Sandra Oh played Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy for 10 years, so it would honestly be surprising if she didn’t have strong opinions about her character. Oh recently revealed her passion for the series often led to arguments with the writers, and even creator Shonda Rhimes.
“What I was able to get from Grey’s is to have the responsibility and the relationship with the writer to be able to direct where she’s going," Oh said in a new Variety Actors on Actors interview with Kerry Washington published on June 26.
“If something kind of came up which was like, ‘That is completely wrong,’ I would go toe-to-toe with Shonda and a lot of the writers, which had been challenging,” she continued. "But I think ultimately, for the entire product and our relationship, if you’re fighting for the show, if you’re fighting for your character, people can tell that.”
“Most of the shows that I have done have not been Asian-specific purposefully. When we did Grey’s, for at least the first 10 seasons we would not talk about race," Oh said. “We would not go into race, and that was purposeful. And, whatever, it was the right thing to do when it was.”
However, when Yang was set to marry Dr. Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington), Oh was hoping to portray the family dynamics of an interracial couple. “In Season 3, Burke and Cristina were getting married and there were the two mothers, the Asian mother and the Black mother, and I’m like, ‘Come on, there is a lot of story that we can do here,’” she recalled. "But they didn’t want to touch it, for whatever reason. Now my interest is much more in bringing that story in.”
“I feel like, when I look back, because it’s been six years now since I left Grey’s, I feel like one of my biggest successes, for me, was I don’t feel I gave up,” Oh continued. “We did 22 episodes, but in the early years, it was 24. It was crazy. Then you have to kind of pick your moments of where you can lay off the gas pedal, because it is such a slog. There would be scenes that I would just go, I don’t know, 10 rounds on, and I know I was difficult. And I really respect all the writers there who rode it out with me.”
“What does that mean, you would go 10 rounds?” Washington asked.
“I would go 10 rounds in saying, ‘It’s not right.’ You’ve got to do different levels with the writer, and then you bump it up and you eventually get to [Shonda]," Oh explained. "You’ve got to bother her. When it felt like such an impasse, we would both be digging in our heels hugely . But just the friction itself, a lot of times a third thing would come out, and it would not be in my sight of consciousness at all; it would take that pushing against someone equally as strong. I started to learn how to trust that.”
“I’ve got to tell you, I remember exactly where I was when I read that damn pilot,” Oh told Washington. “I was on Grey’s. We were on stage five. Someone snuck it to me, I don’t know who it was, but I got my hands on that pilot and I read it and I was just like, ‘How could I play Olivia Pope?’”
Obviously, Rhimes turned her down when she asked what she had to do to play the iconic fixer. “I remember going to Shonda, and it’s like, ‘How could I do this? What is this script? Could I do this too?" Oh said. “She goes, ‘No, you’ve got to play Cristina Yang!”
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Originally Appeared on Glamour