by Dennis Hensley
for a moment, institutions of higher education that are really tough to get into. Harvard or Yale may come to mind but
they can't hold an ivy-scented candle to the four-month crash course that actress Lucy Liu
has found herself in the throes of. It's a school so exclusive that
there are only two other students and they're both more rich and famous than she is. Though this house of learning
doesn't have an official moniker, the name given it by Liu's assistant, who types up her
insane schedule, seems to say it all: Angel Training.
what you may think of Shelly Hack and Tanya Roberts, it's not easy becoming one of
Charlies' Angels. It takes serious training and now
that Liu has nabbed the third spot, opposite A-listers Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz, in
the upcoming big screen version of the 70s TV jiggle-fest, she intends to wear that halo
with pride. "Charlie's Angels is
going to be a fun, modern action film," gushes a jeans and sweatshirt-clad Liu, over
a plate of homemade lasagna in the guest house behind her Hollywood Hills home. "It's not Shakespeare, but it
is what it is." And thank God for that. I, for one, would much rather see a
curvy babe in dolphin shorts hop off a skate board, brandish a .38 and holler,
"Freeze turkey!" than queue up for another big-screen take on the Bard.
these angels don't use guns," says Liu, when I voice this preference out loud. "They have to kick ass,
literally. That's why we've been training with
these martial arts experts from Hong Kong. This morning, I was in so much pain
that I just had to laugh." Apparently, Angel Training is not at all as I imagined it:
with Hair Flipping class at 10:00 a.m., followed by File Snooping at 11:00, then a master
class in Bomb Defusing after lunch. Tell me, at least, Lucy, that
there's some skateboarding. "One person rides one,"
she promises, "but not me."
who is best known as the jaw-droppingly tactless Ling on TV's Ally McBeal,
laughingly calls her casting in the high-profile would-be-blockbuster a "miracle of
God," explaining that Thandie Newton (Beloved) was originally offered the
role, but chose to appear in her husband's film instead. "I don't think they wanted
Caucasian for the third angel," adds Liu, whose other films include Play It to
the Bone, Payback and the upcoming Jackie Chan action flick Shanghai Moon. "I think they wanted to go
film's first-time director, McG, who cut his teeth on music videos for Smashmouth and
Sugar Ray, disagrees, saying it was more of an issue of star quality than color. "I was looking for someone who
was right for the part," he says emphatically, "someone that could hold her own
next to stars of the magnitude of Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore. And from the moment I met Lucy, I
knew it was her." And just what is it about Liu that's
so Angel-icious? "She has an ability to
effervescently go from one situation to the next," he says. "She's simultaneously youthful,
mature, beautiful, intelligent and she never, ever complains. The joy of this film is in playing
dress-up and Lucy's in and out of a million looks, from a sophisticated Ralph Lauren
equestrian setting to a snowboarding outfit. She's really all over the
over the place may be an understatement, for Liu is shooting Angels concurrently
with Ally McBeal. "It's great that [Ally
creator] David Kelley's letting me do it because he could've said no," says Liu, who
raised eyebrows last fall in an episode in which Ling and Ally have a same-sex flirtation
and share a kiss. "I said, 'Listen, it's not so
much the script. It's just a great opportunity for
me, as an Asian-American to play a role that's complete Americana culture,' and he heard
that." But that doesn't mean that getting
her back and forth isn't a scheduling nightmare. "We didn't want to impede her
career," says Ally co-executive producer Jonathan Pontell. "At the same time, we didn't
want to lose her, so we continue to work it out."
not surprising that the folks at Ally are being so flexible, given that Ling was
a role created for her in the first place. "We had her in to read for the
part of Nell which Portia Di Rossi plays," recalls Pontell, "and we were so
taken with her that we created the role of Ling. There's a dryness to Lucy's delivery
that really appealed to us. She can come out with some
incredible bombshell just as casually as if she's asking you for a cup of coffee." Pontell says the reactions to Ling's
outrageousness have been overwhelmingly positive. "We've had some Asian-American
women who find certain aspects of her character offensive or stereotypical," he
reports, "but most people really like Lucy."
more people are sure to join the fan club if Charlie's Angels becomes the popcorn
movie smash its makers are hoping it will be. It's all quite an achievement for a
girl from Queens, New York, who didn't even entertain the idea of acting until she was a
senior at the University of Michigan studying Asian Languages and Cultures. Liu stretches out her sore legs and
sighs. "I feel like I have a lot ahead
of me and I have to keep up with it," she says.
