Grey's Anatomy: Sandra Oh's Audition Almost Landed Her In A Different Role

When Shonda Rhimes set out developing "Grey's Anatomy," she was primarily interested in creating a series that showcased multi-faceted women. "I wanted to create a world in which you felt as if you were watching very real women," Rhimes said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. One of the first women she wrote was Dr. Cristina Yang. "She's the kind of woman I know really well, and I like her. There's something interesting about a person who is that driven, a little bit emotionally disconnected but still a caring, sweet, and smart individual," Rhimes said.

Cristina was brought to life courtesy of Sandra Oh, who played the doctor for 10 seasons until her departure in 2014. According to Oh, however, she first auditioned for the part of Dr. Miranda Bailey. "Thank God I did not get that part," Oh said in a Paley Center panel. "Can you imagine not having her? Forget it," she asked rhetorically, gesturing to her co-star Chandra Wilson, who was ultimately cast as Bailey (even though she has next to nothing in common with her character). As it turns out, Oh specifically didn't want to play Bailey.

Sandra Oh didn't want to play Dr. Bailey

In Lynette Rice's tell-all book "How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy," Sandra Oh recounted her experience auditioning for Shonda Rhimes and producers Betsy Beers and Peter Horton: "It was great. And then they came back and said, 'We want you to read for Bailey.'" At that time in her life, Oh recalled, she was working on advocating for herself and articulating her needs: "I didn't want to play Bailey. I said, 'What else is available?' And they said, 'Cristina is available.'"

Cristina Yang — the ambitious surgical intern and would-be "person" to Meredith Grey — was initially conceived as a blonde white woman, a characterization that was soon swept under the rug owing to Rhimes' color-blind casting process. It was the doctor's unapologetic drive, however, that drew Oh to the part.

Cristina's character, though still a rough sketch of what she would eventually become, was more aligned with Oh's desires as a performer. "For me, at that time, I was interested in playing a role that was the antagonist," Oh continued. Indeed, Cristina is introduced as a prickly and competitive intern. "In the pilot, she was the antagonist and also not in a position of authority. Bailey had authority; she was their teacher," Oh added.

Oh expanded upon her attraction to playing a student in an interview with Vanity Fair: "I was more interested in the role of the student because you have to find stuff out, you don't have answers ... That's where the story is." Luckily for Oh, her intuition was correct, and Cristina grew to be much more complex than a ruthless, wannabe surgeon. In due time, she even became a teacher herself.