Shooting the entire six-part miniseries The Chair during a global pandemic was a challenge, but it also made for an exhilarating experience, said the show’s star, Sandra Oh.
In The Chair, which streams on Netflix Friday, Ottawa-born Oh stars as Ji-Yoon Kim, the newly appointed chair of a beleaguered English department at a prestigious liberal arts college.
With tight time and pandemic-related health constraints in place, the crew and acting ensemble — featuring all-stars Holland Taylor, Jay Duplass and Bob Balaban — pushed themselves to an “instinctive place,” which forced them to make decisions quickly, Oh said.
“You don’t have time to think or wallow or to doubt yourself,” Oh told CBC News in an interview this week. “And so everyone was ready to fly. And it was quite joyous to make [the show] that way.”
Still, the circumstances sometimes proved challenging for the cast.
“The tension was high,” she said. “It was really hard to shoot the show.”
WATCH | Sandra Oh talks about her starring role in Netflix’s The Chair:
A satire of college campus politics
Caught up in a whirlwind of family tensions, workplace chaos and a sweet, fledgling romance, Ji-Yoon is under pressure as the first woman of colour to run the imploding department, and she might be its choice scapegoat after her colleague and romantic interest Bill is embroiled by controversy.
“You see her trying to move through it, hopefully by keeping her relationship strong, because ultimately, it is a dramedy about character and workplace and family,” Oh said.
The miniseries is both a satire of college campus politics and a serious look at the archaic culture of universities. Ji-Yoon’s English department colleagues are predominantly white, male and deeply out of touch with their progressive-minded student body.
“Here is a woman, a single mom, a woman of colour, who’s now ascended to the position of chair of her department in a patriarchal, old institution. And she wants to make change,” the actor said.
“She has a very transgressive situation that her dear friend [is in], and now she’s got to fix it somehow, or she believes that she has to fix it.”
Inspired by intergenerational differences
Writer and executive producer Amanda Peet created the show alongside screenwriter Annie Wyman. Best known for her work as an actor, Peet told the New York Times that an argument with her 14-year-old daughter inspired the show’s intergenerational themes.
After Peet criticized a TikTok star’s clothing choices, and the teen questioned Peet’s feminist credentials, she was intrigued by the idea of a character “who thought of herself as a trailblazer and a feminist and now is thought of as part of the system.”
Lead character’s Korean name ‘really appealed to me’: Oh
In an interview with the Associated Press, Oh said the series was an exciting opportunity to take on lighter fare while on a break from BBC’s spy hit Killing Eve.
But what really caught her eye, the Canadian-South Korean actor said, was the lead character’s name.
“I can — very slowly over my career — note the change that has happened,” she said. “To be actually able to put a Korean name and have all the characters say your name. It really appealed to me.”