Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One On One With Sandra - Part One

Sorry for the delay, dear readers, but here is another new old interview with Sandra as promised. This week's interview was so long, we had to split it in two parts. The second part will be posted next Monday.

This interview was held on June 19, 2006 at the New York University Cantor Film Center and was hosted by Touré who is a writer and CNN correspondent. The One on One is an annual event organized by Asian CineVision.

Want to know what Sandra Oh thinks of her award-winning role on GREY’S ANATOMY? How she deals with being an Asian actor in Hollywood? How she channels anger in SIDEWAYS? If you missed our incredible One on One evening with Sandra, here is your chance to catch the entire conversation here.

Irreverent, honest, and always funny, this is one intimate conversation that you do not want to miss.

Sandra Oh: Thank you so much for coming.

Toure: So wait, what happened? (Referring to the patch over her left eye)

SO: Actually, the play I’m doing is quite stressful… I just had a couple of cysts removed from my eyeball…a couple of hours ago. And see, Monday is your only dark day in the theater, so I have to do everything on Monday, ‘cause I don’t have a show tonight. So… yep. Thank you, I feel so attractive in front of all of you guys…

T: …and what a trooper you are to still come… (audience claps)

SO: I’m just going to be knocking over the water.

T: It’s okay, we’ll accept all of it. I found a quote, you said, “I grew up never seeing myself on screen.” [yeah] Explain that to me and the impact that had on you.

SO: It’s almost like I came to that quite late, like the only times that I ever saw myself on screen, I think maybe in a conscious way, was maybe on “Mash” a couple of times. No, seriously. I’m 34, I mean, I don’t know who else at that time you saw, I think maybe sometimes on “Mash.” No, but what I really mean by that is, I remember the fist time I saw the “Joy Luck Club” and I saw it with my friend Mina Shum who’s the director of these films I did “Double Happiness” and “Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity.” (claps) Thank you. And when we went to see it, whatever you feel about, and whatever I actually felt about the movie and how good the movie was… we were both balling our eyes out from beginning to end. And I think so much of that experience and reaction was really truly seeing yourself on screen for the very first time. And, um, oh my god, I think that’s my phone. Mom, can you give me that. I’m gonna turn that off.

T: “Hey, uh, doing an interview… gotta call you right back…”

SO: That’s so right. I’m sure everyone else has turned off their phones, and everyone’s like so polite, and…

T: That’s a beautiful bag, though…

SO: Thank you!

T: …which is a fabulous segueway to showing the bag.

SO: This is terrible, terrible! Look at this, look at this. Who am I? Who am I? Turning off the phone now. Who am I? God, sorry folks.

T: Put it on ‘vibrate’.

SO: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah… there we go. Quiet.

T: Anybody else, now would be a great time to turn off your phone.

SO: Now that I got it out of the way. So going back to…

T: …”Joy Luck Club”…

SO: “Joy Luck Club.” The experience - what I realized from that experience is… All the times when I was relating to Meryl Streep being me, or my mother, or my sister, or in classic family kind of way… I really don’t think that I’ve ever really mined the amount of emotion and depth. Because, a family story is … a good story is a - a good character is a good character. You’ll always be able to relate to it. But the first time you really see your own face there, there’s so much more emotional connection to it and that’s when I kind of realized I don’t think I’ve ever ever ever really had an emotional connection or really saw myself. And especially because that film - I’m sure you’ve all seen it - has to do with Mother, and that’s the primary thing that all the drama is based on. And if you’re actually seeing it and your kind of feeling it for the very first time, you just realize “oh, I’ve only really been feeling maybe 40% of what I could feel or how I could relate to a character on screen.”

T: Its interesting because one thing that happens to Asian people on screen is you’ll get Caucasians who play Asian…

SO: For a long time.

T: And that must be really bothersome, ‘cause I know as a Black person, in the 70’s there was that thing of ‘we don’t see ourselves’ but there was never Caucasians playing a Black, [yeah yeah]. But you’ve had to deal with that as an audience member. That’s kind of like an assault on your consciousness isn’t it?

SO: Well, yeah, those are a lot of films that I’m sure we’re all familiar with, seeing Katherine Hepburn… who was the man who played Charlie Chan? [Warner Oland]. Yes, just a variety of people who have… there’s some old make-up artist who knows how to do the to do that thing - to create an Asian fold. You know, I mean that’s a part of our history, and that’s fine, but you know, we’re way beyond that.

