Sandra Oh layers in her ethnicity on ‘Killing Eve’ because white Hollywood does not
Two years ago, Sandra Oh made history. Born in Canada to Korean immigrant parents, the “Killing Eve” actress became the first woman of Asian descent to earn an Emmy nomination for lead actress in a drama series in 2018. For Oh, who spoke with The Envelope last month during a video call with other actors from acclaimed television projects, her ethnicity largely hadn’t come into play in previous roles.
Consider that her Korean descent was never mentioned as she bashed Thomas Haden Church over the head with a motorcycle helmet in “Sideways,” or as the pregnant friend in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” or even much as Dr. Cristina Yang on “Grey’s Anatomy.” But with “Killing Eve,” her MI5 character, Eve Polastri, became something more nuanced.
“I think you’re seeing representation moving into the central field. And the nuance is just the complicated texture of a fully fleshed character,” says Oh, who was joined in conversation by Cate Blanchett of “Mrs. America,” Cynthia Erivo of “The Outsider,” Hugh Jackman of “Bad Education,” Regina King from “Watchmen,” Nicole Kidman from “Big Little Lies,” Jeremy Strong of “Succession” and Kerry Washington from “Little Fires Everywhere.”
Cate Blanchett, Cynthia Erivo, Nicole Kidman, Regina King, Hugh Jackman, Sandra Oh, Jeremy Strong and Kerry Washington instill humanity in their roles first.
“As my authorship of my own work has grown,” says Oh, “I’ve been trying to infuse more pieces of my character’s ethnicity and cultural background. Like at the very top of Season 3 in ‘Killing Eve,’ you see Eve in New Malden [outside central London], which is actually the largest gathering of Koreans outside of Korea. I wanted it to be set in a place where Eve could try to disappear for a while. It was just a small bit of the show, but I wanted to bring the flavor of that because we carry our culture, we carry our history. And typically, white Hollywood does not write it. Does not write our culture, does not write the depth of our culture.
“I remember talking to the sound people, it’s like, ‘Hey guys, you are layering in the sound of me wearing shoes in the house. I don’t wear shoes. My character doesn’t wear shoes. I know you don’t see the feet. But don’t layer in the sound of shoes in the house, because that doesn’t happen,’” she adds. “But maybe these people, mostly white English dudes, don’t know that. It’s something that you might not even think is important, but it is because that’s how we start building the nuance of a character.”
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