Sandra Oh recently wrapped up a 10-year run playing Christina Yang on television’s “Grey’s Anatomy” (a role that earned her a Golden Globe). She makes her return to the stage via Ariel Dorfman’s drama Death and the Maiden at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, under the direction of Chay Yew, through July 13. Oh’s memorable stage performances include Stop Kiss and Satellites at NYC’s Public Theater and Dogeaters at California’s La Jolla Playhouse.
What made you want to do Death and the Maiden?
Chay says this is a new classic. People might remember this piece from the early ’90s, but it speaks a lot to the present day—this is happening now. Military regimes are taking over various countries now. Torture is happening right now. It’s not like, “Oh, stuff they did in some unfamiliar Asian country in the ’60s.” It’s an extremely timely piece. Just replace Chile with Egypt or Thailand. And, also, a primary reason is Chay, who I’ve known for a very long time—we discussed doing a play two years ago, and eventually he chose Death and the Maiden. And, honestly, I wanted to give myself a kind of a goal to leave “Grey’s Anatomy”—this other thing to do, which was the play.
So theatre stole you back from television!
Totally! [laughs] I’ve spent, at this point, 17 years on television. When one is blessed in that medium, you can go do other mediums that you love, the first one for me being theatre. I didn’t brush it off to go wait for some indie film to happen—I wanted to do a play. There are a lot of people that I want to work with, and I haven’t had the opportunity to, because when you’re locked in a long-term contract, it’s very difficult—it’s not flexible.
So who’s on your wish list of collaborators right now?
Oh, it’s too long and too vague—I would love to do some experimental theatre, things that are much more theatrical. There is one thing actually on my wish list: When I was attending the National Theater School of Canada, we studied at the Moscow Art Theatre for two weeks in…I think it was ’92–93. There was this unbelievable clown and movement teacher there, and I remember telling myself, “If I ever make enough money, one day I’m going to come back to Russia and study with that guy!”
There are also a lot of theatre troupes in L.A.—will you be doing more in that scene?
I would like to explore the theatre scene in L.A., now that I have time to kind of commit. Also, various actor friends of mine live in town—Kevin McKidd [from “Grey’s Anatomy”] and I are always talking about how to get together and do a play. We’re trying to figure out the timing.
Do you have any theatrical roles that you’ve always wanted to do?
Due to the influence of going to Russia, my knowledge is probably much deeper in Chekhov than probably anything else. I would like to do the big ones—Three Sisters, Vanya. If you ask any theatre actor what they would want to play, Chekhov is going to be in the top three.
What’s the biggest difference as an actor working in television versus working in the theatre?
In some ways, everything is different. The two processes are something you can’t really compare, other than that you’re speaking someone’s text—and that’s not always even the case! The main thing is, obviously, that you rehearse in theatre, and the theatre is ephemeral. Celluloid is forever, technically. You can’t lie in theatre—if you’re bad onstage, people won’t look at you. But if you’re bad, let’s say, in film, we’re forced to look at you anyway! And since you’re edited in a particular way, it’s not just a matter of your performance, it’s not just the words. The fact is, I’m really excited to be in the rehearsal process, where everyone brings their ideas to the table for them to cook. I really love all that—I’m one of those processes gals.
After Victory Gardens, what plans do you have for your summer vacation?
I’ll go up to Canada and see my family. After you have a large output of work, it’s super important to be rest and be quiet. So I would like to do that for as long as I can, until whatever the next thing that really demands my attention comes along.
What’s the tackiest thing you own?
I have my favorite Korean golfing-lady visor—Korean golfing ladies have these really big wide-brim visors. I took my mom shopping in Koreatown and got her all this golf stuff—and I thought, “Oh, my god, I totally need one of these visors.” So I’ll be one of those Korean ladies hiking in the Hollywood Hills with my Korean-lady visor.
What three things would you take with you to a desert island?
My mom’s Korean pancakes—they’re a mung bean pancake called bindaetteok—so I’d have food. I would take some sort of iPod music source. And I’d take my journal for writing. Actually, that sounds like a pretty good vacation recipe!
Photo Credit: Sandra Oh (Photo by James White)