T: So I was wondering, how did you get from a childhood of not seeing yourself to a person who could imagine yourself “hey, I could be a successful actress” and was “Joy Luck Club” a pivotal moment in your consciousness, or what took you from being a kid who didn’t see herself to a person that said, “that could be me.”

SO: Well, I don’t know if I’ve ever really consciously said “that could be me up there.” Like that’s never been a driving force. If anything is, you take it from a kid – I grew up in a small town in Canada and all I knew is that I had this drive to act, and really that has been the… one of the only focuses and one of the only, kind of, I know, shining lights that really basically brought me here.

T: What is that drive? Is it to be on stage, is it to inhabit another person?

SO: That’s an extremely elusive question. ‘Cause it’s probably different for a lot of you. Like some, it’s a need to communicate, some it’s a need to express something. I started dancing when I was very very young and I think that a lot of it comes from that primary feeling of like being an elf on stage, and trying to be a gumdrop and dancing. I guess the feeling it was, was the performance of inhabiting something else. And at least for me, I… when I’m doing, I sense a tremendous connection to something. And I’m constantly, I think many of us are trying to connect to that connection. And that has really been the force. ‘Cause… I do suggest this to people, people who want to be actors: if you don’t HAVE to do it, don’t do it. It’s too hard, really, it’s too hard. It really is. If you’re doing it ‘cause you think you might like it, or ‘cause you want clothes, you know…

T: Better girls, better guys…

SO: Or yeah, you want to attract somebody, or you just want attention. I just think, it’s just too hard. Just in my experience, ‘cause it can work differently for everyone… if you are… If it will make you more miserable not doing, you’re going to be miserable anyway, so you have to just kind of choose your miseries. (audience laughs) I mean that in the best way, ‘cause it is hard no matter what, it’s going to be hard. But if it will make you more miserable not to doing it, then you will know you have to do it.

T: But a lot of people who seem to need to do acting, and to be on the stage, it comes from an ego place, an ego gesture. And I get the feeling that your craft doesn’t have anything to do with ego. It doesn’t have to do with “look at me” on stage.

SO: Well, that’s a tricky question because it does have to do in some ways with ego, but we don’t have to break down like what acting is and all of that stuff. What has always been interesting to me is the characters that I have been lucky enough to choose to play and that have chosen me. And I do feel now that I have a little bit of perspective ‘cause I’m 34…perspective on a somewhat of a beginning of a career, that I’ve also, with this connection is also a connection towards very much your first point, of seeing myself. Always knowing that when I take this role, someone… I’m representing… not that this is very conscious, but … I know that this should happen…someone should see me, meaning, someone should see me to see themselves to get that experience.

T: And there are other roles that might come along that you’re like, ‘I don’t think that people should see me doing that, that’s not appropriate or helpful for our mission.’

SO: Yeah, yeah. Sure. Yeah. Sometimes it does feel like that. That you are a part of a larger movement, or mission if you would say.

T: Now, you’re parents are here.

SO: My mom and dad are here. There right here.

T: Can you guys wave to the crowd? No, but you’re a part of the next section of question.

SO: Oh, they already waved, they already waved.

T: Oh, they already waved before we came out. Ok. So let me ask you a question to which I already know the answer.

SO: Oh no, what?

T: Did your parents approve of you wanting to be an actor? And was there a family meeting at some point?

SO: Um, there’s this film I did called “Double Happiness,” and that was actually, It’s a film about this young Chinese-Canadian woman who’s an aspiring actress who eventually, to pursue her dreams, needs to leave her family. And that was really quite close to home. My parents are extremely loving and supportive people. And I know when it came time to … when I graduated high school and to go to university and I did not want to, it was a real challenge in our household. And trying to explain to them that the hobby that I was doing, really is what I want to do for the rest of my life, it was really very difficult, for any parent. To see your child go out there in the world and in such a risky profession and on top of the arts being such a risky profession, knowing from their own experience that, you know, here is my daughter, my daughter is Asian. Do you know what I mean? She doesn’t fit into… it’s not like they can’t see what I’m seeing, you know they turn on the TV, they don’t see themselves either. So what is my daughter taking that risk, going into that profession where, one, you don’t get paid much, and then, two, the rejection. The heartache that they had, that I know. Look I’ve cried on my mom’s lap wondering why they didn’t hire me and my mom would lovingly say “you sure you really want to do this?” But I will say this, ‘cause I know, I talk about them all the time. That if, I think it was so essential the tremendous challenge and block that they put before me. They really really really discouraged me, they really did, for loving purposes. But they really really did. And because I feel I was able to surmount that, I have thought many times being in rooms where you’re being rejected, or you cant get in, or whatever… it can’t matter, because my parents told me I couldn’t do this, and I have. So I don’t care what you’re gonna say.

