Ironically it was her family's initial antipathy towards her acting dream that spurred Canadian actress Sandra Oh on to Hollywood success. "I'm extremely grateful for every barrier my parents put in front of me," the Golden Globe winner once explained. "They tried to discourage me so thoroughly that the need to succeed defeated the need for my parents' approval. It didn't matter what any producer said, I'd already stood up to the most important people in the world."
Born in Nepean, Ontario on July 20, 1971, to Korean immigrants - entrepreneur father, John, and biochemist mum, Young-Nan Oh - Sandra entered the world of performing arts when she started ballet classes at age four. By the time she was ten, the bilingual scene stealer was taking drama courses and participating in school productions. "I was a typical drama freak who needed to express herself," Sandra remembers. "My favourite outfit was orange palazzo pants that I'd wear with this beat-up tuxedo jacket. And I'd have my hair up with a giant bow."
At 16, her acting career took a professional turn when she landed some TV commercials. But her breakthrough role came when she was cast in a 1989 short film entitled The Journey Home
Despite her parents' reluctance she was determined to make her dreams a reality, and in 1991 moved to Montreal to study at the prestigious National Theatre School of Canada. "There was no changing her mind," admitted mum Young-Nan, who was concerned her daughter's career choice would lead to a difficult life with a slim chance of success. Sandra's determination, however, led to them eventually coming round and supporting her aspirations.
In 1993, not long after Sandra graduated, her older sister Grace persuaded her to try out for a TV production about the struggles of young poet Evelyn Lau. The Korean beauty beat 1,000 other hopefuls to the lead in the true story about a girl who ran away from home and got into drugs and prostitution before writing a best-selling novel at 18. Her performance earned her a best actress Gemini nod and the Cannes FIPA d'Or best actress award.
Just a year later, the starlet won her first Genie the prestigious Canadian film award - for her stellar portrayal of a young Chinese-Canadian woman caught between being a dutiful daughter and the desire to follow her dreams in Mina Shum's bittersweet movie Double Happiness
Despite her success in Canadian film and TV, in 1996 the ambitious star decided LA was the only place to pursue bigger projects. "I wish I could stay in Canada... there's just not enough for me to do," said the young talent. "I'm not going to sit there, waiting around, being rejected and frustrated that there are no stories for me to tell."
It proved to be the right move for Sandra, who immediately landed a seven-season stint in comedy series Arli$$
. From there she went on to star in Six Feet Under
and had a recurring role as a detective in TV drama Judging Amy
. In 1997, while still working on Arli$$
, she made the leap to the silver screen, appearing alongside Rowan Atkinson
and Burt Reynolds in Bean
. She also had a small part in Waking The Dead
with Jennifer Connelly
and Ed Harris
, before starring with Darryl Hannah in 2000's Dancing At The Blue Iguana
The following year, the now-established actress met director-writer Alexander Payne at a social event. "From having seen his films Citizen Ruth
, I knew he was cool," she recalled. "He was also gorgeous and personable and I really enjoyed being in his company."
The couple tied the knot two years later, on January 1, 2003, but split in 2005. It was while she was still married that the actress made two of her most memorable feature films. She starred alongside Diane Lane
in the 2003 romantic comedy Under The Tuscan Sun
and the following year appeared in Sideways
, for which Alexander, in the role of director, won a best screenplay Oscar.
Sandra's international profile was raised further when, in March 2005, she landed the role of the ambitious surgical intern Dr Cristina Yang in TV medical drama Grey's Anatomy
. The part earned her a best supporting actress Golden Globe in 2006; a glittering acknowledgment of success which she could share with her mother and father. "This is going in my parents' home," she said of the statue. "My parents are extremely pleased. They now know what the Golden Globes are