In a busy career across movies, stage and TV, Lucy Liu has played all kinds of roles: fashionistas, Charlie’s Angels, animated snakes and — perhaps most memorably — sword-wielding, scalp-collecting bosses of deadly assassination squads. She’s currently appearing in Detachment and this week’s The Trouble with Bliss, an independent New York comedy co-starring Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall and 21 Jump Street‘s Brie Larson. With the movie opening in New York, LA and across VOD, Liu called in for a conversation about her role, while also sharing some stories from the Chinese set of The Man with the Iron Fists — the upcoming martial arts movie directed by and starring the RZA, with Russell Crowe, Gordon Liu and Pam Grier. Read on for more of the chat, but first up — her five favorite films.
Red Sorghum (Yimou Zhang, 1987; 100% Tomatometer)
One of my favorite films is Red Sorghum, by Zhang Yimou, who’s an incredible director — just incredibly visual. The way that he shoots a film and takes a time in history and connects it to somebody; he takes a moment in somebody’s life and also connects it historically to what happened between the Japanese and the Chinese during the war. I just think it’s so elegantly done. It sort of shows not just what’s going on in the family itself, but links that personal story — you get involved in that and then connected to the backdrop of the war, how their family, how their business all kind of connects. It’s incredibly heartbreaking and very real. It was very impactful. I saw it when I was in college, and I was destroyed. [Laughs] Destroyed by that movie. There’s a quality in his movies that really stands out, that I haven’t really seen in a lot of other movies.
Another movie that I really love — and I’m sure you know it — is It Happened One Night, which is, I think, one of the best romantic comedies out there. I remember seeing that movie and falling in love with Clark Gable and just thinking how fantastic that backdrop was, on the train. It seemed like a very real relationship, like they really were in love with one another. [Laughs] I didn’t seem so pat, you know?
I also love 2046 by Wong Kar Wai, a film which I thought was so beautifully shot, with an incredible story. I love that he uses the location as a character. He has a very romantic way, a very sexy way of presenting everything, and the cinematography in that is absolutely stunning. He obviously has a very strong vision for what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. All of his movies, I think they’re very intimate: They don’t always require huge stages, but he always seems to capture something in a very small area. I like the way he presents things. He creates an atmosphere and you get swept into it right away.
I love Being There, it’s one of my favorite movies — with Peter Sellers, who I thought was brilliant. I love how underplayed but so incredibly funny it was, you know… dry. [Laughs] There’s something wonderful about the misconceptions [about the main character] that create the simplicity of all of it. The misconceptions create a simplicity which then creates this aura. I love that movie.
Then I have, well, I have two movies: Godfather one and two. An incredibly absorbing story that unravels and captures a time that really existed in New York. It just draws you in and just keeps you. There are moments in that that you can’t believe. You watch it and you go, “Oh, right” and then you hear the dialogue and then you realize that this is an incredibly famous quote. [Laughs] It’s all-time, basically. A side one that I love, just ’cause I grew up watching it, and it happened to air around my birthday in December, was The Sound of Music. It reminds me very much of my childhood, that kind of hopeful, contagious optimism that Julie Andrews had — and also set in the backdrop of war. But that’s more of a childhood thing. Then there’s Drunken Master, but for different reasons, and different entertainment values, you know? It’s hard. There’s a list a mile long. In very small font. But asked to narrow it down, I will narrow it down to those movies right now. [Laughs]
Next, Liu talks about her role in The Trouble with Bliss and shares some stories from the set of RZA’s forthcoming martial arts epic, The Man with the Iron Fists.
Your role in The Trouble with Bliss is small, but enjoyable: the weird, married neighbor coming on to Michael C. Hall. What interested you about the part?
Lucy Liu: Well I read the script and I loved it. I thought that it was very funny and smart. I also loved the idea of [working with] Michael C. Hall. I think he’s lovely and talented, so I kind of jumped on board. It was also shooting New York. I don’t know how it exactly all turned out in the end, but I know that I liked the character: I thought she was a bit odd and had a very strange energy. She was sort of syncopated. I thought that was a nice addition to how the rest of the movie was going. She sort of says one thing and then she does another. [Laughs] She’s hitting on somebody although she has a completely other relationship, you know — she’s trouble. I liked that there was some dimension to her. I also liked the idea of a man who’s still living at home and hasn’t moved on; I thought it was interesting to have other people in his life be quite colorful and try to draw him out, yet ultimately he has to be motivated to move out in his own. I also love doing comedy, and I thought that was a little more comedic than some of my other roles that I’ve done in the past. [Laughs]
Is comedy something you’d like to do more of?
