Lucy Liu (born December 2, 1968) is an American actress, voice actress, director, singer, dancer, model, and artist who is known for playing the role of the vicious and ill-mannered Ling Woo in the television series Ally McBeal (1998–2002), the assertive assassin O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill, and Joan Watson in the crime-drama series Elementary (2012–2019). Throughout her career, she has received two Screen Actors Guild Awards and has won the Seoul International Drama Award for Best Actress. She has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and has received nominations for three People's Choice Awards and two Saturn Awards.
Liu's film work includes starring in Payback (1999), Charlie's Angels (2000), Shanghai Noon (2000), Chicago (2002), Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003), Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), Lucky Number Slevin (2006), The Man with the Iron Fists (2012), and Set It Up (2018).
Liu is also a voice actress and has voiced Master Viper in the Kung Fu Panda franchise (2008-2016). She also voiced Silvermist in Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009), Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (2010), Pixie Hollow Games (2011), Secret of the Wings (2012), The Pirate Fairy (2014), and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast (2015). Her other voice credits include Mulan II (2004), as well as the English and Mandarin-dubbed versions of Magic Wonderland (2014) and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013).
In 2008, she starred in an ABC comedy-drama, Cashmere Mafia, as Mia Mason, which ended after one abbreviated season. The show was one of only a few American television shows to have an Asian American series lead. In 2012, Liu joined the cast of the TNT series Southland in the recurring role of Jessica Tang, for which she won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Drama Guest Actress.
Lucy Liu was born on December 2, 1968, in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City, New York. In high school, she adopted a middle name, Alexis. She is the youngest of three children born to Cecilia, who worked as a biochemist, and Tom Liu, a trained civil engineer who sold digital clock pens. Liu's parents originally came from Beijing and Shanghai and emigrated to Taiwan as adults before meeting in New York. She has an older brother, John, and an older sister, Jenny. Her parents worked many jobs while Lucy and her siblings were growing up.
Liu has stated that she grew up in a diverse neighborhood. She learned to speak Mandarin at home and began studying English when she was 5. She studied the martial art kali-eskrima-silat as a hobby when she was young. Liu attended Joseph Pulitzer Middle School (I.S.145), and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. She later enrolled at New York University and transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she was a member of the Chi Omega sorority. Liu earned a bachelor's degree in Asian languages and cultures. She worked as a waitress at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase club circa 1988–89.
At the age of 19, while traveling on the subway, Liu was discovered by an agent. She did one commercial. As a member of the Basement Arts student-run theater group, she auditioned in 1989 for the University of Michigan's production of Alice in Wonderland during her senior year of college. Although she had originally tried out for only a supporting part, Liu was cast in the lead role. While queuing up to audition for the musical Miss Saigon in 1990, she told The New York Times, "There aren't many Asian roles, and it's very difficult to get your foot in the door." In May 1992, Liu made her New York stage debut in Fairy Bones, directed by Tina Chen.
Liu had small roles in films and TV, marking her debut. In 1993, she appeared in an episode of L.A. Law as a Chinese widow giving her evidence in Mandarin. She was cast in both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in "The March to Freedom" and The X-Files in "Hell Money". In 1995 she played a young Vietnamese single mother of a 4 year old with AIDS on the second season of ER for 3 episodes. In 1996, Liu landed her first role in the main cast of a television series, that of Amy Li in Pearl alongside Rhea Perlman and Malcolm McDowell.
Shortly after the end of Pearl's run in 1997, Liu was cast in a role on Ally McBeal. Liu originally auditioned for the role of Nelle Porter (played by Portia de Rossi), and the character Ling Woo was later created specifically for her. Liu's part on the series was originally temporary, but high audience ratings secured Liu as a permanent cast member. Additionally, she earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series. In Payback (1999), Liu portrayed Pearl, a high-class BDSM prostitute with links to the Chinese mafia.
Liu was cast as Alex Munday in the film Charlie's Angels, alongside Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. The film opened in November 2000 and earned more than US$125 million in the United States. Charlie's Angels earned a worldwide total of more than US$264 million. The sequel, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, opened in June 2003 and also did well at the box office, earning US$100 million in the U.S. and a worldwide total of more than US$259 million. Liu also starred with Antonio Banderas in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, a critical and box office failure.
