Early Years and Education
Sandra Oh grew up in Nepean, a suburb of Ottawa. She began studying dance at age four and danced at Nepean’s Les Petits Ballets throughout her youth. She got an early start in acting at Knoxdale Public School and Sir Robert Borden High School. Her first performance was in a school play called The Canada Goose. She joined her high school comedy troupe, Skit Row High, with whom she attended the Ottawa Improv Games and reportedly won the national championship.
Oh was determined to pursue an acting career despite the wishes of her traditional Korean parents. She attended the National Theatre School in Montreal, and by age 15 was landing professional work in theatre, television series and commercials. Her big break came when she was cast as the lead in the 1993 CBC TV movie The Diary of Evelyn Lau, about the troubled teen runaway and sex worker who became a bestselling author (see Evelyn Lau). Oh’s performance earned her a Gemini Award nomination for best lead actress in a miniseries. Following this, she was cast in Mina Shum’s debut feature, Double Happiness (1994). Oh was shown to be a remarkable screen presence, and proved capable of handling both the lighter romantic moments of the film as well as the dramatic fare.
Hollywood Career (1996-2005)
In 1996, Oh moved to Hollywood, where she landed the part of a subservient Los Angeles publicity flak in the Rowan Atkinson comedy Bean (1997). That same year brought another major opportunity when she won a supporting role in the HBO sports comedy Arli$$. Oh played Rita Wu, the smart and sassy personal assistant to a scheming sports agent. The show ran for six years (1996–2002). During the next few years, Oh appeared in a number of notable Canadian films, including the award-winning Canadian feature The Red Violin (1998), directed by François Girard, and Don McKellar’s popular debut feature, Last Night (1998).
Oh drew acclaim for her television guest appearances on the popular Further Tales of the City and HBO's Six Feet Under, and for her recurring role in Judging Amy. While on hiatus from Arli$$, she found time to indulge in her first love, the theatre. In 1998, she played a 13-year-old girl in Dogeaters at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, and earned a Theatre World Award for her performance in Stop Kiss Off-Broadway.
Oh had supporting roles in some high-profile films, appearing in the box-office hit The Princess Diaries (2001) with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway, Big Fat Liar (2002) with Frankie Muniz, and Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal (2002). In 2002, she again teamed up with Mina Shum for Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity. She appeared in Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) with Diane Lane, co-starred opposite Paul Gross and Ellen Page in Daniel MacIvor’s dramatic comedy Wilby Wonderful (2004) and played a supporting role opposite Page in her breakout film Hard Candy (2005). Oh’s career got a major boost in 2004 when she co-starred, to much critical acclaim, in the seriocomic Sideways as a winery employee who becomes romantically entangled with a libidinous bridegroom on a pre-wedding road trip.
Grey’s Anatomy (2005–14)
From 2005 to 2014, Oh played Dr. Cristina Yang in the ABC medical drama series Grey’s Anatomy. Oh’s portrayal of the pragmatic, ambitious Yang earned her five Primetime Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. She was one of the most beloved stars in the series and helped it consistently place at the top of the ratings. Co-star Chandra Wilson said of Oh, “I’ve never met an actress as conscious, as analytical as Sandra. She thinks about every word coming out of her mouth.” By the 10th season, Oh had decided to leave the series. She told The Hollywood Reporter, “Creatively, I really feel like I gave it my all, and I feel ready to let her [Yang] go.”
While on Grey’s Anatomy, Oh continued to land roles in numerous film and television productions, including voice work on the animated adult comedy series American Dad! (2005; 2009–13), the animated comedy series Phineas and Ferb (2008–12) and the PBS animated children’s program Peg & Cat (2013). She had supporting roles in the Canadian films Defendor (2009), opposite Woody Harrelson and Elias Koteas, and Blindness (2008), co-starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Don McKellar. She played a grief-stricken mother opposite Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole (2010), an English detective in the Sky1 crime series Thorne: Scaredycat (2010) and a therapist in the acclaimed but little-seen CBC TV sitcom Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays (2011).
Oh exercised her comedic chops in the Melissa McCarthy film Tammy (2014), which also starred Susan Sarandon and Dan Aykroyd. In 2015, she played a recurring character in the television comedy series Shitty Boyfriends. Oh had roles in three feature films in 2016. She was co-producer, with Ann Marie Fleming, of the animated film Window Horses, for which she also provided voice work alongside Ellen Page and Don McKellar. Oh starred with Anne Heche in the black comedy Catfight (2016), which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Killing Eve (2018–)
In 2018, Oh was cast in arguably her most complex and dynamic role to date as Eve Polastri in the BBC America series Killing Eve (2018–). Oh plays a bored MI5 securities agent who is enlisted as a spy after she becomes obsessed with a Russian assassin named Villanelle (Jodi Comer). Oh’s performance earned her some of the best reviews of her career as well as the most high-profile awards. She became the first actor of Asian heritage to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for best actress, the first to win a Golden Globe in that category since 1981, and the first to ever win two Golden Globes (her first was in 2006). She was also nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series, while the show was named Outstanding New Program at the Television Critics Association Awards. Oh also became the first person of Asian heritage to host the Golden Globes when she co-hosted the 2019 ceremony with actor-comedian Andy Samberg.
In 2003, Oh married Sideways director Alexander Payne. They separated in 2005 and were divorced in 2007. In addition to English, Oh speaks fluent Korean and French
- Best Actress in a Leading Role (Double Happiness), Genie Awards (1994)
- Actress in a Comedy Series (Arli$$), CableACE Awards (1997)
- Women in Film and Video Vancouver Artistic Merit Award (Last Night), Vancouver International Film Festival (1998)
- Best Actress in a Leading Role (Last Night), Genie Awards (1998)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Grey’s Anatomy), Golden Globes (2006)
- Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (Sideways), Screen Actors Guild (2005)
- Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series (Grey’s Anatomy), Screen Actors Guild (2006)
- Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (Grey’s Anatomy), Screen Actors Guild (2007)
- ACTRA Award of Excellence, ACTRA (2009)
- Favorite TV Character We Miss Most (Dr. Christina Yang, Grey’s Anatomy), People’s Choice Awards (2015)
- Best Actress in a Short (The Scarecrow), Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival (2016)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama (Killing Eve), Golden Globes (2019)
- Best Actress in a Dramatic Series (Killing Eve), Critics’ Choice Awards (2019)