"Drew and Cameron
have been training more diligently than I have because I've been on Ally so I
have to catch up." When it's suggested that the
filmmakers should film Angels Training as part of the Police Academy montage that's sure
to open the film, Liu laughs and says. "No, you don't want to see it! It's not that glamorous, believe
me." Ah, we doubt that.
DENNIS HENSLEY: Drew and Cameron
have already gone through what you will go through if this film is a huge hit. What have you learned from them
LIU: If anything, they've taught me that just because you're well known and people want a
piece of you, doesn't mean you have to have an attitude. You don't have to become a diva. Sometimes you need to be aggressive
about your decisions but you don't have to be anybody other than who you are. They're both
so completely human and more normal than you would ever know. I mean, I know it's not
going to be a high ride for the rest of my life, but along the way I can try and enjoy
where you are in the moment and not complain.
Did you have to audition for Charlie's
Angels or did they just offer it to you?
in and read and I just got along so well with Drew and Cameron. All we did was laugh. I left there
sweating and beet red.
That'll look really good on camera.
why they hired me because I was so fantastic while I was sweating. Not!
Are you guys playing Jill, Kelly and
Sabrina or are you new people?
the next generation. It's as if there's been Angels between us and them.
Are any of the original Angels going
to turn up, like Jaclyn Smith behind the register at a K-Mart?
think they're going to have a cameo, if they agree to it.
Comedian Margaret Cho tells this
joke comparing groups of friends to Charlie's Angels; there's the nice one, the
smart one and then there's the ho. My guess is you're the smart one.
(Laughs) Yeah, I'm not having any ho moments.
Not to my knowledge. My character's smart and has her
stuff together, more Kate Jackson, basically, which is funny because I loved Kate Jackson
when I used to watch it.
I read that you got a million bucks
for the film!
that right? [laughs] I never read any press about myself.
It's like, "Did the photo come out good? Ok, fine."
Have you appeared in any of the
something like, "Didn't she look nice in that dress?" I haven't had a half-alien baby with
three heads yet. That's when you know you made it.
On to Ally McBeal. When you see scripts, are you like,
"Oh my god, I get to be really obnoxious this week?"
astounded by what she has to say all the time, but you can't be inhibited when you're
playing that. You have to really allow her honesty
to come through, and that's all she's being and I think that's why people appreciate her. I've had a lot of people say to me,
"I know someone exactly like Ling."
Everyone sings on that show. Why haven't we had a big number from
love to but I can't sing. David Kelley called me specifically
and said, "Do you sing at all?" And I was like, "No. And when I say no, it pretty much
What would happen on your fantasy
episode of Ally McBeal?
would join the circus. I'd love to do the highwire or learn
how to stand on a horse and do flips.
If they still had Circus of the
Stars, would you be on it?
God! (Laughs) I don't know if I would whore myself
that way. I might just pay someone to teach me.
What's your favorite thing on the Ally
set to fiddle with?
German. I don't have enough time to say all
the great things I have to say about him. He's imaginative, smart and sexy.
Do you like Gil Bellows with blonde
hair? I'm on the fence about it.
Very sexy though I'm not sure about the earring.
You were nominated for an Emmy this
year. What do you remember about the
one of the last people in and they pushed me into my seat. Then they announced the winner,
Kristen Johnston and my stomach dropped and all I could think about was food. I was starving but we had to pay,
for like, water. It was like being in prison. (Laughs)
The episode where you and Calista
had a flirtation and then kissed, did you know before you got the
script that it was going to happen?
learned when I read the script and I was like, "Oh my God! Wooo!" At first, I thought it was going to
get rewritten or Fox wasn't going to approve it. Then we shot it but I still didn't
think it was going to make it to the air. I thought they'd start with the kiss
and pan over to the book shelf.
