The Untold Truth Of Sandra Oh

Sandra Oh is one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood. She has built a career from the ground up and has starred in multiple successful films and television series, including Sideways, Grey's Anatomy, The Princess Diaries, and Killing Eve. Endlessly talented and down to earth, Oh has brought her unique acting chops and wide range to every role, whether it be the leading lady or an iconic supporting character, and she seems to steal every scene she's in.

Sandra Oh is best known for her beloved role as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy, where she brought her dedication as an actress and artist for over ten seasons. But there is a whole lot to know about the breakout star besides her iconic role on the medical drama. Oh had a long string of supporting characters before landing lead roles, and she made history over her decades-long entertainment career by being bold and fighting for what she deserved. Here is the untold truth of Sandra Oh.

Sandra Oh's humble Canadian beginnings

Sandra Oh came from humble beginnings, starting with her parents who emigrated from South Korea to Nepean, a suburb in Ottawa, Canada. There Oh and her siblings grew up in a small Korean community, going to church with their very religious parents, according to Biography. Oh spent her early years in ballet, which was an attempt from her parents to correct her pigeon toe when she was 4 years old. This sparked Oh's love for performing, and, with a push from her sister, she went on to star in her school's musical The Canada Goose at age 10. She later started landing television commercials at age 15.

A happy twist of fate led Oh to become the multifaceted talent she is today, taking the film and television industry by storm, and it's clear Sandra Oh hasn't let anything stop her from pursuing her passion.

Sandra Oh's parents didn't approve of her acting career

In an interview on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Sandra Oh opened up about her parents' disapproval. She stated, "I think the greatest gift that my parents gave me ... was the tremendous obstacle they put forth," which she explained was their disapproval of her declining to study journalism at a university in order to pursue her acting career at the National Theatre School of Canada. According to an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Oh revealed her parents' harsh views on acting, saying, "My parents at that time really looked down on the arts."

However, Oh shared that her parents' opposition gave her the push she needed to not let anyone stand in her way. "When you have ... the two most important people in your life telling you that you can't do something and you do it anyways, then it just doesn't matter what anyone else is really gonna say," she said on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. Oh's parents came around to her chosen career and validated her acting skills after she landed one of her early big roles, eventually becoming her biggest supporters.

Sandra Oh's risky audition and first big break

Sandra Oh's first big break was The Diary of Evelyn Lau, a biopic of a young poet who falls into a life of drugs and sex work. Oh landed the role at the young age of 19, but few know about the risk she took to get there.

According to Marie Claire, of her meeting and then casting Oh in the project, the director of the film, Sturla Gunnarsson, recalled, "When she came in to the audition, she asked for a moment to focus herself." Sandra Oh then took it a step further, as Gunnarsson recounted, "Then she lay on the floor for five minutes." Oh left Gunnarsson shocked that someone so young could pull off such a risky move at an audition.

Oh reflected on the audition in an interview with Vulture, stating, "I really admire who that person was at that moment who just said, 'I don't know what the rules are. I'm going to lie down.'" She went on, "That person took her time and was unapologetic about it." Oh's ability to stay true to herself is something she has maintained throughout her career.

Sandra Oh experienced hard times in Hollywood

It's hard to believe the illustrious Sandra Oh was ever a struggling actor trying to make it in the tough world of Hollywood, but in 1995, after leaving Canada to jumpstart her career in California, Oh struggled to get a gig for months. In a Vulture interview, Oh shared the hard times she went through, starting with an agent who told her she didn't have the looks to be a leading lady and suggested she get plastic surgery.

Oh said the agent told her to "go back home and get famous." That conversation had a lasting effect on Oh, and she went on to say how it played to her fears as a struggling young performer of Asian descent. Although Oh had already made a name for herself in Canada, the headstrong actress revealed how the harsh words affected her at the time, saying, "It just cut me at the knees."

Sandra Oh was given complete freedom for this iconic role

It's no secret that Sandra Oh has had a string of supporting roles throughout her career, but none have been as unexpected and timeless as her role as Vice Principal Gupta in Garry Marshall's hit film The Princess Diaries. The movie itself is a sensation from the early 2000s era of Disney comedies, but a scene in which Oh's character answers the phone and delivers the line, "The queen is coming," found new life in 2020, when it started trending on TikTok.

