Monday, July 27, 2009

One On One With Sandra Oh - Part Two

Here is part two of last week's One on One interview with Sandra with a Q&A by the audience.

If you missed the first part, you can find it here: One On One With Sandra - Part One

T: Who else wants to ask questions of Sandra Oh?

Q1: Hi, My question is in reference to writers. What kind of subject matters and characters do you want to see Asian writers write about, and, do you write yourself?

SO: No I do not write myself and the characters that I am interested in are interesting, good, true characters, you know? Like, as we all are interesting. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an immigrant experience, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a modern day experience. Example, I just want to talk really briefly about the play I am doing. Which is Diana Son’s play. She is a Korean American playwright and I’ve done like a lot of her work. But example, like that play is for me, really where I would like, what I am interested in as an Asian American actress because the play is about race but it doesn’t have to do with race in a way that we are used to seeing it being dealt with. Usually if it’s about race, it’s about a family kind of situation, and this is a much different take on what the family is. Basically the play is about an interracial couple, my husband is Black, and basically we have a baby, leave Manhattan and move to Brooklyn. And its about the retelling of a real American family story, because its like when you really don’t have a close tie with your previous culture, and the character played by Kevin Carroll is adopted and we are living in a Black community, what does that do? How does that blow your identity apart, when you have this child? You want to give your identity to your child, and when you yourself don’t know what it is, what do you do? It’s really about writing the words yourself, its really really about creating it on completely on your own and letting go of the past history. Honoring it, but you got to let it go. So example, that is like an interesting character to me that is heavily based in race but not in the same way where…like for me, I don’t need to do “Double Happiness” again. I don’t need to tell the story of leaving my family to pursue my dreams. That’s just not something that interests me now. Again, what was the interesting part of doing the play for me is another side of identity that is hotter to me now.

T: Who else? Yes, my wife!

Q2: Do you say that you are not interested in doing “Double Happiness” again, because you feel that race issues have evolved or for you yourself. it has progressed?

I feel like for me I have played that. I have explored that character and I want to explore something new and again this is why I like where the play is going. Because her previous play “Stop Kiss,” with me and Kevin Carroll. But our ethnic background wasn’t part of the play, but now it’s a central part of the play and exploring race in a different way. Its not so much exploring race in a way where I am explaining why I am here for the benefit of the audience. It’s more of the characters exploring their identity for each other, and their baby. Its just a different movement of where the characters in race that I’m interested in.

Q3: Before you said before acting is a lot of heartache, but its even more aching when you weren’t doing it. So was there a moment where you just couldn’t take it anymore?

SO: Um, no not really. I have been depressed, though. I’ve had chunks of depression about it… the ceiling over and over again. And after a certain point, where you keep on hitting the ceiling over again, like your head hurts. And you just have to take a break, you know what I mean. And you just have to go, ‘You, want to know what? I’m not going to have a stiff upper lip and I’m going to cry for about a month.’ And that has definitely happened. But I know that I would always work. I feel confident that I will always work. Whether it’s in high-profile projects, or like, plays for the rest of my life. I feel very confident that I will work, because, I have to. You know, I really need to. But like, example, at that point, I remember “Under the Tuscan Sun” had just come out, and I was auditioning for another Hollywood film, and I was really wanting to do a Hollywood film. ‘Cause, okay, that was like a semi-Hollywood film, and I really wanted to do a Hollywood film - I’ve never done a Hollywood film!

T: Until now?

No. So I really wanted to do a Hollywood film. And it was “the role” which is a lot of the roles that I get which is like, “you are the best friend and you have four scenes.” So, “you have to be funny and wry.” So like, that’s my stock in trade, that’s how I make my money. So I went in and I had a great audition, and then the feedback was, they would’ve hired her, but she just did “Under the Tuscan Sun” and so, we’re not going to hire her. And that’s the moment that I got depressed.
T: What does that mean, we were gonna hire her but she just did “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

Yeah, ‘cause it’s like, “you already played someone’s best friend in another movie, so we can’t hire you to be this other white woman’s best friend.”

