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Sandra Oh is trading scrubs for spies.
The Grey’s Anatomy alum returns to TV in her first series regular role since exiting Shondaland on the new BBC America spy thriller Killing Eve. Oh plays the titular whip-smart MI5 analyst who becomes infatuated with a ruthless and slightly unhinged female assassin named Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Suffice to say, Eve’s no Cristina Yang — and that’s exactly what Oh likes about her. Below, the actress previews her new series and also talks about a potential return to Grey Sloan Memorial.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why Killing Eve? What was it about this project in particular that really attracted you to come back to TV full time?
SANDRA OH: Initially, I’d say the very first thing was [showrunner] Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s voice — I was familiar with Fleabag. I started reading the script, and it was like, “Who is that?” And also, I will say, that they thought of me. I was very, very honored and felt very considered in it. The whole process of it, I feel, has been beautifully respectful and creative. So her voice, and then the opportunity to play someone that is going into darkness that I thought was totally exciting.
Tell us about Eve as a character.
So in a very general way we find Eve, she is married, she’s an American living in London, she works for MI5, she works for their security department, and she’s fine. She’s slightly bored and okay in her work life and her relationship. You really get the feeling that she wants more. And the energy and character of Villanelle is what starts disrupting her life, and she follows that disruption.
These two characters are really fascinated by each other. Can you talk about their dynamic, but also your dynamic with Jodie?
The fascination into obsession and infatuation just continues to grow. By episode 4, you can really see them just barreling towards each other. I love that. Also what I love about it is neither of them exactly know why. The other is a mystery and holds something for the other. As much as Eve needs Villanelle or is fascinated by Villanelle, Villanelle is fascinated by Eve. The obsession — I can’t talk about it too much, because I really, really want to talk about it. It hits different psychological levels. They’re unconsciously going towards each other. They’re unconsciously holding something for each other. It was so fun to play that.
Going to your question about Jodie and I, there’s big chunks of time where we’re not actually in the same scenes, but we’re thinking of the other character all the time. A lot of what we’re doing is really, in some ways, being in some sort of relationship with this other character. So when the cat meets the mouse, somewhere along the line in eight episodes, and I’m not saying who’s the cat and who’s the mouse, it was so exciting to play. I adore Jodie, and she’s so fantastic physically and in what she has to do with her languages, how she’s able to ride the line of dead eye and then absurdity. It’s just great to watch and to be in a room with, to be acting with. It’s been terrific.
Do you think the infatuation stems from a certain level of mutual admiration or respect?
Definitely that’s a part of it. You can even see, quite honestly, Eve’s admiration for Villanelle — she doesn’t know it’s Villanelle — you can see her admiration for this female assassin early on, because she can tell that the skill level, and the fact that she’s not being found, is something that she considers admirable. But again, it grows because I think Villanelle’s freedom, Villanelle’s devil may care, Villanelle’s naughtiness, the darkness, are the elements that Eve either is not willing to truly accept about herself or also needs. Also, Villanelle’s life is filled with beauty, with fashion, and she’s confidently a beautiful woman. But I will say Eve does not hold that. You can see it, she’s kind of dumpy. She’s not holding that, but the way that Villanelle sees Eve is something that Eve eventually needs to accept in herself.
What is it like for you to get to do action in this?
It’s totally exciting to be doing it as a woman in her 40s. I’m not lying like I have some superpowers; I’m a fit lady, but Eve carries a handbag. She doesn’t immediately turn into someone who knows martial arts and is Jason Bourne. That’s what I freaking love about it. So any action or peril, you’ll see her do it as a normal person would — so there’s a lot of screaming and running. [Laughs] I like that part because it’s very, very real and I think definitely grounded in the character. But you also see Eve definitely rise to the occasion. By the end of the season, you see that she is fully integrating things that may not be so safe.
Can you talk about the differences between Eve and Cristina Yang?
Mostly it’s about consciousness, unconsciousness. It’s great to play a character who’s completely unconscious, because you can get really, really messy. Eve can be selfish and can be hurtful and doesn’t know why, doesn’t know who she really is, and is struggling to find it. She needs to find herself through her relationship with Villanelle. I think that’s really what is driving her. In that way, I think it’s very different than Cristina. There’s certain [similar] aspects, for sure, like both of those characters are determined. But what they want and the circumstances, and the style and the genre, it’s like apples and oranges. One is a medical drama, for all intents and purposes, with a soap opera throughline, and it’s also long-running. That’s a completely different beast to a first-season thriller, eight-part episode of a drama with a fairly absurd and witty undertone.
Does it feel a bit like wish fulfillment getting to do a spy-vs.-spy situation?
People would always say, “Oh my God, are you playing a spy? Are you playing a spy?” I would never really consider — it’s only when being asked these questions — that way. I would say, “Oh, no, I’m just playing a lady who’s following her nose, who’s really a hunter.” She very much really is. I really do think that Eve is innately, instinctively a hunter — a hunter for herself and a hunter for Villanelle. But when now out in the world and you are presenting it, it is like, “Yeah, it’s kind of great. We went to Berlin. I’m hunting her. We went to Bucharest. I’m hunting her. I’m in London. I’m hunting her.”
Would you ever consider returning to Grey’s Anatomy?
It’s so funny. Every year, it’s like I hear that I’m coming back to the show. Like for real. But what I realize is, in a way that I’m really pleased and grateful for, is that the show is continuing on with its life, and that the show and the people who are still attached to the show are still attached to Cristina. It means a lot to me. Then also, clearly for me as an artist, I am moving on and very happy and excited to be in another relationship. You know what I mean? It’s like I’ve moved on in my relationship and am so committed to this character and this show. Yeah, that’s where I feel like my focus and my passion is.
But would you want to go back to wrap up Cristina’s storyline?
I will say it’s hard to beat that ending, because what I also realize is that it keeps it open in so many ways where you can continue on having that relationship with Cristina. I’m not sure. I guess I can’t really answer it either way where I’m sitting right now, because I’m so committed to Eve. The idea of stepping back into the Cristina shoes, it doesn’t feel right to me right now. But honestly, who knows how long Grey’s is gonna go?
Killing Eve debuts Sunday, April 8 at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.