Sandra Oh on the 'Gift' of 'Grey's' and Timely Topics on 'The Chair'
Sandra Oh takes on the establishment in Netflix’s satirical dark comedy The Chair.
In the six-episode series, Oh plays Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, the new chair of the English department at the prestigious Pembroke University, named to her high-profile new post partly because of the latest scandal plaguing the university. As the first female department head, Dr. Kim is faced with a unique set of challenges as she navigates her new role and she begins to realize that she may have been brought in to be the university’s scapegoat amid a PR nightmare.
Oh praised executive producer, writer and showrunner Amanda Peet for affording her the opportunity to explore timely topics such as racial discrimination in the workplace, diversity and aging with humor. Peet revealed she had her “heart set on [Oh], and I couldn’t really think of anybody else that I wanted for this part.”
“There’s a quote from [the 1987 film] Babette’s Feast, ‘Throughout the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my best.’ And I absolutely feel like Amanda gave me that chance,” Oh told ET’s Rachel Smith during a recent interview. “It’s to be able to play something as complex and also in an arena where I am interested in exploring the ethnicity and the culture of the character. Because honestly, as an actor of color, we’re slow on that. We’re slow on that part of the storytelling. What makes us full characters is that you’re going fully into — it’s not a pointed thing — but it’s a living, breathing part of our life as women of color. So when it is a part of your life, the way that you talk to another woman of color is different than the way that you talk to your dad who might speak another language. To be able to fire on all levels was a great privilege.”
The 50-year-old actress, who was the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for a lead actress Emmy in 2018, spoke about the difficulties filming the series in the middle of winter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania while in a pandemic.
“It was very very challenging. Usually the way that you bond with a cast and the way that you usually establish a relationship is that you spend time with your cast members. That was not able to happen. We were very, very separated and masked, and we were really separate other than being on set between action and cut,” she recalled. “But the high level of this entire team — the cast and the crew — was at such a high level that all these professionals dropped in immediately and it all happened between action and cut. And that was really exciting. The overall pandemic, it actually gave a certain type of true anxiety that the entire production was under, but it gave a common anxiety that I think bled into the anxiety that the English department has. So we all were dealing with the same anxiety.”
And as she prepares to launch The Chair, Oh took a minute to reflect on her time on Grey’s Anatomy. Oh said she’s grown to understand “what a gift and a privilege it was to be a part of that show for 10 years” when the conversation naturally turned to medical drama, where she played fan favorite Dr. Cristina Yang for a decade.
“Going into season 18, it’s nearing the same time that I’ve been off of the show,” she noted. (Oh exited the medical drama at the end of season 10.) “So it really speaks so highly to how the show has really found a place in people’s hearts and that I’m so happy to have been a part of that. As an artist, all I can offer is to come along to the things that I’m doing now and hopefully people will like it.”
Peet executive produces The Chair alongside former Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Jay Duplass, Holland Taylor, Bob Balaban, Nana Mensah, David Morse and Everly Carganilla also star in the series.
The Chair drops Friday, Aug. 20 on Netflix.
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