T: Oh. Oh.

So for me…

T: Even though Scarlett Johansson can be the girlfriend of the month.

Yeah, and see, that’s those moments, and that’s the kind of thing about race. It’s not the individual moments of someone asking you to do an accent or someone calls you a chink, do you know what I mean? It’s not that that really hurts. It’s the accumulation of understanding, oh, there you are. I do the best that I can, like at the top of the Hollywood list, I play “the best friend.” And I can’t actually do it again, even though you say you want to hire me, because I actually did it two months ago. So for me at that point, it was, “What do I have to do?” Like, “What do I have to do?” Because you do not consider, like basically um, let say, who plays like a lot of cops? Like you’re not going to tell Sam Jackson not to play a gangster again or a cop, because he does both. “Sam, you’ve already played a cop with a gun. Uh, we can’t hire you because you’re also another tall, beautiful black man with a black gun. With a gun.”

T: With a black gun.

So its like, we’re not going to hire you again. And I just think, how, then where does it work, and where does it fit for us? Those are just the moments where I thought I don’t know what to do.”

T: George?

Will you be signing autographs today?

Sure I’ll sign a couple, but if you don’t mind please don’t take a picture of me with my…(indicates eye-patch). I probably won’t be posing for pictures.

T: That’s fair. In the back row?

Hi, I saw “Satellites” and I thought it was great [applause]. And I encourage everyone to go see it.

Oh, thank you.

T: Look, your little sister is here.

You speak about connecting to this “greater thing’ while you’re acting, and being an actress, I just wanted to ask you, if you could speak about matching – ‘cause I think you have great accessibility to emotion. If you could speak about matching that energy and the stakes level through multiple takes.

Very good question.

T: Mmmm.

‘Cause it’s just a technical acting question.

T: Hanging on to the emotion of the scene through multiple takes.

Yeah. Really, really difficult. Very, very, very difficult and I don’t really have the answer, but I can tell you a couple things. If you have a scene that you need to do, let’s say that you need to cry, over and over again. The best thing to do is talk to the director and see how they’re gonna shoot it. That is very, very important, because let’s say for example, you’re going to have a wide shot, you don’t need to be doing everything. You want to save everything for the close-up shot. So you time yourself out, you get a sense of how they’re going to shoot it, and then you pace yourself. And then you, yourself, find things that are really, really emotionally vibrant to you. It also helps, because you know a set, let’s say is a very, very busy place, with lots of people doing their own thing, and many actors including myself, will tune out to music. Right? Music that you have an emotional response to, that you um, that will, bring you into the mood of it, and to stay kind of focused and connected and grounded that way. That’s one way to do it. And just in a very, very general kind of acting way, like, you want to stay connected to your breath, you want to be nice and stretched out, and it’s just extremely tricky, because you want to be as relaxed as possible. If that’s even possible.

T: You’re very natural. Your whole thing onstage is very natural. I never feel like, ‘she’s acting.’

What do you mean now?

T: No I mean like, when you’re doing your thing. When I see you in movies and TV. You’re style is very natural. And I feel like you’re just talking, you’re not like, reading lines that are written.

It’s okay, it’s onstage, it’s a wide shot.

T: But I mean like, its one thing I’ve noticed about you, going back to “Double Happiness” - that your whole style is very natural.

Thank you, I try.

T: Who else? You in the red shirt on the edge.

You talk a lot about being connected to your characters, what’s been the character that you’ve had the most trouble connecting to?

T: Hmmm.

[Pause]. Oh my god that’s such a tough question, I gotta… oh, jeez… I feel a lot of pressure… tough… connecting to…ah…I’m sorry I don’t want to be wasting your time…um.

T: Would you like to phone a friend?

