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Why Minn-Erva From Captain Marvel Looks So Familiar

Captain Marvel, led by Oscar-winner Brie Larson and an all-star cast, is one of the most anticipated films of 2019. As Marvel Studios' first film centering on a female superhero, this project was years in the making, and old-school comic fans and new audiences alike are thrilled to finally see Carol Danvers' origin story on the big screen. Set in the mid-1990s, the film tells the story of how Danvers, a former Air Force pilot, joins the Kree Starforce to save her home planet of Earth when it is caught in the middle of a fight between two formidable alien forces.

From Samuel L. Jackson to Jude Law to Annette Bening, the cast is packed with superstars (as is typical with Marvel), and it also includes one major star on the rise: Gemma Chan, who plays Minn-Erva, a standout member of Starforce who is initially threatened by Danvers' arrival. Chan, a London-born actress, rose through the ranks of British television and film before appearing in worldwide blockbusters. Here's where you've spotted her over the years.

Doctor Who

Though Chan was born in London, she was raised in Sevenoaks, a town near Kent, and eventually studied law at Worcester College, Oxford. Even though she was offered a spot at a law firm after graduation, she decided to study acting instead, enrolling at Drama Centre London and securing herself an agent.

In 2009, Chan scored her first major credit by appearing in a special episode of Doctor Who alongside the popular Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant. "The Waters of Mars," which won a Hugo Award, is set on the red planet in 2059, where the Doctor encounters a human colony which is endangered by his very presence. Chan plays Mia Bennett, a geologist, who survives the Doctor's unintentional meddling with the structure of time. In the end, she is one of the only people who remembers that he was even there and can remember the fate of the base. Chan didn't have a lot of screentime, but he episode, which was one of Tennant's final outings as the Doctor, was well-received, setting her up for more roles in the future.

Small films: Shanghai, Pimp, Submarine

Chan went on to appear in a few films throughout 2010 and 2011, slowly building her resume. Shanghai, a 2010 thriller that received a wide release in China with a limited one in the United States, cast Chan alongside stars like John Cusack, Chow Yun-fat, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Ken Watanabe. It told the story of an American agent (Cusack) who becomes embroiled in conspiracies during World War II while trying to solve a murder. Unfortunately, the film fared poorly with critics.

Her next film, Pimp, was a documentary-style comedy about a day in the life of a pimp. Featuring Billy Boyd (best known as Pippin in The Lord of the Rings trilogy), it also received bleak reviews, scoring a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and going largely forgotten, luckily for Chan. Thankfully, she followed these films up with Submarine, a coming-of-age story released in 2010 to positive reviews that co-starred Sally Hawkins, Craig Roberts, and Noah Taylor. Directed by Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd), the film told the story of a young boy, Oliver, who must navigate unpopularity, young love, and his difficult teenage years despite familial strife. Even though Chan only had a small part in the film, it set her off on the right foot to find quality projects going forward.

The IT Crowd & Sherlock

A popular British sitcom that aired for four series from 2006 to 2013, The IT Crowd revolved around three main characters — Maurice Moss (Richard Ayaode), Roy Trenneman (Chris O'Dowd), and Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), each of whom brings different neuroses to their roles as tech support for a major company. Chan actually appeared in two different episodes as two different characters — after a brief initial appearance in the 2010 episode "The Final Countdown," she reappeared in "Reynholm vs. Reynholm" that same year, playing a Female Sulu in a Star Trek parody.

Chan followed up this appearance with a role in the hit BBC series Sherlock, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson, respectively, and formats each classic Arthur Conan Doyle story about the famous detective into long installments that deliver a modern twist on the tale. Chan appeared in the 2010 episode "The Blind Banker" as Soo Lin Yao, a Chinese pottery expert working at a museum who disappears and turns out to have a dark past. Holmes and Watson work to solve ciphers left behind by a smuggling ring, which it turns out Soo Lin is a part of. Ultimately, she is killed before she can help them crack the code.

Recurring TV roles: Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Bedlam

After smaller films and some guest spots, Chan finally found a few recurring roles on television shows, cementing herself as a star on the rise. After her appearance on Sherlock in 2011, Chan scored a series regular role in the fourth series of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, which was broadcast in both the U.K. and the U.S. Starring Billie Piper, best known for her companion role alongside David Tennant on Doctor Who, the show centered on Hannah (Piper), a normal London girl by day who works as a call girl at night to pay her bills. As her two lives continue to collide, she meets new girls at the agency at which she is employed, and that's where Chan comes in. During the fourth series of the show, she played Charlotte, a haughty escort working for the agency who is strident and always gets what she wants.

Chan followed up this huge role with a regular role on Bedlam, a British sci-fi series, during the show's second series. Starring Theo James (Divergent), Bedlam tells the story of Bedlam Heights, a run-down complex of apartments home to a series of strange hauntings. Chan appeared as Keira, a childhood friend of a character from the first series who serves as a confidant for Ellie (Lacey Turner), the de facto lead of the second series.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

After failed film debuts and well-regarded but under-the-radar indies, Chan's first blockbuster breakout came in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit in 2014. She appeared alongsideChris Pine as the titular CIA agent, Kevin Costner as the CIA official who recruits him, Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the film) as a Russian tycoon, and Keira Knightley as a medical student who becomes Ryan's fianceé. In his time at the CIA, Ryan must uncover Russian interference in the U.S. stock market that could lead to a terrorist attack, eventually involving his fianceé in the investigation and ultimately taking down the powerful Russian magnate Cherevin (Branagh). Chan played Amy Chang, a fellow spy on Ryan's team who proves herself to be an incredibly competent ally.

