'Killing Eve' star Sandra Oh says that years of discrimination conditioned her to believe she'd never land a leading role

Sandra Oh talked about her struggle after leaving 'Grey's Anatomy' to find a non-stereotypical role like the one she plays in 'Killing Eve.'


                            'Killing Eve' star Sandra Oh says that years of discrimination conditioned her to believe she'd never land a leading role

Sandra Oh famously played the sarcastic Cristina Yang on Shonda Rhimes' hit medical drama 'Grey's Anatomy.' But for four years after she left the show, it seemed almost like she had disappeared from the limelight. She said that she was hoping for a role as meaty as the one Rhimes had offered her on the show, but the demand for Asian Americans in non-stereotypical roles in Hollywood was low, a heartbreaking indicator of the lack of representation and diversity.

Sandra Oh as surgeon Cristina Yang in 'Grey's Anatomy' (Twitter)
Sandra Oh as surgeon Cristina Yang in 'Grey's Anatomy' (Twitter)

The Korean-Canadian actress did manage to land a few roles, with roles in 'Tammy,' 'Catfight,' and 'American Crime,' in addition to a number of plays, but her Golden Globe Award meant nothing to show creators who only wanted Asian American actors for minor roles or background characters.

Sandra Oh in 'Catfight' (Twitter)
Sandra Oh in 'Catfight' (Twitter)

Oh says that she's fed up of waiting and no longer has any expectations, revealing, "That’s where I’m at. I can talk about the things that didn’t come my way that I think should come my way, but it’s just like—it’s a f**kin’ waste of time."

Sandra Oh (Twitter)
Sandra Oh (Twitter)

That's why she couldn't believe her ears when her agent told her that she was being offered the lead role in 'Killing Eve,' a crime thriller based on books by Luke Jennings that follow an MI5 operative named Eve Polastri who was considered white in the novels.

Eve Polastri is a character from Luke Jennings' novels. (Twitter)
Eve Polastri is a character from Luke Jennings' novels. (Twitter)

The series follows Eve as she obsesses over nabbing a skilled yet deadly assassin named Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer. The two women develop a morbid fascination for each other as they toy with each other in an exciting game of cat and mouse.

Jodie Comer as Villanelle and Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri (Twitter)
Jodie Comer as Villanelle and Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri (Twitter)

Oh initially thought she was being offered the role of a doctor or receptionist as she flipped through the script, and she assumed that she would instantly notice the stereotypical Asian role chalked out for her. Her agent had to convince her that the producers wanted her to play the titular character, a role she had been waiting four years for. She realized then that she had become accustomed to being sidelined as a nonwhite actress, despite her skill.

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in 'Killing Eve' (Twitter)
Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in 'Killing Eve' (Twitter)

However, Oh says the struggle it took to get a role like this lasted a lot longer than the four years she waited after leaving 'Grey's Anatomy.' Speaking about her casting as Eve, she said, "It’s like, 'Oh, it’s so easy! They just called you!' Right? In a way, yes, that’s true. But in another way, it took 30 years to get this call."

Sandra Oh said that her role in 'Killing Eve' was 30 years in the making. (Twitter)
Sandra Oh said that her role in 'Killing Eve' was 30 years in the making. (Twitter)

The legacy of her roles on television is not lost on her. Cristina Yang was a breath of fresh air, and she broke notions of the kind of roles Asian Americans could play. She said, "Young Asian people who come up to me have a certain vibration, and I receive it, and I understand it, and I feel emotional just talking about it. I’m here for you. And I’ll continue doing everything I can to fill something that I know you need right now, that we don’t yet have as a community."

Sandra Oh (Twitter)
Sandra Oh (Twitter)

Oh's four years away from the spotlight were a deliberate exercise of her power. She said, "The four years of actively waiting by doing the things that I love . . . it was my choice to do three plays. It was my choice to do American Crime, you know? Actually being able to exercise your own choice can bring about greater opportunity. I think it’s just as important what you say no to as what you say yes to."

Sandra Oh (Twitter)
Sandra Oh (Twitter)

She added in reference to 'Killing Eve,' "I hope it was worth the wait." 'Killing Eve' premieres on April 8, 2018, on BBC America.