Would I like to phone a friend? I’ll probably phone her later. Oh yeah, I mean like that yeah, I mean there’s a lot of characters that you might play, that I have thought that I don’t necessarily need any emotional connection to. Do you know, there’s a lot things that don’t demand that. And that’s also within the realm of what you have to do for your job. I mean, if you have to come on, you have to come on, deliver that coffee and then you walk off. Then you’re gonna come in, filled, deliver the coffee, and walk off. But you don’t necessarily have to have a whole emotional thing going on. Right?

T: So you don’t invent a back story, for every little character.

You don’t. But it all depends on how much you want to work that day. Do you know what I mean? How much you as an actor want to work. I mean, for example, I did this one movie that I was cut out of, called “Waking the Dead.” And it was one of those kind of moments, one of those parts, it was for uh, a Korean hooker who didn’t speak English. And I didn’t want to…

T: That was who you played?

I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do it. I’m not gonna audition for that. Forget it, I don’t want to do it.

T: What happened to the roles that are good for the mission?

Oh no, you’ll see, you’ll see why. You’ll see. Also, this was years ago. This was years ago, when you still might need a job. So, at that point right, I didn’t want to go in, I didn’t want to go in but I went in as a favor to these casting directors and I met Keith Gordon. Keith Gordon is a phenomenal man and a wonderful director. And he really worked with me to say, I want it to be like this, this is a part of the story, that this person marries this person, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then I thought, someone is gonna get this role, someone is gonna get this role and there are so many things, as we all know, what that image is. And I thought, it’s got to be me, because I’m gonna be doing everything the exact opposite even though I’m working with the huge weight of that image. And I wanted to take that on for literally like, and actually it was challenging for me to get into that as well. So I did it to basically say, if someone’s got to do it, it should be me.

T: To add more humanity.

To add it because you’re fighting so much image. It was actually a very, very challenging acting exercise for me - that I was cut out of.

T: And before you were cut out, how were you feeling about your parents seeing you play a hooker?

No, there was nothing - oh God they’ve seen me do worse.

T: Really, Dad?

Trust me. They’ve seen me do a lot of intense work. But this one there was nothing, that’s what her job was, but you never saw her do necessarily anything. You know.

T: Didn’t see boots up to here?

No, none of that stuff. It was just all kind of, very working class in that way. But I wanted to try and do a character where it was like, I’m gonna fight this image as much as I can. She doesn’t speak at all, but if the camera even pans by me, I want people to go, “what is going on with that character?”

T: But how do you do that, I mean outside of clothes, if you don’t speak,
how do you create something that when the camera passes by your non-speaking character and the audience goes [snaps fingers] “Who is that?”

I think you have to be extremely filled emotionally. You use wardrobe, you understand how they shoot it. If you understand how they shoot it, you use your whole physicality to it. You can’t be a talking head. I really believe in film and television, there’s a lot of just talking heads. And you just can’t communicate. You can’t communicate half you can communicate with your entire body. So if you’re only communicating up here, you are missing out on eighty percent of your instrument.

T: The first thing you said is that you have to be filled with emotion.

Yeah you have to be filled. Filled with something. Specific. Very specific. Because you can come in and deliver that coffee. And it can be the worst day. I mean you’re not going to steal focus by coming in crying. You know, you’re not going to do that. But you can make that an alive acting day. I’m sorry I didn’t really answer the question.

T: I want a boy to call on, except for you George. Yes you, brother.

Q7: I’ve enjoyed your work for a very long time. I think some of your most interesting roles have been done in Canada. Of course “Double Happiness,” Don McKellar’s “Last Night,” which I just saw recently. I wondered if you could talk a little about the contrast of working in
Canada and working here and the difference between industries.

