Who Is Lucy Liu?
Actress Lucy Liu made her mainstream movie debut as one of many former girlfriends of Tom Cruise's character in Jerry Maguire (1996). She got her big break on the hit TV comedy Ally McBeal, for which she earned an Emmy Award nomination in 1999. Liu has also co-starred in a number of big-screen projects, including Charlie's Angels, Kill Bill, Chicago and Half the Sky, and is an accomplished visual artist. In 2012, she once again found success with a TV series, appearing as Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes update Elementary.
Lucy Alexis Liu was born on December 2, 1968, in Queens, New York. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Lucy Liu attended New York City's prestigious Stuyvesant High School. She enrolled at New York University, but transferred after one year to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where she studied Asian languages and culture and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1990. During her senior year, Liu auditioned for a supporting part in a school production of Alice in Wonderland; to her surprise, she won the lead role, that of the typically blond, blue-eyed Alice. With that, her acting career had officially begun.
Her earliest acting job found Liu in a small role in the teen drama Beverly Hills, 90210 during the 1991-1992 season, playing a waitress at the gang’s favorite hang-out, the Peach Pit. Over the next several years, Liu made appearances on popular television shows such as Coach, The X-Files and ER, and earned a spot in the cast of the short-lived sitcom Pearl (1996-1997), starring Rhea Perlman. She made her mainstream movie debut as one of many former girlfriends of Tom Cruise’s title character in Jerry Maguire (1996) but landed more substantial roles in such little-seen independent features as Guy (1996), Gridlock’d (1997), and City of Industry (1997), starring Harvey Keitel.
Movies and TV Shows
Breakthrough Role on 'McBeal'
In 1998, Liu got her big break when she auditioned for the part of Nelle Porter, the icy new addition to the wacky law firm Cage and Fish on the hit comedy Ally McBeal, created by David E. Kelley. Though she didn’t get the part, Kelley was struck with Liu’s performance and decided to create a character expressly for her. Originally meant for a very limited stint, Liu’s razor-sharp portrayal of Ling Woo met with an overwhelmingly favorable reaction and her stay was extended into a regular spot on the show. Earning an Emmy nomination in 1999 for Best Supporting Actress, Liu undoubtedly contributed to the overall success of the show, which won the Emmy for Best Comedy that same year.
On the big screen, Liu grabbed audiences’ attention with her turn as a leather-clad dominatrix in the poorly reviewed thriller Payback (1999), starring Mel Gibson. Her other film efforts released that year, including the independent feature The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human, Play it to the Bone, with Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas, and Molly, starring Elisabeth Shue, quickly disappeared from view. Liu had a good deal more luck in 2000, starring in the hit comedy Shanghai Noon as a rebellious Chinese princess who is kidnapped and taken to America’s Wild West, only to be rescued by bumbling heroes played by Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson.
In early 2000, it was announced that Liu had snagged one of the most coveted roles in Hollywood, that of the third glamorous female crime fighter in the big-screen update of Aaron Spelling’s 1970s detective series Charlie’s Angels. The film, which co-starred Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Bill Murray (with whom Liu reportedly fought during filming), was released in November 2000 and was a box office smash, taking in more than $260 million globally. A sequel was released in the summer 2003—Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Later that year, Liu starred as an assassin and Tokyo gang leader in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1, and later made an appearance in Vol. 2 of the film the following year.
In addition to her acting career, Liu is also an accomplished visual artist who has frequently displayed her mixed media compositions at galleries in New York and Los Angeles. In 1994, she won a grant to study art in China based on an exhibition of her work at a gallery in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.
Liu continued to be featured in a variety of projects over the first decade of the 2000s, including films like Domino (2005), Watching the Detectives (2007) and The Year of Getting to Know Us (2008), while also lending her voice to animated fare like Kung Fu Panda and Tinker Bell (both 2008). At the end of the decade, Liu made her Broadway debut as a replacement cast member for the Yesmina Reza play Gods of Carnage. Then, playing Madame Blossom, Liu returned to martial-arts themed movie work in 2012's The Man With the Iron Fists, directed by and starring hip-hop artist RZA along with Russell Crowe.
Also seen in series like Ugly Betty and the short-lived Cashmere Mafia, Liu eventually found another TV hit in Elementary, which launched in 2012 and ran for seven seasons, coming to an end in 2019. The show was a modern update of the classic Sherlock Holmes story, with Liu starring as Dr. Joan Watson. The actress also directed individual episodes.
In August 2015, Liu announced the birth of a son, Rockwell Lloyd, through a gestational surrogate.
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