T: So I was wondering how all the rejection that an actor gets, even a good actor is getting rejected a lot constantly and then at home you have people telling you shouldn’t be doing this so then it’s like jeez, like the chorus in your head of “this is not for you” must have been really loud?

SO: Ah yes, but also equally loud was that thing that I have to do this, I don’t even know what it is but I have to do this and I’ve been extremely blessed (she knocks on table) - I hope this is wood - and extremely lucky that my path has been like this.

T: Can you tell us about the family meeting [what family meeting?] in which you said I’m doing this I’m not going to school.

SO: I don’t really know if there was a family meeting. See, I blocked that out, I blocked the family meeting out. Oh yeah, my dad said I was supposed to go into journalism and do all that stuff, great field. Ottawa Carlington U has a great program. My sister and brother were extremely supportive and they knew this was going to come. [Are you the first?] Oh god, no, I’m the middle child. [Middle child…yes..] Yay, middle child. [The first girl?] Oh no, second girl. It’s all coming clear. [And July, what sign is that?] I’m on the cusp of Cancer and Leo.

T: We are getting deeper. Justin, can we play a little of “Double Happiness.”

SO: I haven’t seen this in so long.


T: And of course she gets the part.

SO: Terrible Chinese accent (laughs) She gets the part, yes.

T: When I saw it, it reminded me of “Hollywood Shuffle,” the great Robert Townsend movie, which is also about being ethnic in entertainment and also in the community and issues of integrity and, do you also encounter these sort of moments in your real acting life, where you’re being asked to, you know, I don’t even know what the term is, but in the black community, be a little more Eddie Murphy, Stepin Fetchit, be a little more Whoopi Goldberg…

SO: Like what, you want me to shave my eyebrows? Regarding that, I feel like, at least for me, we should open up the question, that the accent and all that is not necessarily, quite honestly, something that I am interested in talking about anymore. What I think it is really about is representation of how we are on screen. Yes, of course, that happens. Yes, of course, I’ve done it - I know I have gone to the place where I at least have the choice where I don’t have to do it anymore and focusing on something else. But what interests me more than talking about necessarily being asked to do the accent and not is about getting into the room. Do you know what I mean?

T: Yes, you mean like if you are not white, then you are not considered for the role.

SO: Right, that is really what it really stems from. It is not so much and you are asked to do an accent, it is where it stems from. In this example, the character she is auditioning for, if you go more further in to the film, basically you just see this part of her body (up to her shoulder]) and her face is not even, it’s a very very minor part and that is kind of more interesting to me - it’s how that our faces are still marginalized.

T: But the way you play your characters, it doesn’t seem to me that you are playing Asian, especially in your two biggest successes, “Sideways” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” you’re not playing Asian. You are just playing a person, and the Asian background never even really comes into play.

SO: Hmm, well I have been very fortunate because that has to do with, again, who is starting to create it. And both Alexander Payne and Shonda Rhimes, that is their vision, and that is not everyone’s vision. I think that is very rare and you are really lucky when you are able to find someone who can access or who can see your particular talent and who will go against the grain. So I’ve been fortunate.

T: Let’s talk about “Sideways.” First, as a phenomenon, because you made this little independent movie, and the next thing you know you are at the Oscars. And not only that you are at the Oscars, but people are arguing that Paul Giamatti was not nominated. And that is the total reversal. And at first when you started, it’s like gee, we’ll just be happy to be in the conversation and then all of the sudden, it’s like AH! But it really changed your life.

SO: Yeah, it was “Sideways” but really “Sideways” and “Grey’s Anatomy” because actually when “Sideways” came out and during the award season and that was just last year? Am I insane – that’s just crazy. And that’s when “Grey’s Anatomy” came out as well. It was really like one-two kind of thing that the success of “Sideways” was really riding high and I actually had another job after, you know, and that ended up being “Grey’s Anatomy”.

T: “Sideways” did not lead to “Grey’s Anatomy,” you got the two roles separately?

SO: Separately, yes. We finished shooting “Sideways” in 2003 and then I auditioned and shot the pilot of “Grey’s Anatomy” in the spring of 2004 and then we were picked up and started shooting mid-season, which we started shooting in late October of 2004 and that was when “Sideways” came out.

T: Let’s talk about the mood on set of “Sideways”. There’s a lot of great chemistry, and characters, and I think it’s really fun.