Oh reflected on this moment in an interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and she gave credit to the late director for giving her little to no direction before she delivered the scene that would be cemented in the minds of young adults for years to come. She explained the only direction she was given was to "go out and make funny."

The star revealed that people in their late adult life still come up to her to repeat the line. She went on to explain why she thought the line was so impactful, saying, "In that line ... you have a full story. It's a good comedic written scene."

Sandra Oh married and divorced

Not many people know that Sandra Oh was married to Hollywood director and screenwriter Alexander Payne. Oh's private nature was the reason she decided to keep her relationship with the director under wraps.

Most of the world found out the couple tied the knot just after the debut of Alexander Payne's 2004 film Sideways, where Oh was cast as a wine lover and biker. Oh gave a glimpse into their marriage in an interview with The New York TimesShe revealed that Payne asked her out for eight months, and each time she declined, saying, "Well, I was busy." When asked what she meant by "busy," Oh showed her no-nonsense personality, saying, "B-U-S-Y, in all capitals! I want it in the [expletive] record that Alexander Payne chased Sandra Oh for eight months and she would not go out with him because she was 'busy.'"

Although Oh offered a few details about her marriage, she mostly keeps her private life private, telling Marie Claire that she intentionally doesn't pay attention to the gossip, opting to focus on maintaining boundaries between herself and the public eye. She continued to maintain her privacy throughout their divorce.

Sandra Oh originally auditioned for another Grey's Anatomy character

Sandra Oh's most recognizable character — hands down — is the beloved Cristina Yang from Grey's Anatomy. While most know Sandra Oh for her ten-season run on the critically acclaimed medical drama from creator Shonda Rhimes, not many know that Oh originally planned to audition for the character Dr. Bailey.

When Oh went to audition for the role of Bailey (ultimately played by Chandra Wilson), she didn't feel the character was right for her, so, while there, she asked what other character roles the producers were looking to fill. She found her connection with Cristina Yang and wanted to try out for that role instead. But in an interview with InStyle, Oh revealed she left before auditioning after getting a call from her manager. "She said, 'They won't sign your deal. Leave. Walk out,'" Oh recalled. "And I was just like, 'Ah, OK.' It was a real exercise in learning how to say no."

Fortunately, the stars aligned and the producers of the show went after her and offered her the role. Oh explained, "I left, and then they called me."

Sandra Oh fought for her Grey's Anatomy character

Sandra Oh played Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy, the best friend of Ellen Pompeo's character Meredith Grey, for ten seasons, and her investment to the character led the dedicated star to raise flags when she felt her character's story wasn't going in the direction it should. Oh's bold and straightforward nature helped her to speak up for what she felt was right, and she would often get into debates with writers and producers. Speaking to Shondaland alum Kerry Washington for Variety's Actors on Actors issue, Oh detailed the disagreements with Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes when it came to her character's story, including advocating for the show to explore race in Season 3 through Burke and Cristina's marriage.

Oh fought for her character and the show, and over the years, she learned how to pick her battles. "There would be scenes that I would just go, I don't know, 10 rounds on..." she explained, adding, "You've got to do different levels with the writer, and then you bump it up and you eventually get to [Shonda]. You've got to bother her." Ultimately, the two were able to work out their creative differences. Oh credits the pair being able to come together because Rhimes was "equally as strong."

Sandra Oh went to therapy when deciding to leave Grey's Anatomy

Saying goodbye is never easy, but for Sandra Oh, saying goodbye to a show and to a character that she spent years of her life playing was one of the hardest moments in her career. But in 2013, Oh announced that she was leaving the long-running Grey's Anatomy in order to pursue other projects.

Oh told The Hollywood Reporter, "Creatively, I really feel like I gave it my all, and I feel ready to let her go." Although she felt it was time to move on, she also experienced inner conflict when deciding to let go. "I've gone through a lot of therapy over this," she shared. The enigmatic star had to prepare herself to leave the show, and she started thinking about parting ways in 2012, which gave her time to "emotionally let go."

Sandra Oh gave her all to Cristina Yang, and she needed time to be able to process her exit from the show and to "leave in a way" that was fitting for the character.

