Don’t mess with Lucy Liu, this lady can handle herself
Lucy Liu was born in Queens, New York, in Decemeber 1968. Determined to allow their daughter a good grounding for her American life, Liu was sent to the prestigious Stuyvesant High School where she graduated in 1986. She went on to New York University but only stayed for one year before transferring to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She graduated in 1990 with a degree in Asian languages and culture.
Taking a shine to acting, dancing and singing, Liu auditioned for a supporting part in the university production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in her final year. To her surprise, she won the lead role. Liu, an Asian- American student, found herself portraying Alice, a blue-eyed blonde. The performance spurred her to take up acting as a career.
Starting with a brief turn on Beverly Hills 90210, Liu was cast in many walk-on parts in shows like NYPD Blue, ER, The X Files and Tom Cruise vehicle ‘Jerry Maguire’. In 1996, she was cast as an ambitious college student, a regular on Rhea Perlman's sitcom ‘Pearl’.
Originally, Liu tried out for the role of Nell Porter in ‘Ally McBeal’ (this went to Portia de Rossi) but the producers, having seen Lui, spotted an opportunity and wrote-in the bitchy, aggressive character, Ling Woo. Initially, Ling Woo was supposed to appear on a handful of episodes but positive audience feedback secured Liu as a permanent cast member.
She became one of the most popular characters in the show; the antithesis of Calista Flockhart's dithering McBeal. She played Ling Woo for 36 episodes between 1998 and 2000 - a role which earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
She’s also found success as a visual artist and has showcased her mixed media compositions in various galleries around New York and Los Angeles. In 1994, she accepted a grant to study in China based on her show at SoHo's Cast Iron Gallery.
The successful two-year stint as Ling Woo opened doors to film roles where Liu would eventually rise to Hollywood A-lister. In 1999, she was cast as a dominatrix in the Mel Gibson action-flick ‘Payback’ followed by a role as a hitchhiker in the ill-received boxing saga ‘Play It to the Bone’. In 2000 she starred alongside Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson as the kidnapped Princess Pei Pei in ‘Shanghai Noon’ and then as one-third of the comely crime-fighting trio in ‘Charlie's Angels’.
As one of the three Angels, she was awarded equal status with the infinitely more famous Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. However, there were rumours that Liu was difficult on set, it was said that she hit co-star Bill Murray but later the incident was scaled down to a verbal confrontation. She was also, allegedly, unhappy at not being given the same treatment as Barrymore and Diaz but Liu denied any such attitude, “It's too bad people keep saying that I am the cause of all these arguments. I never started any fights.’’
One of the film’s producers stepped in to back her up by admitting there were some on-set problems but that they were “normal occurrences between people’’. Either way, the Angel’s role proved Liu had a strong physicality (if not personality) and set her up nicely for an upcoming part in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’.
On a visit to the UK, while promoting ‘Charlie’s Angels’, Liu revealed an unlikely passion for Manchester United. She told reporters that she started supporting the Red Devils when she found out that she had relatives in northern England. Her all-time favourite player is David Beckham and she was quoted as saying, “I think he's lovely. He's definitely the best player.”
In her spare time, she practices kali-eskrima-silat, a martial art involving sticks and knives. But while she was able to show off her skills in the ‘Charlie's Angels’ movies and ‘Shanghai Noon’, she has never had to use them to defend herself in real life. “Thank God. But it has made me more aggressive,’’ the 1.57m actress once said: “If somebody is confrontational or rude, it makes me more confident. It’s like: ‘No, you don't treat somebody that way.' It gives you an inner strength. And that's what martial arts should be; it should come from inside.’’
In 2003, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill was released. Liu replaced Uma Thurman who had to drop out of the project because she was pregnant with her second child. Liu played O-Ren Ishii (Cottonmouth), one of the major villains, and was able to put her martial arts skills to the test in the role. She said: “This particular movie was different because I was doing something I'd never done before ever, and working on the Samurai sword is very different because your body position has to be very still. It's a much quieter way of fighting.’’
Her most recent martial-art based role was ‘Lucky Number Slevin’ in which co-star Josh Hartnett starts a budding romance with his next-door neighbour (Liu) playing the city coroner.
While tending to be quiet about her private life, the star was said to have seduced George Clooney with oysters and once set her heart on Matt Damon. In 2004, it was widely reported Liu planned to marry her writer boyfriend Zach Helm after dating for about a year. Liu described him as her soulmate and said the wedding would not be a glitzy Hollywood affair. She told reporters: “Neither of us is into big showy events. It will be for friends and family. It should be an emotional time, not another movie set.'' However, the couple broke it off before they could make it up the aisle.
As a UNICEF goodwill Ambassador, Liu has been the public figurehead for at least two major awareness campaigns: in 2007 she toured the Congo and in 2005 she visited parts of Pakistan devastated by earthquake.
In 2006, Liu played Jin Ping in ‘3 Needles’, a movie based on the worldwide AIDS crisis. It was during this film that she took her mother on set with her for the first time. “But she couldn't understand why I was doing the same thing over and over again for no money,” she admitted.
In 2007 she starred in action comedy 'Code Name: The Cleaner', 'The Rise', in which she played an undead reporter and 'Watching the Detectives' with Cillian Murphy, an indy rom-com. She also guest-starred in two episodes of the hit TV show 'Ugly Betty'.
In 2008 Liu continued her TV work appearing in 'Cashmere Mafia' for seven episodes and, after voicing her interest in the new TV show 'Dirty, Sexy Money', a regular part was written for her. She appeared in three films that year, 'The Year of Getting to Know Us', voiced the character of Viper in 'Kung Fu Panda' (a role she reprised in 2011’s 'Kung Fung Panda II') and used her vocal talents again in the TV movie 'Little Spirit: Christmas in New York'.
On 2 March 2010, she made her Broadway debut in the play 'God of Carnage' alongside Jeff Daniels, Janet McTeer and Dylan Baker. In 2012, she was cast as Joan Watson in ‘Elementary’ as Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick and most recently Lui was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.