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There’s nothing even slightly elementary about Lucy Liu. The Chinese-American star reigns as the most popular Asian actress in the land (a hearty, 21-year career has sealed that deal), who is also an acclaimed visual artist (check out her book, Seventy Two), musician (YouTube her coos with The Bullitts) and philanthropist (she’s long traveled as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador). So, how very ironic that Liu is now starring in a new series that’s actually titled Elementary. But, fear not-while appearing opposite a modern-day Sherlock Holmes played by Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy remains her singular self: The actress will portray Sherlock’s first female Dr. Watson. “Yes, I’m Joan Watson,” says Liu with a laugh. “Gasp!”
Watch!: Double gasp! Because, you know, the blogosphere is rife with Sherlock fans shocked-simply shocked!-over the idea of a woman playing Holmes’ helpmate, Dr. Watson. Even though Elementary’s setup is that you’re the detective’s postrehab “sober companion,” they’re convinced that you two will end up in the sack. Personally, I say, as hot as Jonny Lee Miller is, bring it on!
Lucy Liu: He’s easy on the eyes in every way. [Laughs.] And he’s a magnificent actor. But I don’t read the Internet. Everyone has an opinion and, as much as it doesn’t matter, it grates on you and who needs to doubt yourself? Watson was, historically, Sherlock’s dearest companion who got him off cocaine and watched over him-he wasn’t just a sidekick-so I think Joan will become involved in Sherlock’s cases and her character will expand. There’s definitely chemistry and something brewing between them, but I don’t know about a romance. That could be pretty intense.
Watch!: Not that intensity is a stranger to you, my darling. Let’s go back to your Emmy-nominated, breakthrough role as Ally McBeal’s uberbitch, Ling Woo. I seem to remember a famous kiss with Miss Calista Flockhart...
Lucy: The first lesbian kiss on television, so I’ve been told! It was a really big deal at the time. Now, it’s nothing. Which is great. I had a huge gay following with Ling because people loved her bluntness and fierceness.
Watch!: As they did your sword-wielding, head-chopping, Tokyo underworld lord, O-Ren, in Kill Bill. I’ve got to share a post I found online. It reads, “After watching Kill Bill, I can never look at Lucy Liu without fearing for my life. She is beautiful, but I chuckle nervously when she talks. I love her, nonetheless.”
Watch!: So, tell us: Are men turned on or terrified by this fierce image of you?
Lucy: Both! I think it’s incredibly titillating for them-it’s a kick for them to think they could be physically defeated and dominated by a woman. I mean, whenever I do long press days, there’s always somebody who asks me to spank them. I’m, like, "What are you talking about?!" But, by the second time I’m asked, I just say, “OK, turn around.” You give’em a smack on the ass and they’re just thrilled. It’s bizarre.
Watch!: Isn’t it wild that you do a role and its persona has a life independent of you?
Lucy: Yeah, I think I’m a little more of a Pride and Prejudice romantic type. I’m not going for dominating somebody in a relationship. To me, that doesn’t really bode well for any future!
Watch!: Still, the tough girl thing must crack your friends up, right?
Lucy: See, you’re always flummoxed by some of the [public] feedback. But people really love those action kind of roles I’ve done. And there’s a reason why they do, there’s a reason why posters of, like, Barbarella live on. I think people just love to see a woman with a sword. Or armor. Or ... God, I don’t know. It’s a good look, I guess! [Laughs.]
Watch!: Speaking of which, you’ve long been a renowned fashionista. Do you hang at home dripping in Versace?
Lucy: At home, I don’t dress up at all. I like to wear my pajamas a lot. [Laughs.] Like, friends have bought me matching PJs in animal prints that I like. And I love all things Japanese and kitschy. But, generally, I’m really casual. It’s fun to be able to dress up, sometimes, but you can’t really bake and fry anything in a Versace.
Watch!: And do you bake and fry, Miss Liu?
Lucy: I bake, I cook, yeah! I’m actually quite domestic. I like to go to the farmers market and pick out fruit and make salads ... and my favorite things to cook are breakfasts. I can pretty much make a killer omelet. Oh, and I can do the Grand Slam, too, if that’s what you’re looking for. No need to go to Denny’s!
Watch!: Who knew? Last question: Since, in Elementary, you’re playing somewhat of a life coach, what’s the Lucy Liu secret for health, happiness and wisdom?
Lucy: God, so many things to cover! Well, look, if you have a constant curiosity you’ll always stay young. How’s that? That’s the condensed version.