SO: I hope, and whoever saw it enjoyed it, because we enjoyed making it so much and one thing that I think is quite special about the film is that I really feel like you can feel that come off the screen of the love that was put into it and the great time that everybody, from top down, was having on it. It takes a lot of people to make a film, of course, and so everyone in the crew is really really into it and we are all having a great time and I think that shows.

T: When your husband is the director [my ex-husband], well he was then your husband, how is that for mood, is it like I can read his thoughts?

SO: Alexander is a very specific director but it was such a great kind of atmosphere because he is also working with the same crew a lot and everyone had a short hand and everyone kind of fell into place and he was extremely relaxed when shooting the film.

T: You learned to ride a motorcycle for the role [yes, I did], but did you already know about wine, did you learn about wine?

SO: Well I knew a little about wine but of course we all got a lot of lessons in wine, particularly of that California Region, and I drink wine, but I don’t really know anything more about wine but I feel confident when I go into a restaurant to say ‘where is the Sommelier’? (audience laughs) and I tell you, use the Sommelier and they are great people and they are not snobby and whatever mood you are in, they love it. If you are like I’m in a bouncy mood, ‘do you have a bouncy white’? and they love it [and give you wine that is not on the menu if you talk to them]. Yes, all you have to do is engage because wine is such a great thing because that is something basically to have a conversation about.

T: I took my dad to see “Sideways” and afterward he won’t order Merlot.

SO: That is so funny.

T: I’m like dad, it’s still great that its just him being a snob, he said “it’s not good for him, I don’t want it either.” Whatever dad. So the big moment for Stephanie is when she attacks Jack, this is what the whole character is building up to, one of your great moments on stage. Let’s see it, and then I want to talk about that day and that feel.


T: Very nice. So talk to me, there is anger, and sadness, and humor at the same time. Talk to me about that day she making that scene.

SO: We shot that quite late, and that was a scene, gosh, again, it was such a great thing - the entire shoot was so relaxed and that day, God what did I do that day, we had a scene to do, I got prepared, that was the most actor preparation I did where I just sit on the steps and kind of concentrate because everyone was goofing off all the time and couldn’t engage in that, and thought, again, very elusive - the acting thing – I just kind of thought, ‘I hate him,’ and all her dreams, Stephanie has pinned all her hopes on this man, very foolish, but she has, and she then finds out in such a terrible way that he has duped her and so I think she is calling upon a lot, and also, I think, this thing has happened to her before, and what I wanted to express, you know, Stephanie is a kind of character who wouldn’t be afraid of violence [and knows how to use it], and knows how to use it. And so, that was a very easy thing to shoot - I am actually hitting Thomas, he is holding this stuff, dog or bear, and the helmet I am using is a trick helmet so it is mostly foam, but quite tough foam, so I am actually really really hitting him and my side hurt all the next day. But it is great to do a scene that has the anger and the tremendous pain and your actor eye is still aware that it is a comedy. So when I was running back you can hear her [crying sound], I was conscious of going [crying sound], ‘cause that’s a funnier laugh, I mean funnier cry. [But without making fun of Stephanie], you can never make fun, and also I think that’s why this is such a great comedy is that no one is making fun of anyone. Those guys are exactly who they are. They are not commenting on it at all. No one is doing comedy. If you just sit and watch the Farrelly Brothers, you know that everyone is conscious they are in a heightened comedy, and no one is here. And I think that’s why it ends up being so richly character based.

T: In this movie, you are really sexy.

SO: Thank you very much.

T: From the first time we see you, there is this, the hair is out and the smile and pouring the wine and you go yeah, and he goes yeah.

SO: That is also, again fortunate, that someone will see you like this. A lot of times when you are stuck in a role or marginalized it is very difficult to break out of. And that role, if anything, really helps access much of my own side, whereas before I play a lot of teachers, or assistants, or people who are always beside the main person, helping the main person, always in positions of authority, and this character was not at all. This character was much closer to my own vibe than the other characters I had played, so it was a real tremendous blessing and actually play something and actually have my hair down.

T: The movie changed your Q Rating and I’m sure you’ve noticed just walking down the street that more people down the street go “Ooh, Sandra Oh.” Has it changed the career in the way that you would hope for, because still not a lot of big budget films but still a lot of big independents for you.

SO: Yes. And that’s difficult to say only in the context of “Sideways” because if you’re talking about the thing about being approached, it’s really “Grey’s Anatomy” that’s changed my life. Not so much “Sideways.” Because there are people who are fans of “Arli$$,” this HBO series that I did for a while. (audience claps) Oh God bless you. Thank you. And there are certain people who are like “Under the Tuscan Sun” fans (more claps).

