Born to Chinese immigrants in Queens, New York, Lucy Liu has always tried to balance an interest in her cultural heritage with a desire to move beyond a strictly Asian-American experience. Once relegated to "ethnic" parts, the energetic actress is finally earning her stripes as an across-the-board leading lady.
Liu graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1986 and enrolled in New York University; discouraged by the "dark and sarcastic" atmosphere of NYU, however, she transferred to the University of Michigan after her freshman year. She graduated from UM with a degree in Chinese Language and Culture, managing to squeeze in some additional training in dance, voice, fine arts, and acting. During her senior year, Liu auditioned for a small part in a production of Alice in Wonderland and walked away with the lead; encouraged by the experience, she decided to take the plunge into professional acting. She moved to Los Angeles and split her time between auditions and food service day jobs, eventually scoring a guest appearance as a waitress on "Beverly Hills, 90210" (1990). That performance led to more walk-on parts in shows like "NYPD Blue" (1993), "ER" (1994), and "The X Files" (1993). In 1996, she was cast as an ambitious college student on Rhea Perlman's ephemeral sitcom "Pearl" (1996).
Liu first appeared on the big screen as an ex-girlfriend in Jerry Maguire (1996) (she had previously filmed a scene in the indie Bang (1995), but it was shelved for two years). She then waded through a series of supporting parts in small films before landing her big break on "Ally McBeal" (1997). Liu initially auditioned for the role of Nelle Porter, which went to Portia de Rossi, but writer-producer David E. Kelley was so impressed with her spunk that he promised to write a part for her in an upcoming episode. The part turned out to be that of growling, ill-tempered lawyer Ling Woo, which Liu filled with such aplomb that she was signed on as a regular cast member.
The "Ally" win gave Liu's film career a much-needed boost--in 1999, she was cast as a dominatrix in the Mel Gibson action flick Payback (1999), and as a hitchhiker in the ill-received boxing saga Play It to the Bone (1999). The next year brought even larger roles: first as the kidnapped Princess Pei Pei in Jackie Chan's western Shanghai Noon (2000), then as one-third of the comely crime-fighting trio in Charlie's Angels (2000).
When she's not hissing at clients or throwing well-coiffed punches, Liu keeps busy with an eclectic mix of off-screen hobbies. She practices the martial art of Kali-Eskrima-Silat (knife-and-stick fighting), skis, rock climbs, rides horses, and plays the accordion. In 1993 she exhibited a collection of multimedia art pieces at the Cast Iron Gallery in SoHo (New York), after which she won a grant to study and create art in China. Her hectic schedule doesn't leave much time for romantic intrigue, but Liu says she prefers to keep that side of her life uncluttered.
Fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
Graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor with a degree in Asian languages and cultures.
Graduated from Stuyvesant high school in 1986.
Attended New York University for a year.
Mother is a biochemist, father is a civil engineer and she has a brother and a sister.
Grew up in the Jackson Heights section of Queens County, New York.
"I grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, with no money. I was taught not to take anything for granted. If you are too busy being a diva or a freak, then you are not enjoying it."
"Everything I buy is vintage and smells funny. Maybe that's why I don't have a boyfriend."
"It's so much fun playing her (Ling), but I have this fear that people are going to run away from me in terror on the streets. They think I'm going to bite their heads off or something."
"I'm so proud of my heritage, but yes, I think there's always a danger when people put you on a pedestal. Especially when you're just trying to live your life and pursue your dreams. The intention is not to represent Asian Americans, but to be an Asian American who is working as an actress. People often confuse the two. When you are "representing", you have the burden of some people projecting their hopes onto you. This can eventually lead to a certain amount of disappointment. I strive to not deny myself experiences that open up to me. I hope to live without looking back in regret. If people want to join me on the ride, then I'm happy to have them along."
"Martial arts are art forms and require a great deal of discipline and dedication. I so admire people who focus their lives on it, because it's not an easy thing to do."
"Producing is like pushing jello up a hill on a hot day."
Liu is widely considered the most prominent Asian-American actress in American media. She had small stints in films and TV roles before landing a break on Ally McBeal. Liu's role on the series was originally not meant to be a regular, but the enthusiastic audience response to the actress' feisty Ling Woo secured Lucy as a prominent cast member. She became more famous with her turn as Alex in the Charlie's Angels movie, starring alongside more established modern Hollywood icons Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. The sequel to the film, however, opened to poor reviews and box office receipts. Lucy was also paid sixteen million dollars less for her work in Charlie's Angels than co-star Cameron Diaz.
Liu starred with Antonio Banderas in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, a critical and box-office failure that was remarkable only in its casting of two minorities as the lead roles. Liu had a hit as Princess Pei-Pei in Shanghai Noon.
Lucy is perhaps most famous for her role as O-ren Ishii in director Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films. The first installment of the Kill Bill films, Volume 1, exposed Lucy as a more serious and physically adept actress than had been evident from her previous roles. She won an MTV Movie Award, further solidifying her fame with young, hip audiences, for "Best Movie Villain".
Lucy recently appeared on an episode of "Joey" with Matt LeBlanc, who played her love interest in the Charlie's Angels movies. She will be co-starring with Keira Knightley in the upcoming thriller Domino. Liu is also in talks to recreate the Charlie Chan series for modern audiences.
Liu is not married, although rumors in the past have linked her with George Clooney. Recently, there was news that she is engaged to a New York playwright.