Yeah, let’s talk about the difference between the two countries right, because it’s the same but not the same at all. It’s not the same because, I’m a lead actor there. Like you know people call me to be the leads in their movies. Every five years but, basically my career, I graduated from the National Theater School. And right after, and this is the luck thing, right after theater school, I did this piece for the CBC called the “Diary of Evelyn Lao,” which to this day is the most for me, the most significant piece of work that I’ve ever done. It’s such an important piece to me ‘cause it’s formed almost everything I’ve done after that. And then I did “Double Happiness” which came a year later, because I was able to show people the range of my work, then people just started biting for me. They don’t think so when Don - I should say - they don’t necessarily have the economic pressure that a lot of filmmakers might have here. For example, we need a star, I really want to hire you, but I have to hire uh, Tobey Maguire, who is like a young hot guy. So when Don Mckellar did “Last Night,” basically I was at the Fringe Festival one summer, I’m like Don – ‘cause we all Canadians know each other - “I hear you’re shooting a film, dude, man, put me in it.” And he did. You know, because there’s not necessarily, and because I have done a certain amount of Canadian films, I get actually, unbelievably, get a little bit of Canadian financing.

T: I know that America has, not even a superiority complex, vis-à-vis Canada. We don’t even consider Canada.

You guys don’t even consider Canada!

T: Well really. Really, when we think about our world rivals or whatever, we’re not thinking of Canada. But what does Canada think about America, do they look down on us for our backwardness and our misguided superiority complex. And those sort of things.

[pause. Whispers] I’m in New York City.

T: So what? So what, it doesn’t matter.

[whispers] Do we really want to talk about politics?

T: No, no, no - not even politics, just like, national…

The cover of like, Maclean’s Magazine, which is like basically a Time Magazine - like, when the uh, this present administration won again, it was just like, like - you guys are, are dumb eh?

T: Was it like how can fifty-eight million people be so stupid?

It was. It was, it was just like, appalling. It was you know, although right now our government is a little more conservative, but like, you know our conservative branch is basically where the, um, Democrats started.

T: Yeah, yeah. I mean I don’t even have any sense, of what the Canadians feeling toward, I mean if like, if I went to, you know, central Canada, whatever the you know, Kansas being the central America, if I went to the Central -

: Yeah, its like if you basically went to Alberta, Alberta is quite conservative actually.

T: And would they be like, “(
scoffs) America. (Scoffs) Those fools think they run the world.”

Yes. [pause] No, the first thing is, is that I think, Canada always want it. Because, Canada does have an air of moral superiority, because I will say it’s a great country to live in. I don’t even have to say it. All I have to say is, healthcare. So, um, and it doesn’t cost - although it’s expensive.

T: Healthcare, Hockey…


T: Let’s clap for that.

And also, you know, it’s not as expensive to go to University for God’s sakes. So basically, you’re talking about a lot of things, about class and about structure that is much more evened out in Canada. Uh, and that’s why I think Canadians, even though, you guys are big brothers, um, and you know, and we’re dismissed all over the place, we have kinda that little air of moral superiority because you can becomes sick and not lose your house in Canada.

T: It’s a good thing.

It’s a great thing.

T: It’s a good thing. Who else? How about you in the back?

First of all, I’ve seen you in San Diego with Jessica Hagedorn’s…

[gasps] God Bless You! You saw “Dogeaters!”

Um, and your work is great… do you have any plans of starting your own, like production company, you know, star in your own work, and if you do, would you hire, will you hire differently - in terms of producing your own stuff?

T: Good question.

Um, many people have asked me that, and in some ways, I always, I’ve thought ‘Oh I should do that,’ because many people do, forming their production companies, start producing, do you write? But I don’t.

T: You don’t write?

I don’t write, and I don’t really have an interest to produce. All I really like doing
is acting. I know that, maybe, that’s not necessarily, the smartest, like most whatever, looking-ahead kinda thing to do. But I am not really interested in that. But if it comes to the point where I can have my own producing company, I of course, I’d be interested in projects that reflect a little bit more about how I see the world.

T: Who else, who else? Yes?

What kept you going when you worked only twenty days a year? When did you first know you wanted to be an actress?
T: Hmmm…when did you first know you wanted to be an actress?

