Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sandra Oh Pulls No Punches: Interview

As the premiere of the Thorne-series is approaching in the UK, we expect to have some interviews with Sandra Oh from the UK press. UK peeps, keep an eye out.

In this one Sandra talks about the new project, Sideways, not Grey's, and why interviews with her are so rare amongst many other things, so check it out below because it's a really good one.

David Morrissey and Sandra Oh in Thorne: Scaredy Cat
Actress Sandra Oh pulls no punches – in character and for real. Famous for her kick-ass roles in Grey’s Anatomy and the Oscar-winning film Sideways, she appears to mean business in person too, as a slightly nervous Benji Wilson discovers.

I am, I shall confess, a little scared of Sandra Oh. It may be because of her character in Grey’s Anatomy, the competitive, take-no-prisoners surgeon Dr Cristina Yang. Perhaps it is because of the juggernaut success of Grey’s Anatomy itself. The hospital drama may not be huge over here but for several years it was the most-watched show in America and is massive around the globe – making Sandra Oh a major, major worldwide star.

Most likely, however, I am scared of Sandra Oh because of one indelible cinematic moment. Seen the 2004 wine-doused classic Sideways? Then you know the one. Sandra’s wine waitress character discovers that Thomas Haden Church’s gadabout has been using her for a fling, so she walks up to him, cracks him round the face with a motorcycle helmet and proceeds to beat him up. As female empowerment goes, when Sandra empowered her helmet into Church’s feckless male head, it was the you-go-girl sucker punch that was heard round the world. I saw it twice in the cinema, and on both occasions women stood and applauded.

So when I come to meet her in the basement of a chichi London hotel, the first move is to sweep the room for motorcycle helmets. All clear. Yet even without her weapon of choice she is still a little intimidating. She has a sultry, sooty baritone, a cascade of dark hair and eyes that say she’s seen it all before. Chichi or otherwise, the basement feels like the lair of the Oh. Enter at your peril.

Sandra, 39, lives in Los Angeles but is over here following the filming of Sky1’s Thorne: Scaredy Cat. It’s the second of a series of gritty adaptations of Mark Billingham’s DI Thorne novels, with David Morrissey playing the eponymous detective. Sandra’s character, Sarah Chen, is an emotional train wreck with a drug problem. If you’re used to her in Grey’s, with its romcom backbone and slushy soundtracks, then a substantial reassessment is in order.

‘The two best adjectives for her are “addicted” and “unhinged”,’ says Sandra. ‘She needs to dampen voices in her head through these addictions of job, men, cocaine.’

Sandra flew to London to start filming Scaredy Cat the day after she finished shooting the sixth-season finale of Grey’s. Back-to-back filming on different continents has taken it out of her. ‘I definitely wanted a challenge, but when I got here and realised that I couldn’t do the accent, remember my lines and act at the same time straight away, it was like, “Oh my God.” It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. Basically, I would say I had a breakdown.’

Anyone who happens to have been on the roads in East London recently might have witnessed what a mental breakdown looks like. ‘I had to try to drive. It was on a public road and I had the director and the director of photography in the car and I drove right into the oncoming traffic!’

But other than when causing major traffic incidents, she has loved her time in the capital.

‘Every time I was driven to the set I got to see a different bit of London. We were at locations with real houses, real people. Children came out to figure out what we were doing. There’s a really interesting mix of people and it’s just great to be around. That’s one of the many special things about London: the variety of ethnicity.’

This has particular resonance for Sandra because of her own upbringing in Canada. She was born and raised in Ottawa, one of three children of middle-class Korean immigrant parents, before moving to Montreal and eventually LA.

‘I feel comfortable in places like London. You get many cultures in LA but it’s strangely segregated.’

She began acting and ballet classes at an early age, but, although she remained heavily involved in theatre throughout high school, her parents (mum a biochemist, dad an economist) ultimately wanted her to choose a profession. ‘They didn’t want me to go to theatre school; they wanted me to be a journalist,’ she says.

She won a scholarship to a journalism college – but she didn’t take it, instead enrolling at the National Theatre School in Montreal. Then, at 19, she won the lead in The Diary of Evelyn Lau. Sandra’s audition for Evelyn Lau tells you much about her. One of 1,000 applicants, she entered the casting room…and lay stock-still on the floor. ‘Just until I was ready. But that’s the kind of thing that you don’t know that you’re not supposed to do when you’re 19. I think it was just naivety.’

