Sandra Oh Wanted to Play Another Iconic Shonda Rhimes Character

Oh had a chat with fellow Shondaland alum Kerry Washington.

Not content to only play Grey's Anatomy's Cristina Yang, Sandra Oh said that as soon as she saw the script for Scandal's pilot episode, she wanted to play Olivia Pope. Oh explained exactly why she wanted to shift from one blockbuster Shonda Rhimes series to another during an appearance on Variety Studio: Actors on Actors, a video series from the magazine. Oh sat down for a chat with Olivia Pope herself, Kerry Washington, saying that she read the script in secret and tried to convince Rhimes to let her play both characters.

"I've got to tell you, I remember exactly where I was when I read that damn pilot," Oh told Washington. "I was on Grey's. 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?'"

Sandra Oh
David Crotty / Contributor

Oh explained that even though she was convinced that she could do it all, Rhimes wanted her to focus. So, the role went to Washington, who played Pope for the show's seven-season run.

"I remember going to Shonda, and it's like, 'How could I do this? What is this script? Could I do this too?'" Sandra added. "She goes, 'No, you've got to play Cristina Yang!' I'm so glad it was you."

Washington said that she felt the magic, too, since she'd never seen a character like Pope before. She said that there were so many layers, from her being a Black woman and being an anti-hero, that the role was a "miracle."

"It felt like I was holding a miracle in my hands, to be reading that script," she said. "When I read the script for Scandal that had a Black woman at the center of a story and she was a complicated anti-hero — in so many ways aspirational and in other ways very flawed — it just felt like a miracle."

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