In May of this year, when Lucy Liu got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she became just the second Asian-American woman to receive the honor — the first to be so recognized in the famed attraction was Anna May Wong, whose star is coincidentally also on Vine Street, near Lucy’s. A century on from Anna May’s debut in an American silent film, Lucy is helping to blaze new trails and push for more diversity in Hollywood.
The Chinese-American star made a breakthrough when she landed the memorable role of the seductive and abrasive Ling Woo in the hit series Ally McBeal. Movie roles in Charlie’s Angels, Shanghai Noon and Kill Bill: Volume 1, among others, solidified Lucy’s status as one of the major talents of Asian heritage working in American film and television.
As Lucy ends her seven-season run as Dr Joan Watson to Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, she also begins a new dark comedy web series, Why Women Kill. Marc Cherry, creator of Desperate Housewives, wrote the character of Simone Grove specifically for Lucy in the show about three women living in three different decades and dealing with infidelity in their marriages. As Simone, a socialite in the ’80s dripping in jewelry and decked out in shoulder pads, Lucy is earning enthusiastic reviews.
On the personal front, Lucy is radiant at 50, and is a single (and first-time) mom to Rockwell, her biological son born via surrogate in 2015. Since the birth of her son, Lucy has been involved in campaigns that celebrate diversity in contemporary families.
How have you changed in the last decade?
I’ve changed a lot. I’ve become a director. I have become a mother. I moved back to New York 15 years ago. The essence of life, for me, is not so much outside of myself as much as it is inside now. That is the most essential part of being in this business. It has probably saved me from falling into a hole. There’s a sense of entitlement that can occur in this business. It can rob you of the things that are really important in your life.
What is your secret to working steadily all these years?
A good team of people who are behind me. We hold meetings and decide what’s the best step to move forward. It’s hard to make decisions sometimes, especially if you are really busy. You have to make choices whether they succeed or not. I like to work with a group of people. I don’t necessarily like to be on my own.
Your role in Why Women Kill is juicy and brilliant. How did you land the part?
Marc Cherry sent an email, and with it came a script of the role that he wanted me to play. [He said] that he had written a role that would be perfect for me and that he kept me in mind as he was writing it. So I was intrigued because not always do you get a personal letter when you receive a script. I read the script and I just thought, “Wow, this woman is a powerhouse.” She’s not afraid to talk about how she feels, she’s very overindulgent, she is colorful.
And also, it was set in the ’80s, which was very Reaganomics, over the top economically; everyone was spending. It was lavish, plush, velvety, glitz and glamour, so we have the shoulder pads, makeup, hair, tons of hairspray, costume jewelry and then really expensive jewelry and living in a mansion.
And then the idea of these women who all encountered infidelity in different decades, but still had the same emotional reaction. I just thought it was really a no-lose situation there. In addition to that, I just thought the title was so kitschy and really grabbed you.
We had a discussion about where the character was going and what the arc was. He took me through her storyline and that really brought me in even more, because it was more than what I thought it was going to be. The ’80s was also a time when there were a lot of things that were very pivotal and also very hidden regarding sexuality — what you want to keep up as a façade. My character wants to be the envy of the country club, and to keep up that pretense, it’s a lot of work. So what happens when that pretense is pulled out from under you?
In real life, how vengeful are you? Or do you just let it go?
I don’t let it go (laughs). I just shut them out totally. Seeking revenge, karmically, that doesn’t work for me. I have a dear friend who says, “I forgive, but I don’t forget.” I’m not sure I do either of those. It’s something that I continuously work on. Forgiveness is not necessarily like, I forgive you and all is good. It’s like really accepting.
How does Marc Cherry write such amazing women characters?
We were just in another panel and somebody asked him, “How do you write women so well?” He said it’s because he loves his mother so much. And that all the different characters in the show are drawn from his mother. The woman who wasn’t afraid to be a snob was his mother. And the woman who was like the perfect nurturing homemaker was his mom. And then the woman who was also independent, that is also his mother.
Has motherhood changed you?
It has completely turned my world upside down in a positive way. You can’t really note the changes. It’s more of an overhaul. Things that you thought you knew, you don’t really know. The things that you thought were important really aren’t important. And the responsibility of having another human that is 100% yours and yours to care for, nurture, love, teach and [allow to be independent] as well.
It becomes the biggest job and the most important job you could ever have. I have always been very career-oriented. After having my son, it’s not that I enjoy my job less — I love it much more, because he makes everything that much more. He helps underline everything in my life and put it in bold.
This article first appeared in the October 2019 issue of Smile magazine.