She got the part and won rave reviews, although not from her parents. It was an extreme role for a debut – Evelyn Lau was a Chinese-Canadian poet who left home at 14 to get away from her parents and ended up homeless, using drugs and working the streets.

‘It was a big thing on TV in Canada, and then the next week people were weird with my parents at church. But eventually they could see that there was meaning in what I was doing. I had to convince them: “Trust me, this is good for humanity.”’ Evelyn Lau remains the piece of which she is most proud, and it opened doors to independent film – a Canadian comedy called Double Happiness was a hit, and led in turn to a biopic of the Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

‘The beginning of my career was so brilliant. It wasn’t until ten years later that I went, “Oh, that was a big, fat fluke and, boy, was I ever lucky.”’ As with so many wide-eyed actors who hotfoot it to Tinseltown, things didn’t go quite so well when she moved to LA in 1996. A part in an HBO sitcom called Arliss, in which she played a PA to the main character, paid the rent, and there was theatre and Canadian films, but as Arliss ran and ran, the film roles she was being offered started to filter down to a lot of funny sidekicks and not much else.

Not only that, but her skin colour played a part. ‘Hollywood likes to put actors in boxes, and it likes to put Asian actors in really small boxes,’ she says.

‘As soon as anything comes in that’s a Western or a period piece, I usually go, “Well, there’s no point in me ever thinking about it,” because there are those who seem to think that people who look like me didn’t exist during that time.’ By 2003, she says, she felt that she had plateaued.

Sideways and the first season of Grey’s Anatomy changed everything. I tell her that in the UK, it’s probably Sideways that she is best known for.

‘I have felt that around here in London. I’m proud of that work; people really enjoyed it here.’

How did she get the part? She says she knew the director, which is a little coy – she was married to him. She and Alexander Payne are divorced now and she won’t talk about it, nor about whether she’s found a replacement, but she’s more than happy to take us through every detail of that punch.

‘I just started hitting him and I couldn’t stop. Oh, I was sore the next day – he was fine. It was a foam motorcycle helmet. What I love about the film is that although it’s a beautiful love letter to the American male, you also get to see the American female break his nose and punch him out!’

She’s happy to talk Sideways all morning; on Grey’s she’s more reluctant. You sense that six seasons in it has become more of a job than a vocation. But she knows to pay heed to the goose that has laid the golden egg.

‘I’m very grateful to Grey’s – it’s not the only reason why I’m here, but it’s a big, fat one.’ The flip side, of course, is that Sandra Oh is now hugely famous. Paparazzi infiltrated her friend and Grey’s co-star Ellen Pompeo’s baby shower; her divorce papers from Alexander Payne appeared on the internet.

As a result, she says, this is a rare interview: ‘The reason I’m speaking to you is because I really believe in the project that I just did. I don’t speak to people any more, because of those reasons.’ Frankly, she’s glad to get away from the Grey’s treadmill and for the change offered by Britain and by Scaredy Cat. ‘It feels like what I used to do. I haven’t really done anything that I feel is for me since Sideways.’

Time in London has also recharged her fashion batteries. Sandra is known for bold style choices – some hits, some misses. Today she’s dressed classically – Elizabeth & James jacket, Vivienne Westwood shoes, David Szeto scarf – but in general her outfits are ‘out there’.

‘I’m not a slave to fashion; I’m into exercising my individuality. What I want to be is a boy from Hoxton. Skinny jeans, a shirt like a jacket, glasses and my hair up in a little pompadour. I love the way men dress here because they’re trying something.’

So, if she turns up at the Emmys next year with a Hoxton fin, fluorescent Ray-Bans and basketball boots, you know where she got the idea from.

Thorne starts on Sky1 and Sky1 HD next Sunday at 9pm


1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview with Sandra. It's always interesting to hear what she has to say. She's braver than I as far as driving in London (I live in the US). I'm looking forward to seeing Scaredy Cat. I'm ready for her to work on more movie projects and hope she soon returns to London.

Post a Comment

sandra oh news