While most people know Lucy Liu for her role as surly lawyer Ling Woo in "Ally McBeal," this gorgeous actress has also starred in a number of movies, including Kill Bill, Kung Fu Panda, and Charlie's Angels. But what a lot of her fans don't know is that she has a whole other side – she speaks six languages, for instance, and is an accomplished artist and photographer. She talked to WebMD the Magazine about how she stays healthy and youthful, her work with UNICEF, her new CBS series, Elementary (it premiered last month), and her upcoming movie, The Man with the Iron Fists, due out next month. Plus what it's like to play a role where she's not "bad" and why she's working to eradicate sex trafficking.
You play Madam Blossom in your new film The Man With the Iron Fists, an ode to kung fu classics. In real life you've practiced kali-eskrima-silat, or knife-and-stick fighting. Did you train to perform the martial arts challenges of the role?
By Amy Engeler
At 3 a.m., with all the houses dark up and down her winding suburban street in West Warwick, Rhode Island, Jo-Ann Frey, 37, lights a candle so she can see well enough to dust her furniture. Careful not to turn on any lights or make noise that might wake up her family, she drifts from room to room with her candle and cleaning supplies, waiting until she feels sleepy enough to climb back into bed. That feeling doesn't come -- and when she hears the alarm in the bedroom go off...
I actually didn't --I wish I had! Martial arts isn't something I always keep up with; I do it for particular projects. So when I got there [on set] and they said, "OK! Let's see what you can do," I was, like, "Um, I don't have a lot going on right now! You gotta' give me some help here!" So we did it on the fly. They told me what they wanted and I went ahead and did it. They just rolled camera. It was pretty hardcore.
The film is set in a feudal Chinese village. You're the daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants. Did you film in China, as you did for your earlier work in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. I.? And did youget to tour the country at all?
We shot in China, about an hour outside of Shanghai. It was winter and brutally cold. It was also beautiful, and the people were wonderful to work with. But no, we were on a pretty tight schedule and I didn't travel around. We were there during Chinese New Year, though, and that was pretty cool.
Madame Blossom is one tough cookie -- and you've played more than a few of them during your career. Yet your off-screen persona is artistic and altruistic. Is it just more fun to play the "baddies"?
People seem to like me in those baddie roles, which is so strange because I never saw myself that way before. I think originally people thought, "Oh, she's somebody exotic, she can be the baddie." Then it turned into something people loved. I don't have an explanation for it. But in Elementary [Liu's new CBS show airing this fall] I won't be playing that [type of] role, and I think it'll be interesting.