In 2000, she hosted Saturday Night Live with Jay-Z. In a 2001 episode of Sex and the City entitled "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" she guest starred as herself, playing Samantha Jones' new client. She starred in the Sex and the City–inspired TV show Cashmere Mafia on ABC. Liu also made a cameo appearance on Futurama (as herself and robot duplicates) in the episodes "I Dated a Robot" and "Love and Rocket", and on The Simpsons in the season 16 episode "Goo Goo Gai Pan".
In 2002, Liu played Rita Foster in Vincenzo Natali's Brainstorm (a k a Cypher). Soon thereafter, she appeared as O-Ren Ishii in Quentin Tarantino's 2003 film, Kill Bill. While in negotiations for Kill Bill with Tarantino the two joined together to help produce the Hungarian sports documentary Freedom's Fury. She won an MTV Award for Best Movie Villain for her part in Kill Bill. Subsequently, Liu appeared on several episodes of Joey with Matt LeBlanc, who played her love interest in the Charlie's Angels films. She also had minor roles as Kitty Baxter in the film Chicago and as a psychologist opposite Keira Knightley in the thriller Domino. In Lucky Number Slevin, she played the leading love interest to Josh Hartnett. 3 Needles was released on December 1, 2006, Liu portrayed Jin Ping, an HIV-positive Chinese woman.
In 2007 Liu appeared in Code Name: The Cleaner; Rise, a supernatural thriller co-starring Michael Chiklis in which Liu plays an undead reporter (for which she was ranked number 41 on "Top 50 Sexiest Vampires"); and Watching the Detectives, an independent romantic comedy co-starring Cillian Murphy. She made her producer debut and also starred in a remake of Charlie Chan, which had been planned as early as 2000. Liu guest-starred as lawyer Grace Chin on Ugly Betty in the 2007 episodes "Derailed" and "Icing on the Cake".
In 2007 Empire named Liu number 96 of their "100 Sexiest Movie Stars". The producers of Dirty Sexy Money created a role for Liu as a series regular. Liu played Nola Lyons, a powerful attorney who faced Nick George (Peter Krause). Liu voiced Silvermist in Disney Fairies and Viper in Kung Fu Panda. In March 2010, Liu made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award–winning play God of Carnage as Annette on the second replacement cast alongside Jeff Daniels, Janet McTeer, and Dylan Baker.
In March 2012, she was cast as Joan Watson for Elementary. Elementary is an American Sherlock Holmes adaptation, and the role Liu was offered is traditionally played by men. She has gained praise for her role as Watson, including three consecutive nominations for the People's Choice Awards for Favorite TV Crime Drama Actress. She also has played police officer Jessica Tang on Southland, a television show focusing on the lives of police officers and detectives in Los Angeles, as a recurring guest actor during the fourth season. She received the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Drama Guest Actress for this role.
In August 2011, Liu became a narrator for the musical group The Bullitts. In 2013, Liu was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Liu was named Harvard's 2016 Artist of the Year. She was awarded the Harvard Foundation's arts medal at the annual Harvard Foundation Award ceremony, during the Cultural Rhythms Festival in Sanders Theatre. She is also part of the cast in the post-apocalyptic thriller Future World, directed by James Franco and Bruce Thierry Cheung. In 2019, Liu received a Hollywood Walk of Fame star.
Lucy Liu began her directing career in 2015. The movie, titled Meena, was based on a true story, about an eight-year-old Indian girl who is sold to a brothel. The movie was screened in New York City in 2014.
Lucy Liu's other directorial credits include 6 episodes of Elementary, an episode of Graceland, the episode Dearly Beloved of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the second-season premiere of Luke Cage and the episode “Marriage Don’t Break Up on Account of Murder - It‘s Just a Symptom That Something Else Is Wrong” of ‘’Why Women Kill’’.
