Sandra Oh earned television acclaim well before shows like “Fresh Off the Boat” turned other Asian actors into A-list stars. The Korean-Canadian actress received multiple Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award for her long-running performance as Dr. Cristina Yang in “Grey’s Anatomy.” Despite these honors, Oh landed very few leading roles between her 2014 departure from “Grey’s Anatomy” and her current star billing in “Killing Eve.”
Oh plays the title character, an intelligence officer who obsessively follows a mysterious assassin, in the new BBC America series. She explained in an interview with Vulture yesterday (April 9) that her accolades didn’t inoculate her from believing that she, as an Asian-Canadian woman, couldn’t thrive in this lead role:
When I got the script for “Killing Eve,” I remember I was walking around in Brooklyn and I was on my phone with my agent, Nancy. I was quickly scrolling down the script, and I can’t really tell you what I was looking for. So I’m like, “So Nancy, I don’t understand, what’s the part?” And Nancy goes “Sweetheart, it’s Eve, it’s Eve.” In that moment, I did not assume the offer was for Eve. I think about that moment a lot. Of just going, how deep have I internalized this? [So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why? And this is me talking, right? After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, “Oh my God! They brainwashed me!” I was brainwashed! So that was a revelation to me.
Oh also recounted seeing “The Joy Luck Club,” one of few feature films from the late 20th century to deal with Chinese-American identity:
I saw “The Joy Luck Club” when it came out, so that was early- [to] mid-’90s, and I remember seeing it with my long-time collaborator, Mina Shum. We’d just done “Double Happiness,” and we saw this movie and we were weeping. Like, shuddering weeping. Weeping more than really the film deserved. Our experience was much bigger than what was being called for. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of how deeply we need to see ourselves represented. And how it’s not just leaving the images to the outside voices. It’s finding it within ourselves.
I’ve been thinking about us and our community a lot. How do people understand us more? How do we connect? Something I feel we need to explore more in our own communities, ourselves, is to know who we are.
Read the full interview at Vulture.com.