Cut to the frog!
Cut to the jellybeans, who knows? Because the kiss that Roseanne had
with Mariel Hemingway was nothing, and it was a big deal. Our kiss was a truly intimate
moment, and I'm glad Fox was able to air it. Of course, for them it was for ratings. But they did it, and it was a really
ballsy moment for them.
Did it make you proud to be part of
something that explored sexuality in a different way?
so proud. I don't think Calista or I talked
about it in the press at all because we didn't want to devalue it in any way.
How did doing such a provocative
scene together affect your relationship with Calista?
don't know if it made us any closer in terms of friends, like we don't hang out anymore,
but I think there was a unspoken bond that was formed, like an appreciation for each other
as professionals. Once you've kissed somebody, I think
there's always that connection that occurs. I think she's the shit. She really puts
herself out on the line.
Have you become like a lesbian icon
don't know. If it makes a difference for
anybody, I'm glad to do it. I got tons of mail and I'm assuming
people are really thrilled about it.
What kind of fan mail do you get?
a lot from Asian girls who want to be actresses. Most of them say, "I'm going to
business school to please my parents and as soon as I graduate, I'm going to do what I
want to do." I say, "Okay, if that's what
you want to do." I think it's important to go to school. I got a degree in Asian languages
and cultures and it's really helped me.
You're obviously a role model,
whether you want to be or not. How does that make you feel?
definitely a little scary. It's not like they send you a fax
and say, "Will you sign this as an acceptance that you're a role model?" But I'm
happy to look back on my life and see what I've learned, and I think if I saw
Asian-Americans on television when I was growing up, I think it wouldn't have been so hard
for me. Back then, the struggle was so
intense and I thought that I didn't have many options.It seemed like you were in a tunnel,
like, "Where is the goddamned light?" So if being a role model means being
who you are, that's fine. People have wanted to present me
with awards, like, "You've broken stereotypes and we want to honor you," and
I've declined them because I haven't done enough yet. It's not that I don't appreciate it.
It's more like, let me earn it. Don't just give it to me because I'm the most out-there
Do you ever feel extra pressure,
like "If I suck in this part, then I make it harder for all Asian people?"
a lot of pressure on myself, in general. When you work on a project, you want to do your
best that you can do. Here's an example on a smaller
scale: You know how People magazine has the best and worst dressed? You think people get
ready for four hours just so they can be the worst-dressed? People try. They think that dress looks great on
them or they think that that role was made for them and I'm sure everyone around them is
saying, "You're great! The dailies are awesome!" That's why I always give120
percent, because if you don't, and you do it 99.9 percent, you don't know if that
point-one percent could've put you over the edge. Maybe you'll fall on your face but
at least you can walk away.
There's an "I'm a sexually
confident woman" vibe to Ling and some of your other characters as well as most of
the magazine articles about you. Where does that come from for you?
weird, though I guess it's a complement. For some reason, other people see
that sexuality or dark intensity and cast me into it or write it for me. I don't see myself as that way at
all. It's not like I'm vamping myself up in any way.
Was there a time, like when you were
growing up, when the idea of you becoming a sex symbol would be laughable to you?
Please. It's beyond absurd because in my
family, we didn't talk about sex or see each other naked. Part of me is like, "Come
on." But I also think, if that's what
people want to get, that's fine, because sex sells. I actually think that somebody being
sexy is a state of mind. I mean, everyone here in L.A. is
fucking gorgeous... men, women, children, cars... everything. But sometimes you go out to dinner
with that, and there's nothing going on. But when you get to know somebody, that's when
they become more interesting.
You played a dominatrix in Payback. How did your family react to you
taking that role?
never talk to my parents about what I'm doing. My mother, when she took her seven
friends from China to see Payback, didn't know anything about what was going on.
