BBC America’s new series KILLING EVE premiered on Sunday to critical acclaim–both for the show and its star, Sandra Oh (formerly of GREY’S ANATOMY). Vulture’s E. Alex Jung spoke with the actor about the show and how racism “defines” her work:
Because we aren’t looking at each other face-to-face, I should tell you I’m Korean-American, and so this question of how you don’t allow racism to define you, or your work, is centrally important. I think it can be a struggle sometimes to figure out what your work looks like, and how it can transcend other people’s views of you.
Yeah. I’m totally with you. I’m so interested in what you’re saying right now, because for me, this far into my career, it’s somewhat of a balance, of being in the reality of the situation. And also the work it takes to transcend it. I try and spend more of my time focused there, because I think that’s my job.
One thing I will share with you — when I got the script for Killing Eve, I remember I was walking around in Brooklyn and I was on my phone with my agent, Nancy. I was quickly scrolling down the script, and I can’t really tell you what I was looking for. So I’m like, “So Nancy, I don’t understand, what’s the part?” And Nancy goes “Sweetheart, it’s Eve, it’s Eve.” In that moment, I did not assume the offer was for Eve. I think about that moment a lot. Of just going, how deep have I internalized this? [So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why? And this is me talking, right? After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, “Oh my god! They brainwashed me!” I was brainwashed! So that was a revelation to me.
That’s how deep this is. We can’t see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories.
Correct. I saw Joy Luck Club when it came out, so that was early mid-’90s, and I remember seeing it with my long-time collaborator, Mina Shum. We’d just done Double Happiness and we saw this movie and we were weeping. Like, shuddering weeping. Weeping more than really the film deserved. Our experience was much bigger than what was being called for. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of how deeply we need to see ourselves represented. And how it’s not just leaving the images to the outside voices. It’s finding it within ourselves.
I’ve been thinking about us and our community a lot. How do people understand us more? How do we connect? Something I feel we need to explore more in our own communities, ourselves, is to know who we are.
Our world is so big. Our parents are incredible people. They’ve lived through war, and then moved to a country where they didn’t speak any…
I feel like we grew up and we thought our worlds are very small and ahistorical but they’re not.
No they’re not because of exactly what you were saying, and I’m saying right now, is what we are supposed to do as part of this generation. I’m very interested in you being an Asian-American writer, and the things you are talking about, and I want to encourage you in any way. Keep writing about it. Keep writing about what you don’t know. I think we need more of that introspection, questioning, for ourselves as our own community before anyone else is interested in our community.
To read the full interview, go to Vulture: It Took Sandra Oh 30 Years to Get to Killing Eve