Sandra Oh Talks About Life, Family, and Grey's Anatomy
By Judith Newman
Her Road to Success
Oh grew up in Ottawa, Canada, part of a tiny community of Korean immigrants. "Wherever Koreans are, they set up a church," she says. "There weren't many of us, maybe 10 families, so this was like a church in the basement of a church." That's where she and her siblings spent much of their time; they even went to camp there. "I couldn't believe American kids got to go away to camp, got to go and have crushes on boys and everything," Oh says.
This early religiosity made Oh both the good girl and the rebel Jan, if you will and the conflict has never been entirely resolved. On the one hand, she is an outspoken NARAL supporter, a feminist who is outraged that female actors are generally paid less than male actors on television (even in hit ensemble shows, she hints); on the other hand, even now she worries about what her parents think. What if they knew that she... Attention, Sandra Oh's parents: Your daughter is perfect. Nothing to see here, move along.)
They signed her up for dancing when she was 4, hoping to correct her pigeon toes, but were startled to see their daughter so at home onstage. Her father came to Canada to study economics, and her mother, biochemistry, so having a daughter more interested in jazz hands than, say, accounting was not part of the master plan. "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. 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 began working professionally in television, theater, and commercials by the age of 15. She attended the National Theatre School of Canada and moved to Toronto, where she found plenty of work none of it paying. "Sandra just decided that she was not going to do anything else but act, even if she would have to be broke," says Margo Purcell, an inspirational speaker and Oh's best friend since third grade. In the early '90s, when she finally got to the point of being almost destitute, she took it as a sign that she won the lottery. Not a plum role, no she literally won the lottery."Five thousand dollars from this scratch-off ticket," Oh says. "I paid some bills."