You may have seen her steal the screen as the overly enthusiastic and cut-throat sidekick in Grey’s Anatomy, but after decades of playing a supporting role, Canadian actress Sandra Oh has claimed a role as a protagonist on TV.

When she was just 21, the Emmy nominee was studying at the National Theatre School of Canada, and became fixated on an ad for a starring role in The Diary of Evelyn Lau, a biographical series on the Canadian writer’s teenage years as a runaway. She made the trip from Montreal to Toronto for the audition, squeezed the director’s hand as she laid on the floor, and won the part.

The year Evelyn Lau was released (1994), Oh also landed the lead in Canadian director Mina Shum’s film, Double Happiness. With two major leads under her belt, the actress collected a Gemini Award nomination for Best Lead Actress and won the Genie Award for the same category.

25 years after that monumental debut, Oh, now 47, is playing the hero in BBC America’s Killing Eve, her first lead role on a TV show. Now currently filming its second season, Killing Eve was an instant hit. Oh became the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for an Emmy in the lead drama category for her role. This historical appointment – and possible accolade – came a few weeks prior to the release of the summer’s hottest blockbuster, Crazy Rich Asians. While Oh is not in this movie, her success on the silver screen reflects the why the movie killed at the box-office: there is power in diversity.

Oh told Vulture that when she first arrived in LA, her Asian identity was an issue for agents. One, in particular, told her she’d never be a leading lady. “It was the way that she said, ‘Listen: I’m not going to lie to you. A lot of people are going to lie to you. But I’ve got nothing for you here. I have Suzy Kim’ — I’m just making up names — ‘she has an audition in like six months. There’s nothing for a year,’” Oh recalls. “‘My best advice for you is to go back home and get famous.’”

Home for Oh was a suburb of Ottawa, where she was in one of the handful Korean families in the neighbourhood. Instead of letting this one opinion ruin her stride, she continued auditioning and built a career in Hollywood out of supporting parts. She’s one of the most prominent Asian actors in Hollywood, consistently working year after year, claiming your attention whenever she walked on-screen. How could you forget her as the vice-principal fangirling over Julie Andrews’ royal character in The Princess Diaries?

Now, Hollywood has finally made room for Oh to cement herself as a lead. The Phoebe Waller-Bridge creation showcases Oh’s formidable performance range, placing Oh as an MI5 agent who is overlooked at work and is hungry for a way to prove herself. The psychosexual thriller follows the agent as she obsessively tries to catch a female assassin, in part to solve the high-profile crimes, and in part because she knows they’re kindred spirits.

Based off of her performance in season one, we can only hope that this is the beginning of a long string of starring roles for this Canadian. It’s been a long time coming and there is no one more deserving.

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Jane Bradshaw

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