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Oh, farewell: Sandra Oh on leaving Grey's Anatomy

It’s the end of an era, writes Lesley Goldberg

For Grey’s Anatomy, the departure of Sandra Oh, one of its few remaining original stars – and an Emmy nominee, Golden Globe and SAG Award winner as well as a fan favourite – leaves the series with a noticeable void heading into its 11th season. Yesterday's season 10 finale was Christina Yang's swansong. 

What was your last day on set like?
I will say, my last day, people asked if I was going to be sad. I didn’t know. But by the end of the day – which ended up being late since we shot late – Kevin threw me this little party. There was lots of celebration because the party was for me, (co-showrunners) Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, Gaius Charles (Shane) and Tessa Ferrer (Leah) who had left earlier that week. The party was joyous for me – the whole day was. I was so excited to come to work. I came in early, which I never do, and hung out.
Take us back to your final table read. What was that like for you?
I realised during this last month that the table read is definitely a ritual. I sit in the exact same spot every time because I’m a creature of habit. Every single table read for 10 years – that’s 200-odd episodes. It was this ritual that we have every week, to come together to read these words. It was really rich. What got me was, we were starting and as we’re all sitting down, our casting director Linda Lowy came up to me and hugged me. Then we read the script, and it was great, and I was filled with all these feelings.
How much of a say did you have about how Cristina’s journey should end? What were your conversations like with Shonda about bringing Isaiah Washington (Burke) back?
I told her I was going to go at the end of season nine and we didn’t really talk about the exit, until the back-half of season 10. She had an idea, but I don’t think that idea really happened. I don’t remember at what point she said, “How would you feel if we brought Burke back?” because she and the writers were trying to come up with an exit, which is tricky. There were a lot of things to consider on Shonda’s part, but for me, I thought it was a great idea.
Was your final scene hard as you expected?
My very final moment of shooting was with Kevin (McKidd), and it was the final moment when Cristina says goodbye to Owen. It was a beautiful image of Cristina in the gallery, basically behind glass and tapping on the OR theatre below. Symbolically, with that distance, it cinematically tells the story of where they are and also puts a distance that they don’t want between them. It felt right because it was tough shooting that. Both Kevin and I, when we were shooting each other’s close-ups, the other person was in the complete dark. Usually Kevin and I are about a foot away from each other, so for there to be so much space between the glass was really rich. It’s not happiness; it’s not sadness. It was very full and rich – even in the way we wanted to be closer to each other, which is exactly like how Cristina and Owen are: They just want to be closer to each other. It’s just not the time now.
Shonda has said before that surgery is the love of Cristina’s life. Looking at her complete journey, do you agree?
Oh yeah. You can say love of her life, you can say purpose, meaning. Those all make sense to me.
Looking back over 10 seasons as Cristina, what’s your takeaway from her journey?
I think back to Scene 44 – the last scene that I shot with Ellen (Pompeo) – and this one line that had tremendous specific meaning to me. It’s Ellen’s line where she says, “I am not finished”. In the context of the scene, it means something else because Cristina is trying to leave and can’t because she doesn’t feel finished. What was challenging for me was, I was finishing. I spent the past year finishing to get the character to this moment. But for me, it was the specific interpretation I had of Cristina saying, “I am not finished”. That speech fills me now. I cannot tell you how much that line means to me now. 
What was the last thing you did before you left the set? Did you take anything?
The last thing that I did was wheel my chair out. In one of the early seasons I bought myself a nice chair. I’m sitting on my chair in the backyard right now. There are certain things that really absorb the time, place and the energy and all of the stuff that has happened, and my chair certainly did. – The Hollywood Reporter

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