T:There they are.

SO: And there are certain fans who are into really really small independent Canadian and American films which are my favorite fans. Thank you so much for seeing those tiny movies. So it’s really the “Grey’s Anatomy” that has changed. But regarding the access let’s say to film roles, again, I don’t really know what that is because a television schedule is so tight that you don’t really have time to do other things. But I would venture to say that just because and this is really the misguiding thing about what Hollywood manufactures is how it’s supposed to be for somebody because we see we read magazines or we see “Entertainment Tonight” and all those things and someone gets a role and its basically like “Entourage.” You know what I mean?

T: Yeah. Yeah.

SO: I don’t know if you’ve seen the show. But it’s like, Someone hits it big and it’s like ‘that’s what’s gonna happen’.

T: Yes. It’s not like that.

SO: It’s not like that; especially if you’re not built for the system. And I’m not built for the system. You know, that’s it. And I’m fine with that ‘cause I found my way around, right? But some people, you who I’m talking about. You know who I’m talking about. Basically good-looking young white people (audience laughs) are built for the system.

T: Scarlett Johansen.

SO: There are a lot of things that are built in place to support that and to support that longevity of that kind of career meaning there’s immediately something that you can role into. Because there’s always in a movie mostly a part for definitely a young white man. Do you know what I mean?

T: Uh-huh. Young white woman.

SO: And then if not, a young attractive white woman. And then so unless you have someone thinking specifically, they’re not going to put you in there. So even though you might have a success, it would be harder, it would be more challenging if you don’t fit in the system to roll into something else. But having said that, there are actors who I respect so much. One of them being Paul Giamatti. Who is, I’d say, what some people say is not your typical leading man. Which I think is such crap. Basically they’re saying, you know, Paul Giamatti - we don’t think he’s good looking enough. Why don’t you just say it? ‘Cause that’s what they’re saying. He’s not a leading man. I’m sorry if you’ve seen any of his work. The depth of his work and what his powerful instrument is that of a great leading actor, I feel. (audience claps) And um. Thank you. But he, his career is so great because he does amazing character, large character parts in big movies like “Cinderella Man,” and some bunch of other movies like he’s doing now the “Nanny Diaries.” And he gets tremendously rich leads in good independent films and I just really aspire to have a career like his.

T: Is that what you dream of, to do a couple independents then a couple of Hollywood movies and bounce back and forth, both?

SO: Uh huh. Yes, because if you’re doing independent films like the films that I’ve done, you don’t get make any money you cant really support yourself. So…

T: What is the difference between acting for film and for television?

SO: It’s really different. And for the stage. They’re all different mediums. And for any of you actors out there - they’re different. Don’t think that they’re the same. ‘Cause they’re different. I really really love acting for the stage. You have to, of course. I mean, everyone knows here. You begin and you end. You do it day after day after day. There’s a continuity and a continuum that you can really explore, and it’s all about process. Film I also really love because those magical moments…you work on a “Sideways” or you get that …were everything is magical and it’s on celluloid and it’s forever and that’s really wonderful. And it also finishes. They are complete projects, they actually finish. Television, I find, is the most difficult. There is no time for process almost whatsoever. And when you are here being an actor wanting to share your craft and all of that stuff, it’s sometimes very challenging knowing that you are selling something. Also entertaining people. I just have a question [yes?] Do we have the air on? It’s very hot. Is there air on?

T: I wanted to get into that later, because you were the National Champion Canadian Improv team. Right?

SO: Yeah, you know, the town I grew up in, which is Ottowa, there is a really rich history of improv. And when I was in high school I joined the improv team. Now, again, looking in retrospect, it was some of the best training I’ve ever had. And for five years, all I did was improv. And it was such a great thing for a kid to do because you have so much energy – I had so much energy when I was younger…

T: Could you do it now, [improv, yeah I do it all the time…] like right now?

SO: oh my God, I’m doing it right now ‘cause I’m talking off-the-cuff.

T: …pick an actor, have you do like a 30 second bit…

SO: yeah, but I don’t want to do that now. … this is also like improv, it’s the ability to be in the moment you’re going to give me something like this joke (she fans herself), and to roll with it. Keep the balls up in the air.

T: ok, alright alright. Keeping the balls up in the air. We come to “Grey’s Anatomy”. (audience claps) Your relationship with this great show begins by auditioning for Dr. Bailey, right? [yes] How did you get into the room as her?

