She obviously couldn’t accept the award in Seoul because she’s working for the next ten months, so she taped this message from New York:
"Hi! I am so thrilled to be accepting the Seoul International Award for Best Actress. It is a huge honor for me, and I was incredibly surprised when I found out that I had won.
"For me, it’s really special to be playing such a classic character. Being somebody who is a woman and someone who is Asian, it’s especially an honor to be a part of such a wonderful production.
"I would like to thank CBS, Rob Doherty, who is the creator of the show, and Carl Beverly, who is the producer. And of course I want to thank Jonny Lee Miller, who is my co-star and someone who brings out the best in me every single day.
"I want to thank all my fans in Korea who have given me the opportunity to get to where I am today. So I want to send my gratitude, my appreciation, and my love to all of you. I will cherish this award forever. Thank you again so much."
Plus: Lucy for American Way magazine
On her hit show, Elementary, Lucy Liu’s doctor-turned-detective unravels mysteries. Offscreen, she prefers to remain one.
IT'S A CLEAR, BRIGHT DAY in New York City when Lucy Liu slips into Petite Abeille, a small bistro in the heart of Chelsea. Wearing a vintage sundress with an embroidered smock, Liu seems oblivious to the unfeigned gazes of admiration from patrons as she wends her way to my table and introduces herself.
“I’m Lucy,” she says, extending her slim hand in greeting. Her lustrous onyx tresses frame a freckled face bearing not a stitch of makeup, looking much younger than her 44 years. She wears no jewelry; not even a timepiece adorns the wrist that has wielded samurai swords, blowtorches and sawed-off shotguns in her more-than-20-year career as an actress. Best known for playing formidable chicks in roles such as O-Ren Ishii in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, Alex Munday in the 2000s’ Charlie’s Angels franchise and Ling Woo on Ally McBeal, Liu is nothing in real life like her on-screen personas. No more than 5 feet 3 inches tall in flats, she is down to earth and friendly to effusive fans and waitstaff alike.
I quickly deduce she is smashing. Elementary, my dear Watson.
In this instance, that’d be Dr. Joan Watson, the character Liu plays on CBS’ hit series Elementary, a modern-day adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes detective series that takes place in the gritty, glittering city of Manhattan. Starring opposite Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes (here a recovering addict with tattoos), Liu’s Watson is a disgraced surgeon who has been hired as the detective’s live-in sober companion by his wealthy father. At first, the prickly Holmes is insolent toward his new minder, but it’s not long before he warms to her no-nonsense intellect, and the duo is off solving its first crime.
“As a female, I think you have to have a very strong sense of yourself in order to relate to someone like that,” says Liu, sipping a mug of mint tea. “If he doesn’t respect you, if he doesn’t think you’re intelligent, then he’s finished with you in three seconds.”
That said, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why show creator/executive producer Robert Doherty cast the unflappable Liu in the iconic role of Watson, which up until now has only been played by a mustachioed man in a trenchcoat. “Her work speaks for itself,” he says, noting that Liu’s “grounded” portrayal of Los Angeles police officer Jessica Tang on Southland is what convinced him that she was his Watson.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Lucy was a doctor in another life,” Doherty says of Liu’s ability to convincingly play a trained sobriety counselor and ex-surgeon. “As far as keeping up with Sherlock, Lucy can do that in her sleep. We needed intelligence, humor and a woman who could banter with him. Based on everything I’d seen [prior to casting], Lucy was a slam dunk.”
The pint-sized Liu is also accustomed to breaking barriers, a propensity that began in the early days of her career when she was cast as Alice in a production of Alice in Wonderland at the University of Michigan, where she graduated with a degree in Asian language and cultures. One of the first Chinese-American actresses to make it big on the big screen, she’s surprised no one has made an issue of her ethnicity in playing Watson.
“I think that’s more of a hot topic,” she says. “Why are you putting an Asian person as Watson? People are harping more on the fact that it’s a woman, which I find fascinating.”
The daughter of Chinese immigrants who met in the U.S. while attending school, Liu grew up in Queens, N.Y., and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. Her parents, trained as a biochemist and a civil engineer, weren’t overly strict but did push their three children to excel academically. A self-described shy nerd, Liu says her mother recently sent her an envelope containing old report cards with comments from her teachers. “They pretty much all said, ‘She’s a sweet girl but she needs to communicate and participate in class,’ ” laughs Liu, the youngest of three siblings.
She eventually found her voice and passion for acting at the University of Michigan, where she transferred after attending New York University for a year. Her parents, however, were less than enthused by their daughter’s career choice. “Pursuing art as a career was an odd and uncomfortable issue for them,” she says. But it didn’t stop her from following her bliss.
After graduating in 1990, she returned to New York and hit the ground running, appearing in commercials, screen-testing for soap operas and volunteering as the “second, second assistant stage manager” at the Manhattan Theatre Club, where she absorbed as much as she could from watching rehearsals and asking advice from the actors. On an agent’s advice, she moved to Hollywood and began guest-starring on numerous television series, including The X-Files, NYPD Blue and ER. Her breakthrough role as the moody, hard-charging attorney Ling Woo on Ally McBeal is well documented: She first auditioned for the role of Nelle Porter, which went to Portia de Rossi, but executive producer David E. Kelley was so impressed by her that he created a new character for Liu, reportedly saying, “There’s no way we’re going to let that girl get away.”
