Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sandra Oh Talks Buddism, Dalai Lama And Grey's Anatomy

Here is something as rare as a brand new interview with Sandra, which was published in The Calgary Herald today:


In some ways, famous-buttalentless actors have it easy.

They can coast by on the friendly familiarity audiences have with their famous faces, but they rarely create memorable characters. When it comes to looking into the eyes of a great actor, however, it can be tough to separate the person from the persona.

That's the problem with Sandra Oh.

Combine the fury she mustered for that knockout punch in the wine-soaked movie Sideways with her cool-heated role as Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy and you've got a pretty scary image.

"I love it," says Oh of her character on the hit TV show, which premieres its sixth season on Thursday. "The thing is that ultimately when you're playing a character for a long time, you have to explore all sides of a person. When I'm living with a character, I want to see them change and progress so if the first and immediate quality that she has had is a lot of harshness than over the years--and especially this year--you'll get to see more softening."

That softness is most striking in Oh.

Surrounded by kids at Calgary's Telus Convention Centre recently, her smile is warm and inviting. Her hair is long, dark and bouncy. She looks like a kid herself dressed in skinny jeans and black converse high-tops. She smiles and jokes with everyone, even though the Golden Globe-winning actress is not getting paid or pampered.

Instead she has volunteered her time and spent nearly six hours talking to kids on camera about everything from hotdogs and stuffed animals to Buddhism and world peace in preparation for her job as cohost of Connect Now, featuring the Dalai Lama at the Saddledome on Sept. 30.

She's done it, she says, because she believes in the teachings of Buddhism, a spiritual belief she has spent the past 10 months studying.

"I really feel tired right now," says Oh as she sits down for a break in the cafeteria. "You can't lie to kids, you know? You have to be engaged with kids because it's like they are sitting there and you need to bring it in order for them to eventually feel comfortable . . . comfortable enough to say whatever their truth is."

Born and raised a Protestant in a Korean home near Ottawa, the 38-year-old actor has spent many years looking for her own truth.

"To my parent's dismay, I grew up and didn't go to church. They're Korean for God's sake, they're super religious," says Oh in her trademark tone.

"I will say that having grown up Protestant provided a lot of the foundation for me. I had the classic upbringing. You know, I struggled with Sunday school because no one seemed to answer my questions. But I had this feeling of connection within the church."

Living in L. A. with all the best teachers and gurus at her fingertips, Oh has always been drawn to the idea of meditating.

"For me, I know it was like: Meditation's great. It's good for me. I should meditate, I should meditate. But my life is so busy, so stressful. So I should meditate. . . . I should meditate. Mostly, I wanted to meditate out of guilt, like a really big vitamin pill."

Before breakout roles in Sideways (2004) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), she made nearly 40 movies, earning awards and critical acclaim dating back to her earliest days as an actor out of Nepean, Ont.

Unquestionably talented, she has also won a Screen Actor's Guild Award, a Genie for best actress and she's been nominated for five Emmys for her work as Cristina Yang. Although she lost out again on Sunday at the Emmys, Oh was a hit on the red carpet in a strapless gold embroidered gown by Marchesa.

Her work in the business has brought with it a strong selection of roles, including four upcoming feature films including Defendor, a comedy with Woody Harrelson, the animated film Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey, and the eagerly anticipated dramatic film Rabbit Hole, starring Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman.

"Yah, you should see the script for that one," she says of Rabbit Hole. "It's incredible."

But success has also come with challenges. Nearly the entire cast of Grey's Anatomy is incessantly followed by paparazzi and tabloids closely covered the breakdown of Oh's marriage to Sideways writer-director Alexander Payne.

"It's all garbage," she says of the "rags," which recently got too close following her friends and co-stars into Ellen Pompeo's baby shower. "There is nothing good that comes out of it."

Outside of the public successes she has had with Grey's Anatomy throughout the past six years, Oh's not sure what inspired her to take a meditation class last January.

"This year turned and I was ready. I think when you're ready it will come into your life," she says with peaceful certainty before breaking into a tangent fit for Meredith Grey herself.

"I can tell you the very first time I sat in meditation class was like hell. The meditation class I go to you just sit . . . we just sit . Try just sitting, for God's sake.

"The class is an hour and a half and it involves sitting and talking. Talking about stuff, real stuff, not like sports. We talk about Buddhism. And then we sit . . . in silence. But even though it feels so deeply uncomfortable: my back hurts . . . I can't shut off my brain . . . I'm not doing this right . . . all that stuff. Even though all that was going on I came back the next week. Something else drives me towards it."

She says as she has studied the Buddhist movement throughout the past few months she has become amazed by the Dalai Lama.

"Rock star--we're talking rock star," she says of the chance to meet the Dalai Lama.

"I'm going to be laying there prostrate and just bringing white scarves."

Oh says a bit part of her attraction to Buddhism is that it encourages open-mindedness and work.

"If there is anything that I've been learning about Buddhism it's that I don't know s---. I would love to be able to say I knew why, but I don't. I think it was just a gradual thing. Suddenly I have the patience for it and suddenly my interest passed some sort of threshold of stasis."

In Thursday's season premiere of Grey's Anatomy Cristina Yang's cool demeanour warms up as she tries to make sense of death and dying in a new way, as a woman falling in love. And although we may see a little of Oh's softness creep into Cristina the two women will remain separate.

"Cristina a Buddhist?" Oh considers the idea for a moment before cracking the sarcastic smile that has endures her to so many fans. "Yeah, there's just no way."

1 comment :

Amanda Bisignano said...

Haha I love the end! She is so funny :p

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