SO: I had stopped doing television after “Arli$$” because I found it really difficult. And then I tried just to do film and worked maybe three weeks out of the year. I ended up doing four films. One of them being “Sideways.” Another one being “Night Listener” that’s coming out - that’s with Robin Williams. ”Hard Candy,” “Three Needles” and “Sorry Haters.” All tiny tiny films but ultimately that ended up being maybe 20 days of work.

T: But “Night Listeners” is not a tiny film. Robin Williams and Toni Collette are in it.

SO: It was a small film, really small film. You get tremendous actors wanting the material. But it was a really small film. But who knows? Hopefully it will grow. So I decided to do pilot season. And what I just liked so much about pilot season is that, I actually don’t audition much. And that’s not because I’m like…great. I don’t audition much because there’s not a lot for me to audition for. Do you know what I mean? And that’s the sad truth and I bet there’s a lot of people who know that here. Its like you can’t get into the room. There’s nothing to audition for. So when this pilot season came around, I need to practice. I need to get into those rooms and I need to fail and I need to get nervous, and I need to try it. This “Grey’s Anatomy” script came to me and I remember. Oh okay. It was the part of Miranda Bailey. And at that point, I didn’t really want to do it. Because I felt I knew this character and I knew what they wanted from me in this character. Meaning it was a character who was a supporting character. Who was in a position of authority because they’d probably seen me in “Arli$$” or whatever and seen me doing that kind of stuff. And I didn’t want to do it again. But I went in and I auditioned and it was a great audition and I met Shonda and I met Peter Horton. And they said there’s another character here that you should take a look at. And I looked at it and I hear okay. And they said come in, we want you to test. ‘Cause first what happens in network is you audition and then you test. And you have two tests. Which is a studio and a network test. Terrible! It’s terrible and its stressful and its one of the worse things about being an actor. But at that point they said we want you to come in and test for this. Well I said no, I just wanted to test for one and I wanted to test for Christina.

T: Why?

SO: Because that’s what I wanted. And I felt that I was at a place, and I was starting to get into a place where I wanted to ask for exactly what I wanted. I want to do what I want and not what is expected or what I think I can do. That’s really what I wanted.

T: I mean it’s such a great environment for you because “Grey’s Anatomy” is a show that with the blind casting that they did, you’re not playing Asian. Isaiah Washington’s not playing Black. There’s a lot of Black and Asian and Brown characters.

SO: Yeah and I actually also like to bring this into vernacular - is that I feel that we were cast character appropriate. You know, because we’ve been talking about this and living with words like colorblind. And I’m just ready to change the vernacular. ‘Cause it’s not blind. No one’s blind.

T: No one’s blind.

SO: Sorry, there’s a joke in there. Colorblind casting or whatever. I feel like we were cast character appropriate. And I think that is what people sense. Because I know everyone here has seen movies or seen television shows where you have someone who is the token person. They are the token person because they were cast that way. You can feel it because it’s not the lead person. It’s two people beside them. They’re not going to be in the middle of the poster. They’re going to be here waving at the side.

T: And providing that specific ethnic thing. They’re Black, they’re cool. They’re French, they’re sexual. That specific. They’re Arab, they’re angry, criminal, whatever. You know like that specific ethnic stereotype thing.

SO: And I really do feel you can sense, people can sense that in casting. That’s why I really do feel, that the casting on “Grey’s Anatomy” is tremendous. People are really feeling and integrated with these characters, based on their characters and not based on the fact that I like him because he’s Black - although there’s a little of that.

T: Tell me about the day that you knew that you had a network show. ‘Cause that’s gotta be a high point in your career.

SO: Well there’s a bunch of steps to that. ‘Cause let’s say you have a pilot and that’s tremendous. You get a pilot, you shoot it. Whether you’ll get picked up, that’s another thing. When we picked that up, it was great. But when we were shooting “Grey’s Anatomy,” we didn’t have an air date till we almost finished shooting. Really, that feeling only came probably when the Superbowl episode came about, for all of us. That we felt like oh no, I think we really have something great here.

T: So okay before that, creatively creating Dr. Yang. How did you do that?

SO: Well I also really wanted to play her because I felt she was very much not like myself. I wanted to play someone who is completely emotionally stunted and someone who has terrible terrible social skills. But I will say there are a lot of surgeons and a lot of doctors and a lot of people who do. And I wanted to explore that side of, you know - Its not like every doctor’s friendly and wonderful and warm… No. No.

T: That’s true.