But then you show up in like a
leather outfit with a whip?
didn't tell her that. (Laughs)
What'd she say afterwards?
said it was really good which surprised me. I think she was impressed, but she did not
expect it. That's for sure.
Did you get to keep the dominatrix
it's probably still at the studio standing on it's own. It was standing on it's own before I
even got into it.
Did Mel Gibson pull any pranks on
you while you were making the movie?
but he did teach me to play poker, and I lost like $30 to him. He had to write everything down for
me, because I kept forgetting what beats what. I put the little list in my journal.
Speaking of leading men, you had a
rather memorable sex scene in a junkyard with Woody Harrelson in Play it To the Bone. What was that like to shoot?
hilarious. We kept knocking over things. I loved how he doesn't want to
continue getting off and I drag him back and I'm like, "Come on, you gotta finish me
off!" Of course, that was the first scene
we did on the first day of shooting. (Laughs)
summer, you play a rebellious Chinese princess opposite Jackie Chan in the upcoming Shanghai
Noon. What's your favorite memory of
working with him? What's your favorite memory of
working with him? What's your favorite memory of
working with him?
him how to do the hustle.
Did he pick it up really quickly?
a little bit stubborn. Like, if he doesn't catch on to it really quickly, he gets kind of
frustrated with himself.
I can imagine him doing the kicks to
Right. (Laughs) He was doing "Kung Fu
You haven't done a lot of
window-dressing, girlfriend parts. Do you try to steer clear of them?
don't know if people see me that way. I don't know if I see myself that way. I think I'm more intrigued by
playing darker roles anyway. Of course, next year you'll see me in some ridiculous
romantic comedy. (Laughs)
You're also a visual artist and an
accordion player. Do you feel that having other
creative outlets helped you feel less desperate when you were trying to make an acting
don't think I thought about it like, "This will make me calmer when I walk in to
audition." It was more like, "If I don't
channel this energy into something right now, I'm going to lose my mind." It's that intense. It's like a drug
and if you don't expel it, something is going to happen and it's not going to be pretty.
What's a day from your childhood
that you'd like to relive?
day that my father bought me this silver, glittery suit. I usually had hand-me-downs and it
was the first day that I ever really had anything new. That same day I got chased by a pack
of wild dogs and fell into a puddle of mud.
In your new outfit?
Yeah. Cut to this outfit hanging on this
piece of string drying in the wind. I'd like to relive the first part.
You'd put on the outfit...
never leave the house again.
The first time you entertained the
idea of acting was when you played Alice in Alice in Wonderland your senior year
in college. But going in, I understand you
didn't consider yourself Alice material.
Totally. My instinct was to put myself aside,
"Oh, I would never be Alice. I would never be an Angel." You
don't give yourself that possibility, because you've never seen it before. But I've opened my mind a lot since
then because I feel that other people have. But you have to be the first one to do it.
Still, I'm not the type to brown-nose. I don't want to push myself on
anybody, including in a relationship. I want to be somebody's inspiration, somebody's
muse. I want to work with people who are
passionate about me and vise versa.
How's your love life these days?
busy with work it's hard to go there. I'm just trying to open up my mind
to it. I'm so totally spastic in relationships. My intention is to balance work with
life and eventually meet somebody that I really like, though I've never had the wedding
fantasy. Maybe I'm missing a chromosome. (Laughs)
Who's been your most surprising fan?
a meeting with Mike Nichols and he watches the show religiously with his wife Diane
Sawyer. That surprised me.
Are there people in Hollywood who
weren't so cool to you coming up, but are kissing your ass now?
are some people who, even though they were supportive, were kind of like, "I don't
know how you do it. If I were you I'd quit and move on." Now they're like,
"Remember when I said you were going to make it no matter what?" And I'm thinking, "No. You kind
of told me to quit, actually." But I don't really have anything bad
to say about anyone in that sense. I think people are more proud and
surprised than anything, like, "Wow. You fucking made it. You're doing what you dreamed
of." I think about it sometimes, and it's