Liu had previously presented her artwork under a pseudonym, Yu Ling (which is her Chinese name). Liu, who is an artist in several media, has had several gallery shows showcasing her collage, paintings, and photography. She began doing collage mixed media when she was 16 years old, and became a photographer and painter. Liu attended the New York Studio School for drawing, painting, and sculpture from 2004 to 2006.
In September 2006, Liu held an art show and donated her share of the profits to UNICEF. She also had another show in 2008 in Munich. Her painting, "Escape", was incorporated into Montblanc's Cutting Edge Art Collection and was shown during Art Basel Miami 2008, which showed works by contemporary American artists. Liu has stated that she donated her share of the profits from the NYC Milk Gallery gallery show to UNICEF. In London, a portion of the proceeds from her book Seventy Two went to UNICEF.
Her first national museum exhibition was held at the National Museum of Singapore in early-2019.
In 2001, Liu was the spokeswoman for the Lee National Denim Day fundraiser, which raises money for breast cancer research and education. In 2004 Liu was appointed an ambassador for U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She traveled to Pakistan and Lesotho, among several other countries.
Early in 2006, Liu received an "Asian Excellence Award" for Visibility. She also hosted an MTV documentary, Traffic, for the MTV EXIT campaign in 2007. In 2008, she produced and narrated the short film The Road to Traffik, about the Cambodian author and human rights advocate Somaly Mam. The film was directed by Kerry Girvin and co-produced by photographer Norman Jean Roy. This led to a partnership with producers on the documentary film Redlight.
Liu is a supporter of marriage equality for gays and lesbians, and became a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign in 2011. She has teamed up with Heinz to combat the widespread global health threat of iron deficiency anemia and vitamin and mineral malnutrition among infants and children in the developing world.
In 1991, Liu underwent surgery after a breast cancer scare. "The doctor sort of felt and said it was cancer and it needs to come out. I went into shell-shock. It was pretty traumatizing." The lump was removed just two days after the doctor's examination and was found to be benign.
Liu has studied various religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism and Jewish mysticism. She has stated, "I'm into all things spiritual—anything to do with meditation or chants or any of that stuff. I studied Chinese philosophy in school. There's something in the metaphysical that I find very fascinating." In a 1999 interview with US Weekly, Liu claimed to have had a sexual encounter with a ghost.
Liu is a single parent by choice. She has a biological son, Rockwell, who was born in 2015 via gestational surrogate. Commenting on choosing the method, she states that it was the right option for her as she was busy working at the time. Since the beginning of motherhood, Liu has been heavily involved in celebrating multidimensional familial structures. One major campaign she was involved in was Tylenol's #HowWeFamily Mother's Day Campaign.
|1992||Rhythm of Destiny||Donna|
|1996||Jerry Maguire||Former girlfriend|
|1997||City of Industry||Cathi Rose|
|1997||Guy||Woman at newsstand|
|1999||True Crime||Toy shop girl|
|1999||The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human||The Female's Friend (Lydia)|
|1999||Play It to the Bone||Lia|
|2000||Shanghai Noon||Princess Pei Pei|
|2000||Charlie's Angels||Alex Munday|
|2002||Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever||Agent Sever|
|2003||Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle||Alex Munday|
|2003||Kill Bill: Volume 1||O-Ren Ishii|
|2004||Mulan II||Mei (voice)||Direct-to-video|
|2005||3 Needles||Jin Ping|
|2006||Lucky Number Slevin||Lindsey|
|2007||Code Name: The Cleaner||Gina||Also executive producer|
|2007||Rise: Blood Hunter||Sadie Blake|
