For Nepean native Sandra Oh, the success of her new hit series “Killing Eve” has been yet another giant step in her career. The critically-acclaimed spy drama, which sees Oh play an M15 agent hunting down a psychopathic assassin (Jodie Comer), marks yet another personal and professional triumph for the 47-year-old Canadian who is one of the few Asian actors to have succeeded in Hollywood. In January, Oh took home the Golden Globe for her work in the massively popular BBC TV series which has already been renewed for a second season.
Apart from winning the award, Oh also co-hosted the 2019 Golden Globes ceremonies held at the The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. Adding poignancy to the occasion, Oh thanked her parents who were in attendance at the glamorous ceremonies.
“Oh, Daddy,” said Oh to start her thank you speech, watching as her father helped lead the audience in a standing ovation. “Mostly, there are two people here tonight that I am so grateful that they are here with me. I’d like to thank my mother, my father,” Oh said before telling them, in Korean, “Umma and Appa, saranghaeyo,” which translates into English as “Mom and Dad, I love you.”
Oh grew up in Nepean to Korean immigrant parents who, 25 years ago, had pleaded with her to attend Carleton University and pursue studies in journalism rather than opt for a career in the arts. But once she became a household name with her 10-year stint on Grey’s Anatomy that began in 2005, Oh proved to her family that acting wasn’t such a risky venture after all. Winning the Golden Globe is merely icing on the cake, having already earned an Emmy nomination last September for playing Eve. Oh is currently shooting the second season in London, and looking forward to being able to explore her character’s “vulnerability” and renewed “vigour” in life.
It was back in the spring of 1990 that Sandra decided to pursue theatre studies over the sometimes-fierce objections of her high-achieving Korean-born mother and father. They thought she was making a “big mistake” by turning down a four-year full scholarship to Carleton in order to fulfill her artistic aspirations in a profession which they regarded as frivolous by comparison
“They just didn’t understand,” she recalled “Most parents, especially immigrant parents, would not want their child to go into something as intensely insecure as acting. I know they did it with my best interests at heart. And I am eternally grateful for the struggle…”
Added Oh last year in a Tweet: “I think my mother at this moment may actually be satisfied!”
Oh is a major celebrity of course in Nepean and Ottawa where she received the key to the city in 2013. Oh is proud that her parents, Joon-Soo and Young-Nam Oh, are well-respected in Ottawa’s Korean community. While they’ve come to many award shows with her including this year’s Golden Globes, she recalled getting the key was special because it was one of the first times her entire family had been able to share an award with her.
“I have shamelessly brought my parents to almost every award show,” Oh said. “But this (was) very different. My entire family…and the entire community I grew up with and the people who have watched me grow up were also able to come.”
Over the years, Sandra Oh has gained major recognition for her work as one of the stars of the long-running hit TV series, Grey’s Anatomy. Some of her film roles include those in Sideways (she was married from 2003-06 to the film’s director, Alexander Payne), Under the Tuscan Sun, and Rabbit Hole.
As far as never-ending rumours of a possible return to Grey’s Anatomy, Oh wants to let her fans know that that ship has sailed: “I am absolutely grateful that for a decade in my life I got to play such a beautiful character, Cristina Yang. But it’s not where my life is now,” declared Oh. “It would be a heartfelt ‘no!’”
Sandra, Killing Eve has been another colossal hit for you. Why do you think it has resonated so strongly with audiences?
I think people can identify with how this woman finds a renewed spark in life… (She’s) a woman in the middle of life, who is stagnating in some way in her job—where she does a decent job—and in her marriage, which is a fine and lovely marriage. She’s not really curious, she’s not really paying attention and she’s not a really vital or dynamic person. But…we see the spark of life that emerges from her.
Tracking down Villanelle, the sociopathic killer played by Jodie Comer, seems to ignite a spark within Eve?
She’s fascinated with this female assassin who is committing these terrible crimes and doing so with flair and without remorse. She’s strangely drawn to that kind of person…But I think as her relationship [with Villanelle] continues to grow, as she searches for this killer, she really discovers what’s inside of herself.
What was it that attracted you to Eve as a middle-aged woman going through some sort of crisis and seems bored with her life?
She’s plateaued in life, I would say, she’s stagnating is a better way of putting it rather than saying that she feels bored… The aspect I was extremely interested in was that Eve, in all her kind of messiness, is hunting an international killer with her handbag. (Laughs) She’s kind of walking down the street with her handbag and there’s something I really love about that, because it’s not sleek, it’s not suddenly like a Jason Bourne movie. Eve is very naive, and she doesn’t understand what she’s getting into, which is that she’s headed down this dark path.
There are other elements of the series that I really love, which is that you have a middle-aged lady who is very determined, but doesn’t know exactly what she is doing — that really fascinated me.
How have you tried to get into Eve’s head and her perspective on her mission?
I like Eve’s vulnerability and I spent a lot of this show being scared. And I thought that was also very interesting. It’s not so much that I consciously seek characters that are determined or confident. I’m interested in what takes them to where they want to go. If I can relate to what a character wants, I will give my all to get that character to that place.
One benefit of this series is that it might finally stop people from asking you whether you intend to make a return appearance as Cristina on Grey’s Anatomy?
(Laughs) I don’t know if people will ever stop asking me that… Every year or so, someone close to me is going to come up and say, “So I heard you’re coming back,” and I’ve always been so confused by that. What I’m learning that it tells me is that it still has its life, and I appreciate that the life of this character, Cristina … is still a part of that world.
Has Grey’s Anatomy has taken on iconic status as one of the most magnetic TV series ever?
I think that Grey’s has carved out a very unique place in television. Also because it straddles two different eras of television. When we started it, it was still network. You watched something weekly. It was almost like analog television, you know? Coming through a transition of how people watch it, I have generations of people who come up to me. It constantly changes.
Now there’s a new generation of people watching it. How are they seeing it now? They weren’t alive or whatever when the series first aired. So what show can you say has that power, and also just came along at that right moment? It had all these magical, lightning-in-a-bottle elements, and that’s what is continuing to give it its longevity. I mean, I think it’s amazing. Because people are very loyal to it.
Do you ever watch Grey’s Anatomy?
You know what? I’ve never watched the show, even when I was playing in it. It was too close to me and I had to have some distance to it especially since I have a hard time seeing myself on the screen. But I’m glad that the series is still going strong.
Are you glad to be shooting another season of Killing Eve?
Killing Eve was the right series at the right time to have come along for me. I’m very happy to be able to work on it again. (The first) eight episodes weren’t really enough.
I really love the show, I like the style of it, I like the thriller aspect. I also like being able to play a character who is able to express not only a rainbow of emotions, but also a lot of depth.
When did you start acting?
I started performing in school plays when I was 10 and growing up in Nepean, a suburb of Ottawa. The first time I ever acted was in a play called “Canada Goose” at Knoxdale Public School. Later I started getting serious about acting while I was attending Sir Robert Borden School and participating in the Canada Improv games (in Ottawa) during my time in high school.
Was improv work something that made you excited about acting?
Doing improv was very important training for me and I’ve been able to use the skills I learnt doing improv throughout my career. That was when I realised that acting was something I really loved and wanted to devote myself to. I also did improv work with a community comedy troupe called Skit Row High and that kind of training has proven invaluable throughout my career. Later on I attended the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal and after that I started working in TV and film.