Sandra Oh on Finding Hope and 'Commonality' in Fraught Times: 'We Need to Move Through Fear'

The award-winning actress — who is celebrated this week on the cover as one of the People of the Year — opens up about fighting for change with her barrier-breaking career

Sandra Oh is glowing, just two days after wrapping the fourth and final season of her Emmy-winning thriller series, Killing Eve.

"You're catching me at such a special moment. I'm still in this magical place of finishing a show, and I'm just so happy," Oh, 50, told PEOPLE over Zoom in early November after wrapping her cover shoot.

It's also a reflective time for the actress, who received critical acclaim for her work earlier this year on Netflix's comedy-drama The Chair.

Aside from playing Professor Ji-Yoon Kim — the first woman of color to lead a struggling English department at a prestigious university — Oh also executive produced the show alongside showrunner Amanda Peet.

Zoe McConnell

"You see Professor Kim enter into the upper echelons of power and what that does to her and how difficult it is," says Oh, adding that Peet was "so open to collaborating" during production. "Growing through Killing Eve and then taking on the E.P. responsibilities, I've learned a lot."

Since the start of her career in Hollywood in the mid-'90s, Oh has been fighting for more representation onscreen — and Ji-Yoon has been one of the most fulfilling roles she's taken on.

"Progress is not just sticking a bunch of people of color [into a show] and having them speak like everyone else," she says. "The thing that I'm most proud about with The Chair is how it's translated to people of color who are living and working in mostly white spaces. What I hope is that anyone who's watching it can say, 'That could easily be me.' "

Watch the full episode of People of the Year: Sandra Oh on or on the PeopleTV app.

People of the Year Sandra Oh

While Oh was filming the show in Pittsburgh this past spring, a gunman targeted Asian-run spas in Atlanta, killing eight people.

Days later, Oh attended a Stop Asian Hate rally and her passionate, impromptu speech went viral.

"It was really just, 'I want to be with people,' and I'm not just talking Asian people," she recalls. "There was a lot of pain and outrage, and when that happens, you need to gather together. That's the only way to get through. If you're standing side by side with someone who's not your gender or not your race, you can go, 'Okay, we have commonality.' We need to move through fear."

RELATED VIDEO: Sandra Oh Opens Up About Having 'Hard-Won Confidence' Even in Times of Doubt

Looking back on her successes, Oh says her biggest hope is that she helps young people who may be struggling feel less alone.

"It means so much to me to be on this cover. When I was growing up, I never saw my face on the cover," she says. "To be asked to be on the cover is a great privilege, because it normalizes things for my nephews and nieces. Hopefully, they're not missing something that I feel like I was always missing."

Sandra Oh, Dolly Parton, Simone Biles and America's Teachers are PEOPLE's People of the Year! Look for all four covers on newsstands this week and read their revealing interviews in the new issue.

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