|2007||Watching the Detectives||Violet|
|2008||The Year of Getting to Know Us||Anne|
|2008||Kung Fu Panda||Master Viper (voice)||English and Mandarin version|
|2008||Tinker Bell||Silvermist (voice)|
|2009||Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure||Silvermist (voice)|
|2010||Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue||Silvermist (voice)|
|2010||Kung Fu Panda Holiday||Master Viper (voice)|
|2011||Detachment||Dr. Doris Parker|
|2011||The Trouble with Bliss||Andrea|
|2011||Kung Fu Panda 2||Master Viper (voice)||English and Mandarin version|
|2011||Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You||Hilda Temple|
|2012||Secret of the Wings||Silvermist (voice)|
|2012||The Man with the Iron Fists||Madame Blossom|
|2014||The Pirate Fairy||Silvermist (voice)|
|2014||Magic Wonderland||Princess Ocean (voice)||English and Mandarin version|
|2014||The Tale of the Princess Kaguya||Lady Sagami (voice)|
|2014||Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast||Silvermist (voice)|
|2016||Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Scroll||Master Viper (voice)||Short film|
|2016||Kung Fu Panda 3||English and Mandarin version|
|2018||Future World||The Queen|
|2018||Set It Up||Kirsten Stevens|
|2018||Sherlock Gnomes||Special thanks|
|1991||Beverly Hills, 90210||Courtney||Episode: "Pass, Not Pass"|
|1993||L.A. Law||Mai Lin||Episode: "Foreign Co-Respondent"|
|1994||Hotel Malibu||Co-worker||Episode: "Do Not Disturb"|
|1994||Coach||Nicole Wong||2 episodes|
|1995||Home Improvement||Woman #3||Episode: "Bachelor of the Year"|
|1995||Hercules: The Legendary Journeys||Oi-Lan||Episode: "The March to Freedom"|
|1995||ER||Mei-Sun Leow||3 episodes|
|1996||Nash Bridges||Joy Powell||Episode: "Genesis"|
|1996||The X-Files||Kim Hsin||Episode: "Hell Money"|
|1996||High Incident||Officer Whin||2 episodes|
|1996–97||Pearl||Amy Li||Main cast; 22 episodes|
|1997||The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest||Melana (voice)||2 episodes|
|1997||NYPD Blue||Amy Chu||Episode: "A Wrenching Experience"|
|1997||Riot||Boomer's girlfriend||Television film (segment "Empty")|
|1997||Dellaventura||Yuling Chong||Episode: "Pilot"|
|1997||Michael Hayes||Alice Woo||Episode: "Slaves"|
|1998–02||Ally McBeal||Ling Woo||Main cast (seasons 2–5); 72 episodes|
|2000||MADtv||Herself||Season 6, episode 6|
|2000||Saturday Night Live||Herself||Episode: "Lucy Liu/Jay-Z"|
|2001–02||Futurama||Herself (voice)||2 episodes|
|2001||Sex and the City||Herself||Episode: "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda"|
|2002||King of the Hill||Tid Pao Souphanousinphone (voice)||Episode: "Bad Girls, Bad Girls, Whatcha Gonna Do"|
|2004||Jackie Chan Adventures||Adult Jade Chan (voice)||Episode: "J2: Rise of the Dragons"|
|2004||Game Over||Raquel Smashenburn (voice)||6 episodes|
|2004–07||Maya & Miguel||Maggie Lee (voice)|
|2004–05||Joey||Lauren Beck||3 episodes|
|2005||Clifford's Puppy Days||Teacup, Mrs. Glen (Voices)||Episode: "Adopt-a-Pup/Jokes on You"|
|2005||The Simpsons||Madam Wu (voice)||Episode: "Goo Goo Gai Pan"|
|2007||Ugly Betty||Grace Chin||2 episodes|
|2008||Cashmere Mafia||Mia Mason||Main cast; 7 episodes|
|2008||Ben & Izzy||Yasmine (voice)|
|2008–09||Dirty Sexy Money||Nola Lyons||Main cast (season 2); 13 episodes|
|2008||Little Spirit: Christmas in New York||Leo's mom (voice)||Television film|
|2009||Afro Samurai: Resurrection||Sio (voice)||Television film|
|2010||Kung Fu Panda Holiday||Master Viper (voice)||Television special|
|2010||Marry Me||Rae Carter||Miniseries; 2 episodes|
|2011||Pixie Hollow Games||Silvermist (voice)||Television special|
|2011–2016||Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness||Master Viper (voice)|
|2012||Southland||Jessica Tang||10 episodes|
|2012–2019||Elementary||Joan Watson||Main cast|
|2013||Pixie Hollow Bake Off||Silvermist (voice)||Television short film|
|2016||Girls||Detective Mosedale||Episode: "Japan"|
|2017||Difficult People||Veronica Ford||4 episodes|
|2017||Michael Jackson's Halloween||Conformity||Voice role, TV special|