Playing Woo was a “big deal,” says Liu, opening doors in terms of popular culture, but her ascent to fame was a slow trajectory. Though she’s transcended “typecast” roles — Watson being Exhibit A — she doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer for other Asian-American actresses.
“It wasn’t about being a pioneer; it was about survival,” she says of her early days. “I wanted to be able to pay the rent and feed my passion. Individual choices have led me to where I am now, in addition to a whole team of people I have in place who helped me make those choices. Without them, you could get lost on the way and make decisions that could be damaging.”
The decision to make Watson a woman started out as a joke, but one Doherty found intriguing. During research for the show, he came across psychological assessments written by Sherlock experts, one of which suggested he had an aversion to women. “I thought, ‘What would make Holmes crazier than if you take the figurative rock of Watson and make that character a woman?’ ” he recalls. “I was intrigued by that dynamic and wondered if we could pull it off without coming at it from a romantic angle. In so many respects, it’s too easy to turn this into a romance. We could do that in a heartbeat — Lucy and Jonny have incredible chemistry as Sherlock and Watson.”
When asked about Miller, Liu’s face lights with affection. “Jonny’s great,” she says. “I love working with him. He’s so committed to the craft, and his dedication is off the charts. He’s just funny and lovely to be around, and it feels so lucky that we have this pairing.”
In preparing for the role, Liu downloaded the canonical novels and short stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle onto her Kindle, noting that in all but a few books, Watson narrates the duo’s exploits. Liu and Doherty decided to forgo TV and film adaptations and the occasional portrayal of Watson as a foil or fool. As such, Liu reclaims — despite her gender and ethnicity — the character as Doyle intended when he wrote his first Sherlock Holmes escapade, A Study in Scarlet, in 1886.
“In the literature, [Watson] was someone who was incredibly observant and a very close partner and confidant,” she says. “They really had something special.”
So what can viewers expect in Season 2, which debuts this month? Liu says the season premiere takes place in London and that bits and pieces of Watson’s mysterious backstory will be revealed. “They’re not shy about exposing parts of her family or friends or people she’s dated in the past,” she says, including an ex who developed a drug addiction, a theme that will continue to echo throughout the show as subtext to Sherlock’s life.
“You can’t just use addiction in the premise plot and have it go away,” she says. “A lot of people don’t understand it. It’s not the flu, and you don’t get over it and then two years later get it again. It stays with you all the time. It’s a daily process.”
Doherty says Liu has been an incredible partner in fleshing out the nuances of her character. It was Liu’s idea for Watson to see a therapist, a device that allows for the disclosure of the character’s internal dialogue about her relationship with the complicated Holmes. A few episodes after she proposed it, Watson was on the proverbial couch. Says Doherty: “Lucy sweats the details.”
That includes any involving frocks and hemlines too. The first female Watson couldn’t very well borrow from the black coats and tweeds of her predecessors, so Liu and the show’s costume designer, Rebecca Hofherr, have forged a new sense of style for Watson, dressing her in pieces that are casual and a bit funky but never over the top. “You don’t want her to show up at a crime scene with some sort of crazy outfit,” Liu says. “We do a hodgepodge of everything. We do H&M and Topshop and mix it with Rag & Bone. We’re not an elitist group on the show, for sure.”
Just then, the couple at the table next to us rises to leave but not before introducing themselves to Liu as huge fans. “We just love you,” the young woman gushes, her dark eyes shining with excitement.
“Ah, that’s so nice,” Liu says. “Thank you.”
“I actually auditioned to be your younger brother on Joey,” the woman’s lunch partner says, referencing the Matt LeBlanc–led Friends spinoff that Liu made several appearances on.
“That’s too bad, but there will be another opportunity,” Liu tells him, then asks him his name. “OK,” she says. “I’ll look for you.”
The exchange is typical of Liu, a gracious A-lister with a penchant for privacy. She is rarely targeted by tabloids, and her personal life remains much of a mystery. During our interview she often answers questions from Watson’s perspective as a way of deflecting attention from herself. At least, that’s my hypothesis.
When I bring up her Twitter account, she rolls her eyes. “I’m so bad,” she says, referring to the fact she has yet to send a tweet to her followers. “I haven’t figured it out yet, but I will. How do you maintain your personal life and still communicate on a professional level without crossing that line? My fear is I won’t be able to separate those two things, and I think it’s so important to maintain a little of who you are.”
Liu has also learned the power of saying no to a person or project that isn’t a good fit or that taxes her schedule. Noting that women often exhaust themselves by trying to please everyone, she says she’s become a lot more confident in the decisions she makes and can turn something down without feeling the need to compensate.
One of the organizations she has said yes to is UNICEF, for which she’s been a celebrity ambassador since 2004. She’s also a talented painter who’s published an art book and makes time for meditating twice a day, even if it means getting up extra early. “It really recharges and re-energizes you,” she says. “To give yourself that time is more important than sleeping. It makes everything more manageable.”
Before I know it, our time is up. Liu says she has time for one more question, and so I ask: What’s next?
“Honestly, I would like a little time on my own to regroup and just clean out the drawers or the piles of mail. There’s correspondence that needs to be dealt with. A little quiet time would be good. I know that sounds introverted, but I just love doing that stuff,” she says.
As we say our goodbyes, a middle-aged man appears at her side. “I’m a big fan,” he says, murmuring something about helping out with a museum event.
“Walk me out,” she says, entertaining his pitch as they stroll into the sunshine.
Other SDA 2013 winners @ source no. 1
Sources: 1 2 3