Sandra Oh’s groundbreaking career is an inspiration to another trailblazer, “Grey’s Anatomy” creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who wrote a tribute to the actress as part of Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2019, published Wednesday.
Rhimes, the first black woman to helm a major TV drama series on a broadcast network before going on to create a television empire, sung Oh’s praises, comparing her to a musical “virtuoso.”
“She treats dialogue like notes of music — every word must be played, every syllable correctly toned,” Rhimes wrote, describing working with Oh, who played Cristina Yang on “Grey’s Anatomy,” as “one of the greatest gifts of my creative life.”
The role “made her place in the acting landscape undeniable,” she wrote, and Oh’s latest role in “Killing Eve” “makes her legendary.”
For the BBC America series, currently in its second season, Oh became the first Asian woman to be nominated for an Emmy Award for best actress in a TV drama, among many other accolades. She has become a fierce advocate for better diversity and representation for Asian performers in Hollywood.
“Sandra Oh has chosen to fearlessly take up space in a universe that has not always made space for her,” Rhimes wrote. “Now, the power of her talented presence makes space for others. And that is a gift to every artist of color who follows in her footsteps.”
Oh has spoken candidly about facing limited opportunities as an Asian woman in entertainment. Even after her long-running and award-winning role on “Grey’s Anatomy,” she said she received few job offers and was shocked to learn that “Killing Eve” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge wanted her for the series’ titular character.
“In that moment, I did not assume the offer was for Eve,” she told Vulture last year, recalling that she had “internalized” Hollywood’s lack of opportunities for Asians. “[So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work?”
After her Emmy nomination last year, Oh celebrated the achievement but urged the entertainment industry to not just pay lip service to diversity and representation by honoring “a handful of us.”
“It cannot rest. I don’t want to rest on the fact that a handful of us have had the opportunity and that it stops there,” she said. “I want the movement to keep on going. I want the ripple to turn into a wave.”