Emmys 2018: Sandra Oh is the first Asian woman nominated in a lead actress category

Sandra Oh just made Emmy history.

The 46-year-old actress landed her first lead actress Emmy nomination of her career for her role as MI-5 officer Eve Polastri in BBC America's critically-acclaimed series, Killing Eve. In doing so, Oh -- who is Korean-Canadian -- makes history as the first woman of Asian descent to be recognized in a lead actress category, in either comedy or drama, at the Emmys.

Though this is the first time Oh has been lauded for a lead role by the Emmys, she isn't a stranger to the Television Academy. She received five straight Emmy nominations in the supporting drama actress category from 2005 to 2009 for her performance as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy, but came up empty each time. Could Killing Eve, which marks Oh's first true foray as a lead on a major TV show, be the one to break the Emmy glass ceiling?

There have been some strides in recent years recognizing actors of Asian descent for their work in front of the camera -- though Asian performers still remain one of the most underrepresented in Hollywood.

In 2010, The Good Wife's Archie Panjabi -- who is British-Indian -- became the first actor of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy, for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. In 2017, Riz Ahmed -- who is British-Pakistani -- was the second actor of Asian descent to win for his riveting performance in The Night Of in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie category. Ahmed became the first Asian actor, male or female, to win an Emmy for a lead role.

(It should be noted that Shohreh Agadashloo, who is Iranian-born, won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for House of Saddam in 2009, though identifies herself as Middle Eastern.)

In the 10-episode drama, Oh plays Eve, a bored, desk-bound MI-5 officer who becomes entrenched in the high-stakes world of a brilliant psychopathic assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer) -- the latest killer she's been ordered to bring down. As their cat-and-mouse game intensifies, Eve's obsession with Villanelle reaches dangerous proportions. It's a character that holds special meaning for Oh, who spent most of her film and television career in largely supporting parts.

As one of just a handful of visible Asian actors working in film and television, Oh was candid when she spoke with ET in January about the importance of making sure she played her part in showing that people who looked like her are capable of subverting stereotypes.

"I feel acutely aware of how important it is and I absolutely want to be a part of it in the best way possible," Oh said while promoting Killing Eve. "The best way possible that I know how is to find the most interesting material and to do my best work for it. It’s too important to not care about it or to not try and be out of the box in some sort of way."

"The central voice of the show is a woman. The lead characters are women," she continued. "The people producing are women. There is still a lot more work to do in diversity in front and behind the camera, but to be actively involved in creating something... Where can I go and see myself in some way?”

Oh said she hopes the Asian community continues to be proactive about getting their voices and stories out into the world (a la the upcoming big-screen Crazy Rich Asians adaptation and TV's Fresh Off the Boat). As she tells it, she feels more comfortable navigating this through creative avenues with color-blind roles like Killing Eve rather than politically.

“Definitely understanding deeply that it’s not enough and to encourage our own community to find its own voice in its own way, that’s one thing that I feel we have not found our own footing yet because it has to be from us, uniquely in us, and there’s a lot to explore in that because Asians are very, very diverse," Oh said. "Having been actively working in this space, where there has not been much representation at all and being [one] of the only visible faces, I feel like this is the only way that it works for me, I only look at it creatively. Any other way just isn’t right for me."

The 70th Emmy Awards, co-hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost and Michael Che, will air live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 17, starting at 5 p.m. PT on NBC.

Check out the full list of nominees and follow ET’s ongoing Emmy coverage here.


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