Sandra Oh Reveals Why Shonda Rhimes Wouldn't Let Her Play Olivia Pope on 'Scandal'
By Paige Gawley
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for AMC
Sandra Ohreally wanted to play Olivia Pope. In the latest edition of Variety's "Actors on Actors" series, the 48-year-old actress recalls reading the pilot for Scandaland immediately wanting to play the leading lady.
"I remember exactly where I was when I read that damn pilot," Oh tells Kerry Washington, who went on to play Olivia Pope. "I was on Grey’s [Anatomy]. We were on stage five. Someone snuck it to me, I don’t know who it was, but I got my hands on that pilot and I read it and I was just like, 'How could I play Olivia Pope?'"
Oh wanted to play the anti-hero fixer so badly that she asked Shonda Rhimes if she could take on the role. Rhimes, the creator of both Grey's Anatomyand Scandal, rejected Oh's request in favor of having her continue her Grey's role of Cristina Yang.
"I remember going to Shonda, and it’s like, 'How could I do this? What is this script? Could I do this too?'" Oh recalls. "She goes, 'No, you’ve got to play Cristina Yang!'"
"It’s so wonderful and rare when you get in your hands something that you know is electric, that you can feel," she continues, adding that she's "so glad" Washington ended up booking the project.
As for Washington's experience on Scandal, she admits, "I don’t feel like there’s anything that I haven’t been asked to make real."
"It’s just a gymnasium of character, where you’re just required to, week after week, be in these heightened experiences of the most important moments of a person’s life, so that requires a level of athleticism almost," Washington explains. "I felt like I, too, was very protective of Olivia Pope -- and devoted. Maybe that’s the right word: I was so devoted to her."
Though Oh didn't end up landing the role of Olivia Pope, she's thankful for her time starring on Grey's Anatomy.
"What I was able to get from Grey’s is to have the responsibility and the relationship with the writer to be able to direct where she’s going," Oh says. "If something kind of came up which was like, 'That is completely wrong,' I would go toe-to-toe with Shonda and a lot of the writers, which has been challenging."
"But I think ultimately, for the entire product and our relationship, if you’re fighting for the show, if you’re fighting for your character, people can tell that," she adds.