Sunday, July 25, 2010

JADE: Getting to Know Ms. Oh

Since the interview we posted on Monday was brief, we're posting another one this week like promised.

This one is from back in the day when Sandra Oh was doing Arli$$ on HBO and was originally published in JADE magazine, March/April 2001:

For those of you who have HBO, you've probably heard of Arli$$. If not, you are missing out on Sandra Oh as Miss Rita Wu, a character that Asian women should be proud of!

She defies the sterotypes of submissive Asian women. As HBO describes it, "Rita is Arliss' no-nonsense Girl Friday, seven days a week. Rita's the one you want in your boat, ready to pass out life preservers and give directions. With enormous appeal and sass, she is often the moral voice in the AMM chorus, although she does have a certain weakness for Latin golf clients."

Outtakes of Sandra Oh as Rita Wu in Arliss

Before Rita, Sandra played Jade Li, a feisty Chinese-Canadian struggling actress in Mina Shum's Double Happiness A movie that every Asian Canadian and Asian American can relate too. You should definitely go out to Blockbuster and rent this movie!

We were able to catch up with Sandra to ask her a few questions about her experiences as a Asian Canadian actor.

JADE: What was it like living in Nepean, Ontario as an Asian Canadian?
Sandra: I can't really compare it to anything else (i.e. being non-asian). It was a great safe place to grow up, there weren't a lot of Asians around but it didn't really matter to me.
JADE: When did you decide that you wanted to go into acting, or to be a performer?
Sandra: Very early, the desire was there by 10 - but the real decision came after high school when I chose NOT to go to college.
JADE: First off, out of all the movies that I've seen, only a few have had an impact on me and Double Happiness was one of them. I remember watching, Double Happiness and laughing so hard at some of Jade Li's experiences. I thought it was about time someone brought out the Asian culture to mainstream. I personally related to it. Why and how did you get involved in "Double Happiness"? Did you know Mina Shum personally?
Sandra: I got involved in Double Happiness because Mina asked. It was a great part and opportunity. I had just finished the Diary of Evelyn Lau and Mina played the part of my social worker. She leaned over to me and said "you're not really 14 are you?" (I was 20) "Here, read my script!"
JADE: Is there a Hollywood-like enviroment in Canada? If so, is it hard for Asian-Canadians to get into this industy?
Sandra: No, the Hollywood paradign does not exist in Canada. It is extremely difficult to get a film made in Canada, even more difficult to get cast when you're a woman and not white. Because there isn't a great amount of output, there are simply fewer opportunities for good work, for any work.
JADE: How did you break into the American entertainment industry and was it difficult?
Sandra: Not at all, the difference is the access to opportunity. I was extremely lucky. I came to L.A. for the 1st time in 1995 with Double Happiness. I was able to get an agent very quickly (Korean too). I left Toronto to try L.A. for 6 months. I lived on couches and a cheap hotel on Franklin Avenue. But auditioned and worked far more than I ever would have in Canada. I was cast in a short lived CBS show (got me my work permit), a short film (Sunny Lee directed) a play (Diana Son, playwrite) then landed the Arliss pilot. I went back to Toronto to do a play, then moved to L.A. in March 1996 because Arliss was picked up. I'm shooting the 6th season now.
JADE: This maybe a bit strange, but when I watch Rita on Arliss, I don't see an Asian person, rather just the comical character of Rita. I think it's great when it's not about race, but about the character. Rita is very self-assured, fashion conscious, and in the world of her own. How much of you is in Rita?
Sandra: It's lovely that you think Rita is self assured. I love her because she's competent, unsure and a bit of a loser. That's what makes her funny. I think I share Rita's energy, not as manic, but an energy that goes forward in life. Please note: I am not a sarcastic, sardonically wry person at all.
JADE: What's it like working with the rest of the cast in Arliss? From an audience point of view it seems like you guys are having fun.
Sandra: That's where I am the luckiest. I love the people I work with. we're a small cast (4 people - Robert Wuhl, Jim Turner and Michael Boatman) So we're quite close. We just make each other laugh and entertain each other.
JADE: How did you get the Rita part? Was Rita's character was written to be Asian?
Sandra: I auditioned twice. Then was offered it without that awful screentest experience. Rita was written non-race specific.
JADE: Growing up, who was your role model, and why?
Sandra: My mom and dad, sister and brother. They were around a lot. The TV show Fame. The Carol Burnett Show.

JADE: If you could only take three items with you to a deserted island for a year, what would they be and why?
1. A radio (life long batteries included), must be able to pick up KCRW in Santa Monica and KLON jazz Long Beach.
2. An empty journal
3. A pen (life long ink cartridge included).

JADE: What piece of advice would you give to young Asian women wanting to become actors?
Sandra: I don't mean to be a downer, but I truly mean this. Only if its too painful NOT to become one. Only if it's not a choice (Stop if you don't know what I mean). It's too difficult otherwise.

Source: JADE Magazine. March/April, 2001.
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