|2019–present||Why Women Kill||Simone||Lead role|
|2001||SSX Tricky||Elise Riggs||Voice|
|2003||Charlie's Angels||Alex Munday||Voice|
|2012||Sleeping Dogs||Vivienne Lu||Voice|
|2015||Graceland||Episode: "Master of Weak Ties"|
|2018||Luke Cage||Episode: "Soul Brother #1"|
|2019||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Episode: "Dearly Beloved"|
|2019||Why Women Kill||Episode: “Marriages Don’t Break Up on Account of Murder - It’s Just A Symptom That Something Else Is Wrong”|
|1993||Unraveling||As Liu Yu-ling, Cast Iron Gallery, SoHo, New York, US||Collection of multimedia art pieces, photographs|
|1995||Catapult||As Yu Ling, Purple Gallery, Los Angeles, US ||Collage mixed media exhibition|
|2006||Antenna||Emotion Picture Gallery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada||Incorporating paint and drawing into photographs. Seven pieces of which two new. March 5 to June 30|
|Glass Onion||As Yu Ling, Milk Gallery, New York City, US||Paintings. Duration 2 days. Benefits for UNICEF|
|2007||—||Art Basel Miami, Casa Tua in South Beach Miami, US as part of Montblanc's Cutting Edge Art Collection||Painting Escape, a black and white abstraction|
|2008||je suis. envois-moi||As Yu Ling, Six Friedrich Lisa Ungar, Munich, Germany||Six oil paintings, four prints and ten sculptures. Revenue was donated to UNICEF. May 8 to 31|
|2010||—||As Yu Ling, Painting included in the Bloomsbury Auctions 20th Century Art and Editions sale in New York, US||Painting|
|2011||Seventy Two||Salon Vert, London, UK||Personal canvases – hand-stitched and stuck with funny little found objects, pieces of rubbish|
|2013||Totem||The Popular Institute gallery, Manchester, UK||Series of work on linen, explores the fragility of the human form|
|Year||Award||Category||Nominated work||Result|
|1997||Screen Actors Guild Award||Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series||Ally McBeal||Nominated|
|NAACP Image Award||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series||Nominated|
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series||Nominated|
|Screen Actors Guild Award||Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series||Nominated|
|2000||Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series||Nominated|
|Blockbuster Entertainment Award||Favorite Supporting Actress – Action||Shanghai Noon||Won|
|2001||Favorite Team||Charlie's Angels||Won|
|MTV Movie Award||Best On-Screen Duo||Won|
|Saturn Award||Best Supporting Actress||Nominated|
|2003||Broadcast Film Critics Association Award||Best Cast||Chicago||Won|
|Phoenix Film Critics Society Award||Best Cast||Nominated|
|Screen Actors Guild Award||Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture||Won|
|Teen Choice Award||Choice Hissy Fit||Nominated|
|MTV Movie Award||Best Dance Sequence||Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle||Nominated|
|2004||Best Villain||Kill Bill: Volume 1||Won|
|Saturn Award||Best Supporting Actress||Nominated|
|2011||NAACP Image Award||Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special||Marry Me||Nominated|
|2012||New York Women in Film & Television Muse Award||Best Actress||Elementary||Won|
|2013||Prism Awards||Female Performance in a Drama Series Multi-Episode||Nominated|
|Seoul International Drama Awards||Best Actress||Won|
|Teen Choice Awards||Choice TV Actress: Action||Won|
|Critics' Choice Television Award||Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series||Southland||Won|
|NAACP Image Award||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series||Nominated|
|2015||People's Choice Awards||Favorite TV Crime Drama Actress||Elementary||Nominated|
The youngest of three children born to Taiwanese immigrants, Liu was born in Queens, New York and attended public schools.
MTV EXIT Documentary presented by Lucy Liu to raise awareness of human trafficking. Log on to www.mtvexit.org for more information. This program is produced rights-free and can be used by any broadcaster, website, organisation, or individual.
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