SO: And also exploring the idea of what makes a surgeon and what makes a surgeon a great one. I kinda cut things down. There’s this one surgery I went and observed. And there’s this doctor. I don’t know. That guy. How I observed him, he was just such an arrogant man. But it was so fascinating. When we went in the room to observe a valve replacement he didn’t know who I was. So he went around the room. It was myself, Katherine Heigl and these two design students who observe and he basically was like “what do you do? What do you do??” And usually I’d go, oh well, maybe you saw this and maybe your wife blah-blah-blah. Very apologetic, basically, that I was even here. But as he was going down, I realized he has no time for anything else except for the information. So when he came to me I said, these are my credits blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. At the end of the surgery he wanted a tomato juice and someone brought him a V-8 and he was furious, ‘cause he needs his tomato juice. During the time when we were going through the hospital, a lot of the nurses had seen “Under the Tuscan Sun” ‘cause that was the last thing that I had done, and came up to me and I could tell he observed it because at the end of the surgery I was invited into the room where he told the family the very good news that their grandmother was going to be fine. That he had assessed all the information I had given him and all the information the nurses had given him and basically introduced me ‘this is this person and she’s done this and this. And she’s going to observe.’ And he was so rude. So rude. So arrogant. And just fascinating to me. Fascinating.

T: Fascinating. Fascinating.

SO: Because those are the real people. We want to see people with their flaws.

T: Real people, flaws. How could she leave Burke? How could she do that?

SO: And that’s another thing that was really really fascinating to me. What happens when someone is so emotionally stunted and has no accessibility? Usually runs. And come on. Who doesn’t do that here? You know what I mean. So here is a woman who runs. ‘Cause there’s something, kind of slightly reversed about our roles, which I think is really quite wonderful. That Preston Burke is kind of like a rock and is like home for her and settles her and opens her up. And… she held his hand at the very end.

T: I want to read something that I found from Shonda Rhimes’ blog. Which is really good.

SO: She’s a good writer, man

T: This part is called BurkeTina. There’s no question I just want to respond to this. “This episode is one of my favorites for both Burke and Christina if you look at where they began at the beginning of season two and how far they’ve come, you just hate Christina. You hate her when she walks away from Burke after seeing that he has a hand tremor and then you see her give that speech to the Chief, which, by the way, Sandra Oh did brilliantly and perfectly every single take. And you see the struggle. Her struggle to suppress all of her humanity in pursuit of perfection and in my mind, what we realize is that she is not cold. She is terrified. She’s scared that if she lets her emotions out, they will overtake her and she’ll be hurt. And you can’t hate her because it’s so incredibly human and understandable. There’s that moment where Burke tells Christina that he won’t bear a grudge and it’s so sad because he means it. He doesn’t believe she has it in her to stay by his side. And then Denny dies. And Christina watches Izzie grieving and realizes she has no other option but to go to Burke and cover his hand with her own because you can lose someone if you’re not careful.” A lot there.

SO: Jesus. Really? That’s a lot. I was very happy with how we shot that scene. I don’t know if you guys saw the final episode. But, (audience claps) thank you. In the final episode, basically, Christina comes in to put her hand on him. And I felt that gesture - Isaiah and I work really well together and we come up with lots of stuff. I felt that gesture was as much as she could give at that point. But that he would be able to understand that it’s her all. So hopefully that would also translate for the audiences as well. That she can’t bear to look at him but she can give enough to put her hand on him and say I will support you here. But I don’t know what’s going to happen when we shoot the next episode.

T: Right. Starting again in July. Right around the corner. Going back to work. I want to show the clip from “Grey’s Anatomy” and then ask you about one more point about “Grey’s Anatomy” and soon we will have questions from you all so get ready. It’s always interesting to see who will step up to see who will ask the first question.


SO: This is hilarious. I haven’t seen that for a while.

T: You’re so emotional. Okay. When Denny dies. For those who may not remember. The big doctor, the big brilliant doctor who she pulled his plug so that he could move ahead in the transplant line. Not Christina but Izzie did. But okay, then Christina is part of the group helping Izzie and George get out of this mess that they’ve created for themselves and I kind of said I think that Christina is too moral to help them. And she’s like, I’m loyal with y’all - but wait a minute this iwrong.

SO: I had the exact same questions too when we were shooting it.

T: Ha-ha. Told ya.

SO: It’s exactly true. And I had a really hard time with it. Because we get the scripts just before we shoot them. I mean…

T: How long before?

