Lucy Liu: The Q interview

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The Independent Culture

Lucy Liu, 34, got her big break playing the bitchy no-nonsense lawyer, Ling Woo, in Ally McBeal. She was initially to appear in only a handful of episodes, but made such an impression she became a regular. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Liu grew up in Queens, New York and studied Asian culture at university. Her film credits include Jerry Maguire, Payback, with Mel Gibson, and Ballistic, opposite Antonio Banderas. She lives in Los Angeles. See her in cinemas this week as one of Charlie's kick-ass angels.

What do you think about in a movie when you're shooting off your guns - ex-boyfriends?

Damn them all! I loved the fighting. I hadn't done that kind of fighting in 10 years, but it came so naturally to me. It's like ballet - once you know the basics, your body retains the information. It's like riding a bike.

Did you get any injuries?

No major injuries, but tons of bruising.

How did you feel about Drew Barrymore doubling up as actor and producer?

I think she's an amazing producer - and the fact that she's an actor as well is pretty phenomenal. She never brings with her the drama, the issues, the goings-on of what's happening behind the scenes. Drew has the ability to just leave it at the door, come in, do her thing. She's there for the scene. She's present, she's current. It's so hard to do that. I look up to her, and I learn from her.

What kind of message do you think this movie sends to young women?

It's not so much the idea that, oh, you have to go out there and be a spy, or you have to go out and be able to kick people around. It's about women who are committed to their jobs - women who love what they're doing. Even though they know it's not an easy job. And for once it's a film that does not have the woman in the background as a victim, the woman always being saved. But is that really what the movie means? No, but you can get that out of the movie. It's such a great way of modernising the idea of women. I am proud to be a part of this.

What scares you?

A lot of things scare me. I think ignorance scares me most.

So what do you do about that kind of fear?

You can't allow fear to take over your life. If you do, you'll look back and you'll have regrets. I learned this a long time ago, because I think "my God, my parents came over from another country". It would be really scary for me to move to China and leave everything behind. But I have to remember that fear is something everyone feels and it's natural. You might feel fear 10 times a day in your life, and you have to try to understand it. Because if you don't, your existence is cancerous and you're built on bubbles. So if someone criticises you and your movie fails, you've got nothing to stand on.

Do you have a favourite movie?

I loved all the Once Upon A Time in China films. Those are so fabulous. And I loved Jackie Chan growing up. I watched all of his movies because they're so comedic and funny, yet skilled. I didn't know half the people's names but I do now because they're so popular in America.

Were your parents supportive of your decision to act?

No, my parents were first generation from China and their emphasis was on education, because it will help your future. My parents had a very strong work ethic and they wanted something better than what they had for their kids.

What happened?

I fulfilled my parents' dreams by going to the University of Michigan. I always knew I wanted to act, so I went up to my father and I said, I am going to go to California. "NO!" Ok, I am going to become an actress. "NO!" I am going to work in movies. "NO!" Television. "NO!" Commercials. "MAYBE!"

Did it put a strain on your relationship with your father?

Yes. I had a very difficult time with our relationship. But as you grow older, you understand that your parents want to make sure you're OK when they are not around. Now, they are very excited. They are my biggest fans. I'm like: "Wow, I could have used them being that supportive for the whole 10 years I was struggling!"

Aren't you perpetuating the stereotype of Asians doing martial arts in the movies?

It's like this - I got a few opportunities, and I try to make them as full and as three-dimensional as possible. Once those movies succeed, the studio sees that I am a viable person, who can bring in money. I still work on a couple of movies which perhaps wouldn't be my first choice, but as I build on momentum and audience, then I start doing my own projects. I already have two in development at my production company. You don't have a choice when you don't have options. So you have to create options that will ultimately create new opportunities.

Do you get to keep any of those cool clothes from the film?

No. Never. They always say yeah, yeah... but when it comes to the end of the movie, they're like, no!

You have this kick-ass persona - do you think people are intimidated by you?

No, everyone is pretty nice to me. If they are intimidated, they don't show it. But maybe that's why I'm not married.

'Charlie's Angels' is out on 4 July

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