Closing the chapter. Since shocking fans with her exit in 2014, Sandra Oh has toyed with the idea of making a triumphant return to Grey’s Anatomy — but she’s happily moved out of her comfort zone.
Oh’s portrayal of Dr. Cristina Yang on the ABC medical drama instantly gained her critical acclaim, winning the 2005 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Series and the 2006 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series. She remained in the role for 10 seasons, confirming her departure in August 2013.
“Creatively, I really feel like I gave it my all, and I feel ready to let her go,” she told The Hollywood Reporter at the time. “It’s such an interesting thing to play a character for so long and to actually get the sense that she wants to be let go as well. [Cristina] wants to be let go, and I am ready to let her go.”
Cristina was written out after the show’s 10th season, leaving Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and more beloved characters behind for a new job in Switzerland. After learning that Oh would be saying goodbye, creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes wanted to give her character the perfect ending.
“One of the best days of my life as a writer happened the day Sandra Oh walked in my door to audition and forever changed the course of Grey’s Anatomy with her brilliant, nuanced portrayal of Cristina Yang,” Rhimes told THR in August 2013. “Over the past 10 seasons, I have been made better by Sandra’s trust, faith and friendship, and I can’t quantify how grateful I am for her collaboration on a character we both love so deeply. … When Sandra walks out of my door, Grey’s Anatomy will once again be forever changed.”
As a whole, Grey’s Anatomy is far from over. The series was renewed for an 18th season in May 2021 after several fan-favorite alums — including Patrick Dempsey and Chyler Leigh — made cameos during season 17. Though she’s grateful for all the memories she made with her former costars over the years, Oh doesn’t see herself putting on her doctor’s coat again.
“It’s very rare, I would say, to be able to see in such a way the impact of a character,” she told The Los Angeles Times’ “Asian Enough” podcast in May 2021. “In some ways, you do your work as a bubble and you let it go. I left that show, my God, seven years ago, almost. So in my mind, it’s gone. But for a lot of people, it’s still very much alive. And while I understand and I love it, I have moved on.”
Following her nine-year run on Grey’s Anatomy, the actress dabbled in live theater and nabbed a supporting role in 2014’s Tammy. She returned to television for season 3 of American Crime in 2017 and has starred on Killing Eve since its 2018 premiere. The role earned her the 2018 SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series and the 2019 Golden Globe for Best Actress – Television Series Drama.
“I think it’s very different than Cristina. There’s certain [similar] aspects, for sure, like both of those characters are determined,” she told Entertainment Weekly in March 2018 of her work on the two series. “But what they want and the circumstances, and the style and the genre, it’s like apples and oranges.”
Scroll down to see more of what Oh has said about life after Grey’s Anatomy — and about possibly returning to the show:
Never Say Never
Oh “was completely in tears” while filming her final episode, she told The Hollywood Reporter in May 2014, but there wasn’t anything she would have “done differently.” At the time, she admitted that she and Rhimes had spoken about Cristina making a comeback for the eventual series finale, adding, “I told her, ‘If you guys want to finish it out however you want to finish it out, I’d be more than happy to come back. And if it doesn’t fit in that way, I totally understand. I just want you to know that I’m available.’ Who knows!”
Change of Plans
Having come to terms with her exit in February 2017, Oh told Access Hollywood, “I just don’t know [about returning to Grey’s]. It would have to feel right.”
“I feel very much in a completely different and separate world with Killing Eve. I was actually really happy for the departure,” Oh said during a January 2018 panel of the differences between her ABC character and her work on the BBC series. “It’s so different that I don’t necessarily have those similar character comparisons at all. But I’m so happy and proud to be playing Eve, because it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of fun.”
A New ‘Relationship’
While speaking with Entertainment Weekly in March 2018, the Canada native said her experiences on Grey’s and on Killing Eve were “like apples and oranges” — in a good way. “It’s so funny. Every year, it’s like I hear that I’m coming back to the show. Like for real,” she joked. “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. … I am moving on and very happy and excited to be in another relationship.”
In April 2018, Oh hinted that her time on the medical drama was more “complicated” than some might expect, and confessed that she’d been holding her breath for a chance like Killing Eve. “The four years of actively waiting by doing the things that I love … it was my choice to do three plays. It was my choice to do American Crime, you know?” she told Vanity Fair. “Actually being able to exercise your own choice can bring about greater opportunity. I think it’s just as important what you say no to as what you say yes to.”
‘Lightning in a Bottle’
“I’m just going to say no,” Oh told Variety in April 2018 when asked about a potential return to Seattle Grace. “I’m just going to put that down there because it’s been four years since then, and I’ve really got to try and create much more of that separation. Even though I could just talk on and on and on about that show and what I feel like I learned from it and continue learning from it. It was so special, lightning in a bottle that’s lasted for over a decade.”
‘Fighting’ for Christina
Though she may not reprise the character any time soon, Oh learned a lot of valuable lessons from Cristina Yang. “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,” she said during a roundtable with Kerry Washington in June 2020. “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. … I feel like, when I look back, because it’s been six years now since I left Grey’s, I feel like one of my biggest successes, for me, was I don’t feel I gave up. … I started to learn how to trust that [instinct].”
“In my mind, [the show’s] gone. But for a lot of people, it’s still very much alive. And while I understand and I love it, I have moved on,” the Emmy nominee said on the Los Angeles Times’ “Asian Enough” podcast in May 2021. “So please come with me to Killing Eve and on to [Netflix’s] The Chair and on to the other projects. Come see the characters that I’m playing that are much more deeply integrated in … the Asian-American experience.”
Oh reflected on the surprising similarities to her character in Netflix’s The Chair and her beloved Grey’s persona. “Then & Now. The first scene I shot for #netflixthechair was as Ji Yoon Kim, the newly minted Chair of the English Dept, entering her office and falling off her chair. And I immediately remembered one of the last moments as Cristina Yang @greysabc as the newly minted director of cardio thoracic surgery, exiting her office. And their name plates on the doors. 😄,” she wrote via Instagram in August 2021.
The actress couldn’t wait for fans to see her tackle the new story. “These are the amazing moments you remember in your body 7 yrs later…’Wait this feels familiar but different.’ Like bookends,” she added. “I love Cristina. I miss Cristina. And I really love Ji Yoon. I hope you do too.”