Lucy Liu: ‘I grew up as a tomboy… I never looked at myself as a feminine person’

Lucy Liu covers the new issue of Michigan Avenue, a magazine I have never held in my hands or bought or even looked at. I guess it’s supposed to be high-end, right? Like, this is not InStyle, aiming for the broadest market. This is aimed at a niche market, but I don’t really understand which niche. Anyway, I do like the pictorial, and I’m kind of happy to see Lucy getting some magazine covers now that she’s back on a network TV show. Have you been watching Elementary, the American-ized take on Sherlock, meaning a modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes? Elementary has Sherlock in Manhattan, and Lucy plays Dr. Watson, Sherlock’s sobriety coach or something. I have to admit, I’ve watched a few episodes. It’s not the worst thing by far – Jonny Lee Miller is no Benedict Cumberbatch, but I do love some JLM, and he and Lucy have a surprising amount of chemistry. Anyway, you can read the full Michigan Avenue interview here. Liu is interviewed by her “close friend” Idris Elba! Which makes it better. Some highlights:

IDRIS ELBA: Lucy, you have such an amazing career. What would you say has made it so long and successful?
LUCY LIU: Number one, you really have to risk everything—you have to take chances and take on projects that are pretty diverse. Just because you do film, don’t limit yourself. You should also do theater because it puts you out there in a terrifying way in front of a live audience and it really tests your skills. The more flexible you are, the more the longevity of your career is going to sustain itself. That’s what actors want. We don’t want to blow up for two years or five years and then be done.

IE: You’ve worked with amazing directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino. What was one nugget of wisdom that Tarantino taught you?
LL: To really be able to listen. When I first met him, we went to Toi, this rock ’n’ roll Thai restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. We sat down at the table, and he started describing the character of O-Ren Ishii [from Kill Bill], acting out all the parts, the fake laughs, the sound effects… and I’m there eating my pad thai, trying to eat casually, but I feel like I’m a stunned audience member. If somebody is that excited to tell you something, it really is incredible how much you can learn from him or her. You can’t replicate that kind of passion.

Lucy on beauty and femininity: “I grew up as a tomboy, and if you’ve seen photographs of me as a child, you see my mother cut all of my hair off. I had no hair: Picture Sinéad O’Connor with a two-week grow-out. I was not considered feminine at all, and boys did not look at me. I was a toothpick….Up until junior high school, when I really started developing. I never looked at myself as a feminine person. My thing was, “I’m going to be casual and be able to talk to people because I’m hanging out with the guys.” In college, I suddenly felt like I understood more about myself and started making choices on my own. I started doing things that I wanted to do and understanding what my place was in the world, and I think part of that was also embracing myself as a woman. I was smart, I could hang with the guys—I could fall into my own niche category….”

No one tells her she’s beautiful: “But I find that if somebody finds me beautiful, it melts my heart because it’s not something I heard most of the time growing up ever. I can easily be enticed into some terrible relationship because I’m like, “Oh, my God, you think I’m beautiful?” [Idris laughs] You know what I mean? And my friends are like, “Why did you date that ******* for so long?” I’m like, “Oh, God.” [Laughs]

On Jonny Lee Miller: “I love working with Jonny. He’s incredibly talented and very professional. He comes in every day—no matter how long the day before has been— and he’s prepared. If we start another episode with all new dialogue, all new characters, a whole new director, a whole new set, he still has it, and he never keeps anyone waiting. I know that sounds basic, but on a 15 to 20 hour day, if you’re working in television and somebody doesn’t know his lines, you could be there until the next day.”

Lucy on Idris: “I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview because you’re so special, and nobody’s ever asked me to choose my interviewer before. I said, ‘My wish is Idris Elba, but I really don’t know what’s going to happen because he’s shooting a bazillion movies in London and Africa.’ I think that you are a pioneer similar to me in that way, in ethnicity and in scope and in range. You’re also a Renaissance man and understand the different venues we travel just to understand who we are. We do music, we do art, we act, we write, we direct because we are trying to discover who we are. It’s a journey—a lifelong journey.”

[From Michigan Avenue]

There’s a lot of mutual ass-kissing between Lucy and Idris, and it’s kind of annoying, but maybe that’s just coming from my jellus h8erade. I wish Idris was telling me how beautiful I am in a magazine!! WHY, IDRIS? Why aren’t you doing that? As for all of the other stuff… Lucy seems like a pretty well-adjusted person, kind of self-absorbed in the way that a lot of actors are, no more, no less. I did really enjoy the Tarantino story, though. I love a good QT story!

Photos courtesy of Michigan Avenue.

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23 Responses to “Lucy Liu: ‘I grew up as a tomboy… I never looked at myself as a feminine person’”

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  1. Launicaangelina says:

    She’s beautiful! I’ve been a fan since her Ally McBeal days but she was so bad ass in Kill Bill.