Though the film didn't exactly underperform at the box office, it ended up being the lowest-grossing installment in the Jack Ryan franchise to date. Still, it was credited as an enjoyable way to reboot a film series that had been out of the public eye for quite some time. Chan attracted some notice on the red carpet for the film, and though critics may not have singled out her performance, Shadow Recruit was an important first step for her international film career.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

An extension of the Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released to eager fans in 2016, moving the magical world from the U.K. to the United States during the 1920s. The movie introduces audiences to Newt Scamander (played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne), a "magizoologist" who eventually goes on to write a Hogwarts textbook (which shares a name with the film). After Newt's animals cause chaos throughout New York City, allowing non-magical denizens to witness them and generally wreaking havoc, he and his friends are hauled before a council of international magical brethren led by the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), where they meet Madam Ya Zhou (Chan), who helps investigate mysterious deaths caused by various magical disturbances.

The film was a commercial smash, grossing a total of $814 million, and was hailed by most critics as a promising start to a new franchise within the already wildly popular world of Harry Potter. Though Chan did not appear in the 2018 sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald, her brief but prominent role in such a massive blockbuster set her up for even more film success.

Transformers: The Last Knight

The fifth installment of the live-action Transformers franchise focuses on a battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons to for control of Merlin's staff, which could restore power to Cybertron, the home base of all Transformers. Gemma Chan voices Quintessa, an evil leader of Cybertron who manipulates Optimus Prime in order to secure the staff. After brainwashing the hero for her own uses, she is ultimately defeated by Optimus and Bumblebee, but secretly survives, assuming a human form to achieve her means (as is revealed in a mid-credits sequence, where Chan is briefly seen).

The film was ultimately considered a flop at the box office due to its budget and the much higher success of its predecessors, and its planned sequel was even cancelled to make room for the 2018 spin-off Bumblebee (which was well-liked critically). Thanks to that, Chan's mostly voice acting role may have been the perfect opportunity for her within the Transformers universe, as she gained exposure without being associated with the film's critical and commercial failure.

A return to television: Humans

Chan returned to a regular television role in Humans, a British series for Channel 4 that aired between 2015 and 2018 and was also broadcast on the American network AMC. Based on a Swedish show called Real Humans, the series featured a world filled with hyper-realistic robots called "synths" and explored the dangers of artificial intelligence merging with the human world. Though the series picked up recognizable stars as it went along — including The Matrix and Jessica Jones' Carrie-Anne Moss and Black Panther's Letitia Wright — Chan was there from the beginning, playing a synth hired by a human family to work as a nanny. Though she is sold as new to the unsuspecting Hawkins family as Anita, it turns out that she has been programmed before and is actually a synth named Mia, who previously worked for the man who created the synths. Eventually, Mia gets a job in a cafe and finds herself developing feelings for her employer.

Humans was a huge hit with critics. Chan stayed on for three seasons, until her character was murdered in the third season finale. Throughout her time on the show, Chan's standout performance attracted plenty of positive attention.

Crazy Rich Asians

Chan's biggest role yet came in 2018's Crazy Rich Asians, the breakout hit adapted from Kevin Kwan's bestselling novel of the same name. As the first film since 1993's The Joy Luck Club to feature an entirely Asian leading cast, the film was both a critical and a commercial success, even earning Golden Globe nominations. Alongside big names and newcomers from Constance Wu and Henry Golding to Awkwafina and Ken Jeong, Chan had to stand out from the rest, and did just that in her role as Astrid Young-Teo, a fabulously rich and impeccably accomplished socialite who is so successful and worldly that her husband has grown resentful. Despite that, Astrid proves to be an extremely kind and gracious character, serving as an ally to Rachel (Wu), an outsider who has fallen in love with Nick Young (Golding), Astrid's cousin who is also obscenely wealthy.

Thanks to the first film's success, two sequels are already in the works, and a mid-credits scene indicated that one may focus heavily on Astrid, as it shows her locking eyes with a mystery man at a luxurious party. Dedicated fans of the novel may recognize the man as Charlie Wu, Astrid's charming ex-fiancé. The second novel in the series, China Rich Girlfriend, focuses on Astrid's love life, so Chan may have an even bigger role in the film franchise's next two installments.

Mary Queen of Scots

2018's Mary Queen of Scots is a historical drama based on the conflict between cousins Mary and Elizabeth I to secure the throne of England. With Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as Mary and Elizabeth, respectively, director Josie Rourke staged a soapy, feminist spectacle with the two talented stars playing against each other. Robbie received acting nominations at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, and the film earned nominations at the 91st Academy Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. 

Chan played Bess of Hardwick, a close friend of Elizabeth I who not only acted as the Virgin Queen's confidante, but, alongside her husband, helped keep Mary captive for 15 years. Even though Chan's casting was technically historically inaccurate, Rourke insisted on color-blind casting, opening a door for Chan, for which the actress was quite grateful. Even if it wasn't true to life, appearing in yet another diverse cast was a huge opportunity for Chan, giving her the chance to play the kind of feminist role she prizes.   

Watership Down

In the lead-up to her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chan took on another voice acting role, this time in an animated adaptation of a classic children's book. A collaboration between the BBC and Netflix, the 2018 miniseries adaptation of Richard Adams' Watership Down tells the story of a group of rabbits who must constantly help each other survive in a world of predators and other dangers.

Though Chan does not appear on screen, she joins an incredibly talented cast in lending her voice to the series, including James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, John Boyega, Ben Kingsley, Tom Wilkinson, and recent Academy Award winner Olivia Colman. Despite criticisms of its computer animation, the film received positive reviews from critics, who made sure to note that the cast was outstanding. Chan's latest role before Captain Marvel might be animated, but it still managed to capture plenty of attention.