Lucy Alexis Liu (born Lucy Liu; December 2, 1968) is an American actress, model, artist, and occasional film producer. She became known for playing the role of the vicious and ill-mannered Ling Woo in television series Ally McBeal (1998–2002) for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and aScreen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series. Her film work includes starring as one of the heroines in Charlie's Angels, playing one of the enemies of The Bride in Kill Bill, and appearances in Payback, Chicago, and animated hit Kung Fu Panda.
In 2012, Liu joined the cast of TNT series Southland in the recurring role of Jessica Tang, for which she won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Drama Guest Actress. In 2008, she starred in her own television show, ABC comedy-drama, Cashmere Mafia, which ended after one abbreviated season. The show was one of only a few American television shows to have an Asian American series lead. She is currently co-starring in Sherlock Holmes-inspired crime drama Elementary, playing Joan Watson.
Lucy Liu was born in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. In high school, she adopted her middle name "Alexis". She is the youngest of three children born to Cecilia, who worked as a biochemist, and Tom Liu, a civil engineer. Her parents worked many jobs when Lucy and her siblings were growing up. Both of Liu's parents were Taiwanese immigrants (both possessed Taiwanese citizenship).She has an older brother, John, and an older sister, Jenny.
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 five years old. Liu attended Joseph Pulitzer Middle School (I.S.145), and graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1986. She enrolled at New York University and transferred to the University of Michigan, where she was a member of the Chi Omegasorority. Liu earned a bachelor's degree in Asian languages and cultures. In Michigan, Liu worked as a waitress.
Liu was discovered by an agent at the age of 19 while travelling on the subway. 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 at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
Liu had small roles in films and TV, marking her debut. She was cast in both The X-Files in "Hell Money" and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in "The March to Freedom", before landing 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 an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Best Actress 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, one of the three angels in the movie version of Charlie's Angels, alongside Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. The film opened in November 2000 and earned more than $125 million in the United States. Charlie's Angels earned a worldwide total of more than $264 million. The sequel, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, opened in June 2003 and also did well at the box office, earning more than $100 million in the U.S. and a worldwide total of more than $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. Liu starred as lawyer Grace Chin on Ugly Betty in the episodes "Derailed" and "Icing on the Cake". In a 2001 episode of Sex and the Cityentitled "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" she guest starred as herself, playing a new client of character Samantha Jones who does public relations. She starred in the Sex and the City–inspired TV show, Cashmere Mafia on ABC. Liu also made a cameo appearance on animated shows Futurama (as herself and/or robot duplicates thereof in the episodes "I Dated a Robot" and "Love and Rocket") and The Simpsons (on the season 16 episode "Goo Goo Gai Pan").
In 2002, Liu played Rita Foster in Vincenzo Natali's Brainstorm (aka Cypher). Soon thereafter, she appeared as O-Ren Ishii in Quentin Tarantino's 2003 film, Kill Bill. She won an MTV Award for "Best Movie Villain" for the part. 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.Liu speaking at the USAID Human Trafficking Symposium in September 2009.
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.
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 adaption, and the role Liu was offered is traditionally played by men. 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.
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, portion of the proceeds from her book Seventy Two went to UNICEF.
In 2001 Liu was the spokesman for the Lee National Denim Day fundraiser, which raises millions of dollars 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. She also hosted an MTV documentary, Traffic, for the MTV EXIT campaign in 2007. In 2008, Liu produced and narrated the short film, The Road to Traffik, about the Cambodian heroine 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. Early in 2006, Liu received an "Asian Excellence Award" for Visibility. Liu is a supporter of marriage equality for gays and lesbians, and she became a spokesperson 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.
Liu underwent surgery after a breast cancer scare in 1991. "The doctor sort of felt and said it was cancer and it needs to come out. I went into shell-shock. It was pretty traumatising". The lump was removed just two days after the doctor's examination and was found to be benign.[