Sandra Oh separates acting from celebrity

Sandra Oh's down-to-earth energy comes from years of separating herself from the celebrity status that her long and respected career has earned her. While many know Oh for her incredible talents and seasoned acting abilities, she has intentionally kept herself out of the tabloids.

She spoke to InStyle about her thoughts on being a "celebrity," saying, "I remember the first time I was recognized. I didn't understand what was going on." Oh clearly prefers remains an actor first and foremost, not allowing herself to get caught up in the drama of Hollywood.

During an appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Oh explained how she balances the two different worlds of being and actress and being a celebrity by being selective in her press appearances as well as by being mindful of who she wants to be as an artist. The Grey's Anatomy star knows that the celebrity lifestyle comes with "too big a price," and she prefers to be known as an accomplished actor rather than a tabloid celebrity.

How Sandra Oh got the lead role in Killing Eve

The show Killing Eve is based on a book series by Luke Jennings and features spy Eve Polastri, who is portrayed as a white character in the books. So naturally, when Sandra Oh received the script for the television adaptation, she was surprised she was being offered the lead and not the typical typecast roles she'd received in the past.

Vanity Fair sat down with Oh, and she detailed the moment leading up to her landing her Killing Eve role. She expressed how her shock was a product of years of nonwhite actors being constantly overlooked for leading roles. But in the case of Eve Polastri, producers adapted the show with Sandra Oh in mind. Although this is one role that Oh seemed to get easily, she clarified that it was a long time in the making. "It's like, 'Oh, it's so easy! They just called you!'" Oh said in regards to landing the lead. "Right? In a way, yes, that's true. But in another way, it took 30 years to get this call."

How Sandra Oh prepared to portray her Killing Eve character

Sandra Oh's investment in her characters is apparent in every role she takes, but there was something special about playing Eve Polastri opposite Jodie Comer's Villanelle. Oh talked about her relationship with the Killing Eve character in an interview with Vogue and explained how she got into the psyche of the British intelligence investigator-turned-spy.

Oh explained the similarities between herself and the character, who are both posed with a new venture at a later age, and Oh was able to use that to her advantage when getting into character. Oh shared, "But what was interesting to me was the exploration of the psyche. What is Eve's killer? How is Eve a killer? And I ask myself that, in my own psyche."

Although Oh has never been a spy hunting down a serial killer, she does know a thing or two about bringing a character to life, which is reflected in the multiple Emmy nods she's earned for playing Eve.

This is Sandra Oh's point of view on diversity in the industry

Being a woman in Hollywood comes with its fair share of setbacks, but being a person of color in a predominantly white industry is a battle in itself. Sandra Oh has been open about the struggles of being a Korean-Canadian actress, especially when it comes to landing roles outside of stereotypical characters.

In an interview with Elle Canada, Oh spoke about where the industry is lacking when it comes to accurate representation of characters of color on screen and what roles she is looking for at this point in her career. She opened up about only looking for roles where her character can explore race and explained how representation in film and television has a long way to go. "Let's say it's a show about a fashion magazine and the editor's Black," she said. "You can't just write this character without having the background of who she is."

She went on to say how Hollywood is too comfortable with telling stories in a way that fails to accurately depict characters of color in their entirety. Oh feels it's the responsibility of all aspects of the industry to create the change, and she herself is "happy to take that on."

Sandra Oh made history at the Golden Globes

Sandra Oh has made history throughout her career. The powerhouse actress was the first Asian woman to host the Golden Globes in 2019, during which she delivered a show-stopping monologue alongside co-host Andy Samberg, as noted by Vox. After putting the jokes on hold, Oh became emotional as she addressed the multiple nominations for creators and actors of color that year. She went on to acknowledge that the change may not last, but she assured the audience, "Right now, this moment is real."

On the same night, Oh received a Golden Globe for best actress in a television drama series for her role as Eve Polsatri in Killing Eve. This marked Oh's second Golden Globe, her first being in 2006 for her role as Cristina Yang in Grey's Anatomy. Oh made history again by becoming the first Asian woman to win multiple awards at the Globes. Variety shared a backstage interview at the Globes, where Oh mentioned she was surprised by the win and said, "This was one of the most incredible nights of my life."