Sandra Oh made history on Thursday, becoming the first Asian actor ever to receive an Emmy nomination in the best actress category.
The 46-year-old star, who leads BBC America’s Killing Eve, had previously been nominated for five supporting actress Emmys for her breakout role as Dr. Cristina Yang in ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, which she starred on from 2005-14.
She previously opened up about how she was shocked to have gotten the titular role in Killing Eve, explaining that she was used to being offered only supporting characters.
“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?’ ” Oh recalled to Vulture in April. “And Nancy goes ‘Sweetheart, it’s Eve, it’s Eve.’ “
Her surprise was the result of a bigger problem: racism she claimed to have experienced for so long in Hollywood that left her “brainwashed.”
“In that moment, I did not assume the offer was for Eve,” she said. “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?”
“Racism exists. Let’s start there. I felt it, and I have felt it deeply. And I’m extremely fortunate. So I’m not going to not say that it’s not there, because it is,” she added. “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.”
Although she has experienced the effects of racism throughout her acting journey, Oh said she believes in the power of positive perspective for minority performers.
“It’s changing the mindset that being an actor of color, person of color, that you’re at a disadvantage in the creative life. That you don’t have opportunity. It’s all how you see the opportunity. And the clearer and deeper you get into what you really want, you just become a better artist. If that’s what you really want — becoming a better artist — does that include access? Does that include having 5 billion Instagram followers? I don’t know. That’s for you to decide,” she told Vulture.
She continued: “But if what you want is to connect, if what you want is to be a great artist, I think you can find your way. Even within this giant paradigm that a lot of times doesn’t include people who look like us.”
Oh will face off against Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), Claire Foy (The Crown), Keri Russell (The Americans), Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) come Emmy night.
The 70th annual Emmys will air live from Hollywood on Sept. 17 (at 8 p.m. ET) on NBC.