I like comedy, it’s one of my favorite things to watch. Who doesn’t like to laugh, you know? But oftentimes it’s very difficult for comedy to be successful, for many reasons: timing, delivery; you never know how it’s all gonna come together. I do think that comedy was one of the reasons I chose to do that movie. It was a very small movie; it was made for, like, 10 cents or something.
Well you’re funny in it.
Thank you. That helps.
It usually helps when you’re trying to do comedy.
[Laughs] Also just to have an energy with someone. It takes two to tango, for sure, so you need that connection with somebody in order to make comedy, to make funny… “To make funny!” [Laughs]
[Laughs] How’s it going with The Man with the Iron Fists? You’ve finished shooting?
Yes, we finished shooting in China last year.
What’s it like?
It’s probably gonna be a sort of hybrid of a whole bunch of movies, from Chinese movies and Asian movies from, let’s say the ’70s and before. I mean, to be honest with you I’m not really sure how that’s all gonna turn out because we shot that as an independent film in China. [Laughs] But I think it’s gonna be pretty killer. I know that I bumped into somebody [that had seen it] at the studio and they were like, “This is like nothing we’ve ever seen before, it’s a complete original and we don’t know exactly what to make of it. It’s great.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll take that and run with it.” [Laughs] I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. I think it’s gonna be entertaining. It’s based in a different time, so it’s a period movie, and there’s gonna be some pure action in it. I think the way that RZA’s gonna put everything together on the screen is gonna be quite different from what we’re normally used to seeing. I know that’s kind of a generic answer, but I haven’t seen the movie myself yet. I know that they’ve been doing some post-structure on it with the editing and the music and stuff.
Is RZA doing the music for the film?
Yeah, RZA’s doing the music, he’s putting it together and I’m sure he’s gonna get some amazing artists. He also, you know, went off on his Californication for a little bit and did a tour. [Laughs] It’s like, between all that and the post [production] I have no idea when it’s coming out. I know they’re gearing up for it, which is always a good thing — as opposed to “Oh well, let’s just release it.”
Did you get to do any fight scenes in this one?
I did a whole hell of a lot of fighting. But you know, I did not train for the movie at all, so you can only imagine. [Laughs] They were like, “This is what you’re gonna do now” and I’m like, “Okay…”
You did have some serious fight choreographers on this, people like Corey Yuen…
Yeah, Corey Yuen — awesome, totally patient. I was like, “Wait a minute: You want me to do this, and then duck and then jump and do wirework?” And I had a little incident where I crashed into the set ’cause the wire went a little awry. [Laughs] Like a full-on crash through the set — an explosion of wood and stuff like that. It was quite interesting. [Laughs] I think B-roll got it. Someone was documenting the whole thing.
I’m assuming RZA fights, too?
Yeah, he fights. I think everyone pretty much gets into it. [Laughs] Everyone gets down and dirty.
Even Russell Crowe?
[Laughs] Russell has some moments as well. I don’t know how they ended up doing him, ’cause originally I don’t think he had any stuff but I think when he got there he was like, “Okay, bring it on.” He had some cool moments for sure.
Were you in any scenes with Gordon Liu?
No! I’m so bitter! [Laughs] There was not a Liu joining in that particular situation.
Is Quentin Tarantino in the film? ‘Cause it seems almost impossible that he wouldn’t show up somewhere.
Well Quentin was in the film, I mean, he came to the set. He came to China en route to France, if you can believe it, and he hung out. Quentin is presenting the film, and he’s incredibly encouraging and supportive of RZA. He’s just a great guy. I don’t know if they ended up having him in the film or not, but he came by. He read the script beforehand, and made sure that he saw some of the dailies and what not. When Quentin’s a fan of something, he is a fan all the way; that’s what’s so wonderful about him. He’s so encouraging and supportive, and he’ll tell you what he thinks, you know. Like, [adopts Tarantino voice] “Ehhhhhhhh, I’m not so sure,” you know. [Laughs] He was RZA’s [person saying] “I’m not so sure about that.” He’s a part of it. RZA’s sort of been following him around for a while, in terms of getting his thoughts and doing his apprenticeship under him for a while. So there’ll be some qualities in the movie that Quentin’s fans will really enjoy.
He’s certainly had some good training then.
Yeah. He’s such a cool guy. And I think he’s a great director too. If he had something to say he’d come and say it to you, otherwise he’d sort of leave you on your own. He picked the people that he wanted to do the project and then he trusted them.
The Trouble with Bliss is playing in New York and LA and through VOD, with an expansion to more locations on April 6.