know, what’s going on in the inside… someone’s soul, their spirit, their creativity. As much as I love the exterior, beauty and fashion and everything in between… inside is as important.

How do maintain the distance between real and reel?

By simply taking a break from social media. I think it’s so important. I mean, obviously, you know, I am on social media for my work, and it can be great fun, but it’s important to have that time away as well and to just be with yourself… in nature, reading books, listening to music, seeing your friends. You need these things just to get that balance back.

As far as beauty is concerned, we are constantly bombarded with products. There’s a serum for dry skin, there’s a cream for super dry skin…

Yeah, you’re right, there is a kind of bit of a bombardment with all the choice that that you have. For me, it’s about self-care. Doing meditation, doing skincare in the morning and at the end of the day, removing your makeup. These are simple things but they are very important. You have to look after yourself. And as for products, I use the L’Oreal Paris Revitalift hyaluronic acid range. And there’s a great retinol night serum that I use in conjunction with the hyaluronic acid serum. They just made my skin feeling really good.

L’Oreal is one of the very few companies that have been more conscious about having more diverse faces as brand ambassadors. Why is diversity still such an issue when it comes to beauty brands?

You’re right. I mean I’m so proud to be part of the L’Oreal Paris family because they really have been about diversity and representing women from many cultures for a long time. But yeah, largely diversity remains a problem. Having said that, there’s been some progress. Like I love the fact that now when I open a magazine, I see such diverse faces, body shapes and ethnicities. Five-10 years ago that was not the case. So I think we’re moving in the right direction. We need to celebrate different kinds of beauty.

Do you feel similar changes are happening in the film industry as well?

Yes, we’ve made progress. There is visibility now and we really need to build on that and create long-term change. We need to get more women, people from more diverse backgrounds into those leadership positions, so that there are people who can choose what kind of films to make. That’s the lead work, I think.

Could you tell me about the importance of the Lights on Women awards?

It's a great initiative by L'Oreal Paris that was started last year. So, now it's in its second year. Kate Winslet is on the jury and she selects a winner from the entries in the short film competition at Cannes each year. And it gives them financial support, and also a spotlight on the international stage at this very crucial point in their career. So I think it's brilliant. I think it's so important that we have initiatives like this, because there's still a real gender imbalance in terms of female directors.

I have been informed we have to wrap up. One quick question, any beauty tip you swear by?

(Laughs) My mom told me, when I was 13, “You must always take off your makeup before you go to sleep. So cleanse, tone and moisturise twice a day.” Oh, and don’t overpluck your eyebrows. And I did over-pluck them when I was a teen. Never doing that again!

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