The first question is, what kept me going when you worked for only twenty days is knowing that I had enough savings. And this is not a joke. Knowing I had enough savings, and the next year, pilot season would come around and that I would eventually be able to get a job. So that is a very, very practical question. Emotionally I felt like, I, for that one year, I felt that I fulfilled what I wanted to do, which was I wanted to explore film roles where basically I couldn’t get cut out of it.

T: Yeah.

And what I meant by that is that I wanted to play a character that was essential to the story. ‘Cause I’ve moved from the place where I play a bystander character, that comes in and gives coffee or does like a ‘tut, tut, tut” and then leaves. Not really essential to the story, so I made that my goal and I only worked twenty days. That’s fine. You know I did my goal. But the next year I knew that I had enough savings and I’d be able to get a job. The second question being, when did I know I wanted to be an actor? I started dancing very young, so I really, really loved performing and I did my very first play when I was about ten [pause]. So about probably ten.

T: Now wait, but let’s - building off of that, let’s have creative advice for young actors and also practical money sorts of advice for young actors. ‘Cause it’s not just, as a young actor, not just doing the auditions, doing the roles, it’s also you know juggling the waitressing job, or the cheap apartment, or the savings, so talk to them about that.

Find a community, find a bunch of friends that you can work on your scenes together with. That is such a great, great tool, so you’re not alone. I would work with friends from my theater school. The way that I got, “Grey’s Anatomy,” is that I’ve worked with my friend Adam Reed, who I’ve known since I was nine. He was also down during pilot season, and we were helping each other with our auditions. So it’s a good way to keep your morale up. And regarding finances, save your money. If you get a gig, if you get a commercial and you get something that gives a little bit of a chunk, save your money whatever you do. And, and if you’re, you’re, hitting a stride - if you can, always try and act full time. Always try, as much as you can to act full time, because, it will come.

T: Even if some of the jobs are for little or nothing. Just as long as you’re still doing something.

Yes. Always act. Always try and act because work will come from good work. I can’t help you if you’re terrible but, I cannot tell you how many short films, and how many play readings I have done, and that’s how I’ve gotten my work. So just keep, always try and keep working.

T: Who else, uh, you sir?

Q10: What would you say was your worst part time job? While you were trying to support yourself between roles?

I’ve been extremely fortunate that I have not had a part-time job since leaving theater school. And I’ve always, um - come on, my parent’s are immigrants! I know how to stretch money. But I can tell you some of the worst acting jobs I’ve had.

T: Yes!

Okay, this is the, the worst. Out there somewhere, ‘cause I grew up in Ottawa and it’s the capital and I also speak French, but my French was a lot better in high school. So I would be hired, also definitely for the quota I was a quota kid all the way, I was very conscious of it, but I didn’t care, because I got jobs because I could speak French and I was not white. So I did all these industrial videos and there is a video out there, there is a video out there for salmonella food poisoning. There is a video out there about salmonella food poisoning. I think maybe I was about like, fifteen, sixteen whatever, right?

So it’s like, we’re in Space Station. Biddy-beep-beep-beep-beep. I am not joking. Biddy-beep-beep. And I’m like, “Oh there’s a signal from Jupiter coming in. Jupiter wants to know how Earth deals with salmonella food poisoning.” I’m serious. And then it’s cut to our computer screen and then you see chickens hanging upside down. And how do you prepare chicken without salmonella food poisoning?

T: Oh. I wish we had that. Oh my god. Oh. That would be so great. How much did you get for that.

Oh I’m sure like maybe a hundred dollars, maybe two hundred dollars.

T: Oh, unbelievable. Unbelievable. Alright, they are giving me the signal to wrap it up. But I do not have my questionnaire from Bernard P. Voe, so we’re going to leave it there, but thank you so much for coming.

Thank you very much for coming.

T: Fabulous. Fabulous.

It’s been a pleasure.


A podcast of part two of the interview can be found here (Right click + 'Save as...')
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