Lucy Liu first entered the pop culture radar as a Peach Pit waitress in Beverly Hills 90210. Since then, her star has risen with roles in Payback with Mel Gibson, Shanghai Noon with Jackie Chan, and an unforgettable starring role in the popular Fox series Ally McBeal. Her most recent role puts her in high-kicking step with Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore in the Fall 2000 box-office smash Charlie’s Angels. Lucy was kind enough to make a quick stop with us to wax nostalgic about her past and yours.
Hello, Lucy. Tell us, what were your favorite cartoons growing up?
I used to watch Looney Tunes and Bugs Bunny all the time- that whole Saturday morning thing. Scooby Doo was one of my favorites. Scooby Doo and Looney Tunes were basically it. Now they have mini Bugs Bunny. All the baby ones; so it’s really different, but I love the originals. I always go on the Cartoon Network and watch those. It’s actually funnier now. As you get older you realize that there are so many things in there that are oriented toward adults. I wonder what I laughed about when I was younger.
I loved the Wonder Twins. They were awesome. I’d always do ‘Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!’ with my brother. ‘Form of a bucket of water!’ It was hilarious. I looked more similar to them than any other super hero because they had dark hair and they were sort of petite. Oh God! Identity crisis! They should make a movie about the Wonder Twins.
Did you have a particular favorite character?
Favorite character? I guess my favorite character would have to be Bugs Bunny. My favorite episode is the one where he falls asleep and then into a river and floats into this castle with the mad scientist with the giant brain. [Bugs] bumps into that big orange furry monster with the sneakers. I also like the episode where he bumps into the witch, and every time she runs off, her hairpins are floating in the air.
What were your favorite prime time shows?
We weren’t actually allowed to watch a lot of prime time. My parents were really conservative about that. We did watch Disney every Sunday night. I think it was at 7:00PM. We always watched the World of Walt Disney every Sunday. We also used to watch Wild Kingdom. That was one of our programs that we used to watch with that older guy, Marlin Perkins, narrating and then showing us the adventures. That was one of our favorite shows. Or, at least, we were allowed to watch that, and it was something that we always thought was intriguing. Our favorite shows that we were allowed to watch were Bewitched and Get Smart and [Saturday morning TV] obviously. I think there were only three channels at the time. There was CBS, NBC, ABC, and then later on FOX.
Get Smart is my favorite show of all time. It’s so funny. That whole beginning part with all the credits is so funny. He had all these gadgets, the shoe, and the agent that was always in the mailbox. It was always hilarious. I remember The Cone of Silence. He couldn’t hear anything. It was so funny.
When I got older, we used to sneak watching Three’s Company, which was completely taboo because there were two women and one man living together. One man pretending he was gay, which God forbids! That was one show that we would watch all the time that we weren’t actually allowed to watch. I’m trying to think of what else. I just thought that show was so funny. