After years of training as a ballerina, Oh leaves home to study at Montreal's National Theatre School of Canada. "I was called 'The Quota Child,'" she tells the Los Angeles Times of being only one of a few Asian actors at the program. "I just didn't let it get to me...I decided very early that I was going to be an actor. Period. The best actor possible." That year, she beats more than 1,000 hopefuls to star in the CBC TV drama The Diary of Evelyn Lau, which earns her the Best Actress Award at Cannes' television festival.
Oh stars in Double Happiness, Mina Shum's portrait of a young Chinese-Canadian woman who struggles to live a modern life without upsetting her traditional immigrant parents. Variety singles out Oh in its review: "The film's highlight is Oh's mesmerizing performance. She's a stunning discovery." The 23-year-old wins a Genie (the Canadian equivalent of an Academy Award) for Best Actress and moves to L.A.
After years performing onstage (from David Mamet's Oleanna to Bill Harrar's Inquest), Oh is cast as a series regular on the HBO comedy Arli$$. She plays Rita, a tough, ambitious executive assistant to sports agent Arliss Michaels (costar Robert Wuhl). "I wanted somebody who was sassy and funny and who could turn on a dime," Wuhl tells the AP. For her performance, she wins a CableACE Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series in 1997.
After returning to the stage in the Off-Broadway play Stop Kiss, Oh stars in Don McKellar's end of the world feature Last Night about a woman who enters into a suicide pact with a stranger on their last night on Earth. "I already had her in the back of my mind when I was writing the script," McKellar tells the Orange County Register. "I have been impressed with Sandra for a long time...She can show emotion without seeming vulnerable, and that is an interesting combination you don't find in many actresses. There really was no other person for this role." Oh earns her second Best Actress Genie for Last Night.
Oh begins dating About Schmidt writer/director Alexander Payne. Oh tells the New York Times that it took eight months of chasing for Payne to get a date with her because she was "B-U-S-Y, in all capitals! I want it in the [expletive] record that Alexander Payne chased Sandra Oh for eight months and she would not go out with him because she was 'busy.'" They get married in January 2003.
Oh costars in the romantic feature Under the Tuscan Sun as Diane Lane's best friend and Kate Walsh's pregnant lover. "I didn't even consider another actress," writer/director Audrey Wells tells the L.A. Times. "She has a very authentic sense of humor and a way of handling comedy that's all hers. She has gravity and levity in equal proportions, and she can turn on a dime, going from laughter to tears in a moment."
Oh plays a sexy, wine-loving biker chick/single mom opposite Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church in her husband's Oscar-winning comedy Sideways. "[Alexander Payne] just thought the part of Stephanie was right for me," Oh tells the New York Times, "and it's not necessarily the kind of part people would think of me for." After the film is widely praised by critics, Oh and Payne separate and eventually divorce in 2006.
Oh plays surgical intern Cristina Yang on ABC's new medical drama Grey's Anatomy with Patrick Dempsey, Ellen Pompeo and Katherine Heigl (left). "I get to play a woman who is extremely ambitious and unapologetic and driven, and sometimes not very sympathetic," Oh tells the AP. "So you weigh the opportunity to actually do good work." She wins a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in 2006, a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor, and consecutive Emmy nods.
Oh begins dating Andrew Featherston, a percussionist in the indie band The Hereafter. Just as she keeps mum on her real-life love, she also refuses to comment on the looming controversy over her onscreen love, Grey's cast mate Isaiah Washington, who called costar T.R. Knight a "faggot." Despite the on-set tension, the cast wins a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series before Washington leaves Grey's.
Oh lands her first major magazine cover for Marie Claire, but still keeps her lips sealed on her personal life. "I don't listen to this stuff. I don't see it," she tells the magazine, referring to tabloid gossip. "I tell my people I don't want to know about it, because while rationally you might know it's ridiculous, it can hurt your feelings. It can knock me off from being my authentic self."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Everett Collection; Kobal Collection/Wireimage; Everett Collection; Steve Granitz/WireImage; Everett Collection; FOX Searchlight Pictures; ABC; Ramey