SO: Sometimes we get it just before we shoot it. [A day?] But at this time because we were so pushed into schedule we were shooting - the last three episodes were kind of all linked together. So we would get this. So when it came one-to-two and we didn’t have the third I asked Shonda, “You gotta tell me why I’m doing this because it doesn’t make sense to me why I’m doing it. Why would she put herself in jeopardy?” Why? You know, she’s career oriented. She would never do this. And she said it will be explained in the third one. And basically that was the monologue and I had to find my way into like explaining the entire first, the two episodes of the finale through that monologue and it doesn’t matter ‘cause I thought it was really hard to do. So basically what that monologue speaks about is the fact that she does not understand how her heart is moving inside of her. That she knows that she shouldnt be doing this. That she shouldn’t have been in there. But for some reason something took over and she does. She stayed. Her loyalty was with this family that, very consciously, Shonda is creating among the interns. That it is a surrogate family and that’s why you always see various members of our own families kind of pushed away to concentrate on the interns being a family. And so that’s, hopefully, what I tried to do in that monologue - is for her to discover, I don’t know, who I am except all these things that I thought I was. I was supposed to be…I can’t seem to do. So she asks the chief for the answer, which he won’t give.

T: And then Izzie gets into bed with him. Oh my god, with the dress on! That was deep. That was deep.

SO: Oh yeah. We were crying shooting that too.

T: I’m sure. There must be a lot of that. ‘Cause I mean it’s such an emotional show, you know. ‘Cause you’re laughing, then you’re crying, then you’re back to laughter and humility, and all within ten minutes.

SO: Yeah, It’s a challenge. It’s a very challenging show to shoot. It’s very challenging.

T: It’s challenging to watch! I’m like jeez I don’t want to cry. It’s ten o’clock on Sunday night.

SO: Moving to Thursdays. Moving to Thursdays.

T: Thursday at nine.

SO: At nine. So hopefully you guys will stay with it.

T: I want to run through the two more. The pieces that we have upcoming, that we’re going to show two clips from - movies you have upcoming: “Night Listener” and “3 Needles.” And so we’re gonna show those two. You can talk a little about them and then we’re gonna have questions from the audience.

SO: Okay. Great.


SO: Oh Robin. (audience claps) Oh thank you.

T: So the first one was “3 Needles.”

SO: So real quickly the first one was “3 Needles.” And I actually I haven’t seen either of the films. ‘Cause they’re just coming out. So “3 Needles” I shot with Thom Fitzgerald. And he actually did it in sections. It’s a play basically about AIDS in the entire world. One section, if its still holding true, one section - our section - was shot in South Africa. It’s about AIDS in South Africa and there’s three nuns. Myself, Chloë Sevigny and Olympia Dukakis. And it’s basically about how hopeless it is there. Another section is in China. Lucy Liu plays, I think, a care worker who basically - there’s a lot of plasma gathering in various villages and its basically how one needle infects an entire village. I think that’s the second one. And there’s a third one about, I think, the sex industry in Montreal and how one sex worker knowingly infects other people. Anyway, so I am so eager to see the film. It’s opening up on International AIDS Awareness Day I think is sometime in August and its opening then. So it’s a really really important film. And the second one is “Night Listener.” with…

T: With Robin Williams and Toni Collette

SO: Robin Williams and Toni Collette. And that’s based on Armistead Maupin’s book the “Night Listener.” Robin plays this character who’s kinda of a NPR kinda talk show host and this young boy calls in and befriends Robin and really has a great place in his heart. And then you realize that it’s questionable whether the child actually exists. And Toni Collette is really intense in the movie.

T: It just occurred to me, this question. There’s not that many big Asian actresses. Do you find yourself competing with Lucy Liu for roles? I mean I know it’s a completely different type but…

SO: No, actually because I think the way that our careers have gone are in very different paths. ‘Cause I think she’s really strictly only into doing films now. You know, ‘cause she’s like our first real major movie star, you know? And so she’s been doing a lot of movies and the past couple of years I’ve been doing television. So… But no. There isn’t enough of us.

T: Is there an actress that …hmmm, you always seem to see, it’s me and her in the same room?

SO: You know what, no. And I’ll say that because just the way that I realize my path has gone. I haven’t really gotten parts based on being in the room. I get most of my work based on people seeing my previous work. And that’s the way it’s gone for like a big chunk. Because its like, if I go into a room, if it’s like for whatever “the wife”, they’re gonna hire someone else or whatever. ‘Cause it’s like, I so don’t look like a lot of what you people imagine or they want that character to look like. It’s the way that I’ve worked, so it has been most specifically based on me.

The podcast of the interview can be downloaded here (Right click + 'Save as...')


Anonymous said...

Sandra is great actress!
I love her very much!

Kay said...

Thank you!

I have a question: Do you have any video where Sandra speaks french?

Anonymous said...

thank you

do you still the interview that you can downlaod

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