Lucy Liu Biography

PHOTO: Lucy Liu

Lucy Alexis Liu was born to Chinese immigrant parents in Queens, New York to a civil engineer father and biochemist mother. She is the youngest of three children, having an older brother and sister.

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.

Continuing the audition trail, Liu tried out for the role of Nell Porter in Ally McBeal, which eventually went to Portia de Rossi. Producers spotted Liu's talent and wrote the bitchy-aggressor character of 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. The way Liu delivered such acerbic lines as, “Are you retarded, Jacob?'' to a young boy who believed in Santa Claus made her a viewer favourite.

Music from the Wicked Witch of the West was played each time Ling Woo walked into the room. She became one of the most popular characters in the show; the antithesis of Calista Flockhart's dithering McBeal. A scene where the pair locked lips became the stuff of small screen legend and titillation. 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 also found success as a visual artist, with mixed media compositions frequently on display in galleries in New York and Los Angeles. In 1994, she was given a grant to study in China based on her show at SoHo's Cast Iron Gallery. The time immersed in Chinese culture changed her approach to art and activism.

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. Then came a role as a hitchhiker in the ill-received boxing saga Play It to the Bone. By 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. Later, the rumour was scaled down to a mere verbal argument. She was also reportedly unhappy at not being given the same treatment as Barrymore and Diaz. Liu denied the behaviour saying, “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’’. The Angel’s role proved Liu had a strong physicality 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. “I think he's lovely. He's definitely the best player,” she was quoted as saying at the time.

In 2003, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill was released. Liu now 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. She 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.’’

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. Its 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.’’

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 look at 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.

Liu has a couple more martial arts-style films in the pipeline but her most recent substantial role was Lucky Number Slevin in which co-star Josh Hartnett starts a budding romance with his next-door neighbour (Liu) who also plays the city coroner and amateur sleuth.

She has gained a cult following for the three films she starred in during 2007. In 'Code Name: The Cleaner', which is an action comedy, 'The Rise' in which she played an undead reporter with the actress being ranked number 41 in a list of top 50 vampires by ugo.com. She also appeared in 'Watching the Detectives' with Cillian Murphy. The film was an independent romantic comedy.

2007 was a busy year for the actress because as well as making three films, she guest-starred in the TV show 'Ugly Betty; playing lawyer Grace Chin in two episodes.

In 2008, Liu continued working in TV 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 also appeared in two films the same year including 'The Year of Getting to Know Us' and voiced a character in the TV movie 'Little Spirit: Christmas in New York'.

Liu also made her debut voicing the character Viper in 'Kung Fu Panda' in 2008, a role she reprised in 'Kung Fung Panda II' in 2011.

On 2 March 2010, she made her Broadway debut in the play 'God of Carnage'.
In 2012, she will appear in 'The Man with Iron Fists' and 'Nomad'.

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