  2. Nanz says:

    I haven’t seen the show, but I’m glad Liu is working and getting some spotlight. I think she’s a great actress, intelligent, and funny. And, of course, she’s gorgeous.

  3. Evelyn says:

    I just saw man with the iron fists last night. I wasn’t crazy about it, but she plays an ass kicking Madame, and was my favorite thing about the movie. And Russell Crowe!

  4. Micki says:

    “I grew up as a tomboy”
    “I never looked at myself as a feminine person”

    Haven’t they all? How tiring…

  5. ladybert62 says:

    This woman is NOT beautiful – I think she is too weird looking to even be pretty.

  6. another nina says:

    Is Lucy an ABC (American-Born Chinese) or was she born in the mainland?

    I’m not surprised that she never considered herself beautiful — her beauty defies traditional Chinese standards, and my Chinese friends luv to discuss how ugly she is, so I assumed she is accustomed to such attitude ….plus she has moles, which is kinda another no-no.

    As far as being additionally “uglified” in childhood – remember Lainey had a post about her horrible haircuts when she was young? And her mom, who kept saying something along the lines that you should not be beautiful when you are little because then you would not enjoy being beautiful once you grow up…

  7. I'm going to Guam! says:

    I love her freckles

  8. effy says:

    Methinks she’s pretty! but in a fierce-looking way. :)

  9. taxi says:

    She did a promo interview on Letterman 2 or 3 weeks ago & kept saying that she doesn’t exercise (run) outside because if she got any color she’d “look like a Filipino” or if she gets brown, she “looks Mexican”, as if those were bad things.

    Odd remarks & not exactly pc.

  10. Jessica says:

    Yeah I saw Letterman too. I don’t think she meant it negatively at all, though a lot of people took it that way. She’s Taiwanese-Chinese. I would not necessarily want my ethnicity to be mistaken either. Having said that, I love Lucy Liu. I can’t believe she’s 43.

  11. Lexi says:

    I find her, while not beautiful, very visually arresting ~ for lack of better wording.

    As for JLM, who I have just “discovered” ~ Angelina MUST be crazy ~ she’s done nothing but trade down since her first marriage ~ he is verry fine! lol

  12. lrm says:

    i think she’s unconventionally beautiful like tilda swinton or even kate blanchett. and LL exudes sophistication-she can wear high end fashion and not look like a wanna be-okay, she’s ‘classy’….
    and smart and interesting.
    I think she has that edgy, high end fashion look, which is very glamorous.
    she’s cool, in my view.

    yea,, too bad about the ‘traditional chinese beauty’ snark…but each culture has their own views….
    when i lived in taiwan for several months, they freaked out about my freckles. he i’m irish whatever…
    but ppl would seriously stare and even come up and touch my skin and say things.

    like it’s a disease or medical malfunction.
    thank god some people find it attractive.[and no, it's not 'sun damage'; i'm fair and have freckles period.]
    just as when i lived in africa, people,both women and men,often said i was too thin and would not find a husband; my friend’s beau, from africa, used to want her ‘big as a matatu’ [the mini van buses there]…true stories!

    thank god it takes all kinds and all types are considered attractive by someone.
    i mean, we cannot control how we came out, at birth, lol. [not that we'd want to, but just sayin' how ridiculous it is to act as though it's a personal choice anyway....]

  13. Alana Fajina says:

    She is just stunning. I love unconventional beauty!! Those freckles!!

  14. darth says:

    There’s something really attractive and intriguing about LL that I can’t quite put my finger on. I just know that when she’s on screen I can’t take my eyes off her.
    The only reservation I have about her is that for some reason she strikes me as someone who may or may not be a giant B.I.T.C.H. in real life. Not sure that she deserves that assessment, but for whatever reason I can easily picture her having a nasty attitude. I guess “unapproachable” would be a good word for it.

  15. Moi says:

    HEYYYY I JUST saw her in the play “Sleep no More” in NYC. Famous actors always sneak in and play parts. My best friend embarrassed the s/hit out of me by calling it out when you’re not supposed to speak. That girl always gets me into trouble.

  16. Mairead says:

    Elementary is all right. It’s not like its “Revolution” r anything. It’s definitely improving and hokey as the “Joan” Watson is, she’s starting to be a useful and a foil for Sherlock. I’d like to see Aidan Quinn have more to do as well.
    The main problem is that it’s not the BBC Sherlock which is spectacular. However I disagree about JLM. He is is putting in some excellent, engaging performances with lots of lovely little micro-expressions. He could be a magnificent Sherlock if he didn’t have such subpar material.

    On Lucy, I think she’s so pretty.

  17. Victoria says:

    I would like to know how she knows Stringer Bell and why I’m not on that action?
    I’ve always liked her and love that’s she’s from Queens

  18. dj says:

    Lucy is interesting looking which to me is better than being just pretty. I really like Elementary and she is good in everything. I feel like she was a little minimized in the Charlie’s Angels movies. It’s great she is getting more press now.