Thursday, September 25, 2003

Oh forecasts surprises 'Under the Tuscan Sun'

By Dinah Eng
Gannett News Service

You've seen her as the quick-witted, sassy assistant on the HBO comedy series Arliss, the awe-struck vice principal in The Princess Diaries, and perhaps on stage in The Vagina Monologues in New York.

This weekend, Sandra Oh will be making audiences laugh and sigh in Under the Tuscan Sun, a film loosely based on the book by Frances Mayes. In the movie, opening Friday, Oh plays Patti, best friend of Frances (Diane Lane), a woman whose divorce forces her to go on a journey of self-discovery.

The journey, of course, is set in romantic Tuscany, a country that Oh found very much to her liking.

"We spent three months filming there," recalls Oh. "The food was fabulous, and we had a wonderful time.

Italians are such an expressive and welcoming people that you never felt shy in trying to speak Italian with them."

The actress discovered acting while growing up in Ottawa as the middle child in a Korean family.

"I had pigeon-toe feet, so my mom put me in ballet, but I realized around age 10 or 11 that I couldn't do it," says Oh. "My sister then encouraged me to do my first play, The Canada Goose, which was an operetta. I played the Wizard of Woe, and that was it. All I've ever wanted to be was an actor."

After three years at the National Theatre School of Canada, Oh landed the lead in the CBC television film The Diary of Evelyn Lau, the true story of a Canadian poet-writer who ran away from home at age 14 and became a drug addict and prostitute before pulling herself off the streets at age 17. The performance earned her a Gemini (Canada's Emmy) nomination for best actress.

"My parents didn't want me to become an actress because they didn't think it was a noble profession," says Oh, 32. "But after my parents watched that first film, something changed, particularly for my mother. She saw that there's meaning in my work. There's something in performing that's not only about expressing yourself, it's about connecting with others so that we can see ourselves in solace, in pain, in joy - and feel what it means to be a human being."

As for her role as Patti in Tuscan Sun, Oh says, "I hope audiences enjoy her, and I hope they're pleasantly surprised to see someone they don't expect to see on screen. I bring that hope with me wherever I go, because this is the only face I have."

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