TORONTO — There's been lots of talk about "Quiz Lady" co-stars Sandra Oh and Awkwafina playing against type in the odd-couple sibling comedy, but director Jessica Yu says she didn't see it that way.
The film follows reserved, socially anxious Anne (Awkwafina) as her rebellious estranged sister Jenny (Oh) concocts a scheme to pay off their absentee mother's gambling debts via a TV quiz show.
The film, which also stars Will Ferrell as the show's Alex Trebekian host, premiered to big laughs at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday night and screens again Wednesday and Sunday before hitting Disney+ on Nov. 3.
Yu says that while Awkwafina made a name for herself playing over-the-top characters and Oh is better known for portraying over-achievers, she didn't think either actress was stepping too far outside her comfort zone.
Awkwafina, she points out, delivered resonant performances in both "The Farewell" and "Swan Song," and even in comedies is often asked to handle an "emotional pivot."
And Yu says that from her previous work with the Ottawa-born Oh, whom she directed in several episodes of "Grey's Anatomy," she could tell the actress would take to the role, for which she dons purple hair extensions and an approximation of street style.
"I always sensed that energy she has underneath -- a lot of it is a very physical energy. And she can be incredibly funny," Yu said in an interview after the premiere.
"The fact that people were seeing them as playing against type just felt like a big opportunity to show off how brilliantly they could do that."
Oh harnessed that physical humour throughout the film, Yu said, but especially in a scene in which she takes a tumble after climbing onto the bar at a pub.
Oh's Canadianness was also on full display the day that scene was shot, Yu said: it had just been announced that she would be inducted as an officer of the Order of Canada.
"We didn't get it quite right what she was awarded, but it was fun making a big deal out of that," Yu said. "We were calling her 'Dame Sandra.'"
She said the team got very close during the project, noting that she met up with Oh, Awkwafina and screenwriter Jen D'Angelo in London to workshop the script before they started filming.
"There was something just really precious about that time and really fun," she recalled. "It became deeply personal at times. We were able to bring a lot of personal stories into thinking about these characters. And even though not all of that is on screen, it was what fortified those performances."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2023.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press