Monday, June 29, 2009

Sandra Oh On Life On The Big And Small Screens

This week's interview is from Flare magazine and was originally published in December 2006.

By Dagmar Dunlevy

Dagmar Dunlevy: What first lured you to TV?
Sandra Oh: I was on HBO's Arli$$ and I wasn't working enough. So I tried shooting television pilots and that's when Grey's Anatomy came up. I liked the script and I really felt loved and respected by [creator] Shonda Rhimes and [executive producer] Peter Horton. It was all a very positive experience. When a pilot gets picked up, you have to ask, "Would I like to spend the next six years of my life with you?" With the Grey's group, I had a very good feeling from the start.

DD: Does acting in pilots bring on a lot of nail biting?
SO: It's brutal, I have a friend who's done probably 15 pilots and, as soon as her pilot's over, she gets another pilot. You're constantly having to ask yourself, "Is this the script I really want to do?", because you do have to sign a contract that says, "I will dedicate seven years of my life to this." When it comes to filming, if you cannot deal with disappointment, you're in the wrong business.

DD: When you started out as an actor, did you have one clear goal in mind?
SO: One of my ways of dealing with the frustration of the acting profession was not to ever have one single goal in mind. To say that my goal was to be in a movie with Tom Cruise or some big action movie, I think that's a way of setting yourself up for disappointment. For me, it's always been about doing the best work possible and I'd be hard pressed to say that I've been offered a role as good as [the Grey's Anatomy role] yet.

DD: What about feature films? Have you received loads of scripts after appearing in Sideways?
Honestly, no. I've been busy and can't really shoot during this time. Why I'm so happy about my work on Grey's Anatomy is that I'm able to play a wonderful character. I think that's the case in TV: there is a considerably larger pool of wonderful female characters to play, which is very scarce in independent film.

DD: Do you find a big difference between the mediums of television and film?
Films usually are about one script, one storyline, one character arc. In television, it's more challenging because of the time difference--it's difficult to sustain.

DD: Why did you choose your most recent film, 3 Needles?
It's one of those great stories--a wonderful discovery. I just saw it and it's so good! It was released in Canada and was cut in an Altman-esque way. It's a film about AIDS, and [director] Thom Fitzgerald follows three storylines. The first takes place in remote villages in China--which was actually shot in Thailand--and stars Lucy Liu, who's an amazing actor. Another storyline deals with three nuns--me, Chloe Sevigny and Olympia Dukakis--who go to South Africa and see the intense challenge AIDS has placed on the country. The final segment deals with the sex industry in Montreal and stars Stockard Channing. That story is about her son [played by Shawn Ashmore], who is infected and works in the sex industry and who knowingly infects other people. Thom shot this over a three-year period and we're set to release it worldwide on Dec. 1 to coincide with, World AIDS Day.

DD: Have you felt pressure from the Korean community to be a role model?
Yes, but I don't take it on as something that's heavy. I am my own individual person. I'm going to do what I'm going to do, but I'm not blind to the fact that I carry some responsibility. As far as saying something to my Korean fans, I have really nothing to say except, I hope you enjoy the show and I hope you're enjoying my work.

DD: On Grey's Anatomy, how involved do you get with how the show is mapped out over the sea son?
I feel like I've been able to have a fair amount of input; my relationship with the writers is extremely positive. I have felt a tremendous amount of collaboration on their part, insomuch as you can be. But they also plan things we don't know we're going to play, so in some ways, that's quite challenging.

DD: Why do you think Grey's Anatomy is so addictive to watch?
Hospitals are natural places for drama. Layer that with people who are working and interacting with each other for very long hours--everyone can relate. The stress of having jobs that deal with life and death situations pushes people to extremes.

DD: What's your relationship with your own doctor?
My doctor is a woman exactly like [Grey's character] Miranda Bailey! [Laughs] She actually looks like Chandra [Wilson, who plays Dr. Bailey], too. She's a short, black woman with hair like that. I really like her. She's very no-nonsense. She doesn't talk to me about my work. She just tells me what to do!

DD: Do you think you'd make a good doctor? Are you good at diagnosing yourself and others?
Umm, no. I don't think I'd be a very good doctor. I have a more scattered personality and a personality that is emotionally involved. That's my job. I don't necessarily think that translates so well to being a doctor, particularly if we're talking about being a surgeon. Besides, science wasn't a favourite subject and I was terrible at math.

DD: Do you make a better patient now that you've played a doctor?
SO: Yes, I think I do. Not that I ever need to be demanding, but I think you constantly need to be as informed as possible because there are a lot of unseen factors that could change your outcome.

DD: You're also asked to be fluent in medical-speak. How do you get around the tongue twisters?
Practice! That's the case for all of us. If I don't start memorizing that medical stuff at least a couple of days before, I have a hard time. You just really have to relate to it and know what you're talking about.

DD: With an ensemble cast, some actors worry that their stint won't last. Is it nerve-racking not really knowing where the characters are going?
As an actor, you just never know--anything. The chances of getting a pilot are small, then having it picked up are even smaller. The chances of it being produced for more than a year are rare, so I don't think you can depend on anything--or expect anything. In a way, I really like that, even though it's extremely stressful at certain times. It keeps life really exciting and challenging. The only predictable thing about an actor's life is that it's always going to be unpredictable.

DD: Is your character on Grey's someone you relate to?
I find it very satisfying to play Cristina because, for right or wrong, l actually don't think I'm a lot like her. I find it interesting to play someone who does not know how to express her feelings. That's one of the key things I was most interested in in playing this character because I don't feel I'm like that as a human being.

DD: Has it been cathartic to play a character going through so much emotional growth?
SO: That's another great thing to see how the relationship between Cristina and [Dr.] Burke continues to evolve, which I think is very real. It's nice again to see a woman who cannot commit and a woman who is emotionally stunted on TV. Also, here we are, 2006, and you see a character who is extremely career-driven and does not know whether this relationship is going to come in the way of her goals. One of the larger character arcs is to see how she will open up. I would say that, absolutely, my career is extremely important to me. I've always been an extremely focused person, but I have healthy relationships.
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