Sandra Oh historical nomination at the Emmys for lead actress was long due

Born in a Christian immigrant family, the Canadian-Asian actress made history by becoming the first Asian descent actress to bag a nomination for lead actress at the Emmys

                            Sandra Oh historical nomination at the Emmys for lead actress was long due
Sandra Oh (Source : Getty Images)

The 2018 Emmy Award nominations are out and Sandra Oh has made history by becoming the first actress of Asian descent to be nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

The 46-year-old has earlier bagged Emmy nominations five times in the supporting category for her work on 'Grey’s Anatomy,' but many believed she deserved a shot at the lead title.

After playing Dr. Cristina Yang on the ABC drama for a decade, Oh finally bagged the Lead Actress nomination for the critically acclaimed BBC America thriller 'Killing Eve,' in which she plays MI5 officer Eve Polastri.

The show's intriguing plot follows Eve chasing an assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer), who commits murders using her name. The wild chase across Europe results in both women slowly becoming obsessed with one another.

When Oh played the ruthlessly ambitious medical intern in 'Grey's Anatomy,' she secured a Golden Globe win and Screen Actors Guild Award in 2006. But before she became a much-coveted actress of our times, she was like any other aspiring actress, who also happened to be born to immigrants from South Korea. The actress was born in Ottawa, Canada on July 20, 1971, to a religious Christian family, who set up a church in the basement.

Her love for performing arts was sparked when she was only four years old and enrolled in a ballet class, mainly to rectify her pigeon-toed gait. But if we were to point out the starting point for the future Emmy nominated actress, this might have to be our starting point. 

At the age of 10, she played her first part in the play 'The Canada Goose' and at the age of 15, she got started with her professional gigs on TV. When it was time for her to attend college, she got an academic scholarship, but turned down the offer in favor of the National Theatre School of Canada. Does she regret that? We don't. 

Sandra Oh from the serie 'Killing Eve' attend 'Killing Eve' and 'When Heroes Fly' screening during the 1st Cannes International Series Festival at Palais des Festivals on April 8, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)


"My sister is a lawyer, and my brother is finishing his Ph.D. in medical genetics. The fact that now I play a doctor on TV? Nothing could be better!" Oh said in an interview in 2007. But at that time, her parents were baffled by her choice to pursue acting. "They didn't see that there was any meaning to being an actor," Oh says. "It was like, 'What are you doing for society? Are you being a good Christian?' They were classic immigrants - they wanted their children to become doctors or lawyers," she said in the same interview.

So that resulted in Oh paying her own tuition fee for the prestigious National Theatre School of Canada. However, her struggling days were accompanied by a stroke of luck when she won $5,000 in a lottery ticket. At the age of 19, when she auditioned for the title role in 'The Diary of Evelyn Lau,' a television biopic about a tortured, young Chinese poet, she stunned the director by her confidence. 

"When she came in to the audition, she asked for a moment to focus herself. Then she lay on the floor for five minutes," director Sturla Gunnarsson said in an interview. "I thought it was remarkable that at 19 she had the confidence - and audacity - to do that." Oh was selected for the lead over thousands of others who had auditioned. With this breakthrough in hand, Oh won a Gemini (Canada's equivalent of the Emmy Award) nomination and the 1994 Cannes FIPA d'Or for Best Actress.

Oh then moved to Los Angeles in 1996, when she was cast as a sassy assistant Rita Wu in the HBO comedy 'Arli$$.' The show ran for seven seasons and pretty much paved the way for Oh to bag the role she is best known for: Dr Cristina Yang. The actress has appeared in movies too including 'Under the Tuscan Sun,' and 'Bean and The Red Violin.' It is interesting to note that she has played a pregnant woman in three films; 'Under the Tuscan Sun,' 'Cake,' and 'Last Night'.

Oh also rendered a supporting role in Alexander Payne's independent film 'Sideways.' Prior to the release of this Academy Awards nominated movie, Oh married the director in 2003 but the couple split in 2005, finalizing their divorce in 2007. In 2007, she started dating Andrew Featherstone, a musician who plays in the indie band The Hereafter. The pair has been spotted several times together since then.

Actress Sandra Oh and ex-husband, director Alexander Payne, attend the premiere of 'Sideways' at the Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences on October 12, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)


While her marriage went south and her initial days in LA were rather a difficult one, who knew she would make it to Emmy's lead actress nomination someday. Oh said in an interview with Marie Claire, "I remember one agent who was so, so mean. He said, 'People are going to lie to you, but I'm not going to lie. Someone like you' — and you know what the fuck that means, right? — 'you're just not gonna work.'"

Oh is also known for her opinions on varying subjects, mainly on the importance of Asian representation in film and television. “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,”  she said in an interview to Vanity Fair.

While the actress has already won a Golden Globe in 2006, her latest nomination in Emmys lead actress category breaks new ground for Asian stars, who are striving for their own claim to fame and success.

While Asians are still a minority in the US, lacking representation on the silver screen, a number of performers and writers of Asian descent have secured wins in major Emmy categories since 2010. Archie Panjabi won an award for supporting actress in a drama in 2010; Riz Ahmed, for lead actor in a limited series in 2017 and Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang for writing comedy series in 2016. Ansari won the same category last year alongside Lena Waithe, who made history that night as well as the first black woman to win the award for Oustanding Comedy Writing. 

Emmy Awards will take place on September 17 at Microsoft Theater, Los Angeles, California and we may witness another noteworthy historic moment. We are rooting for it.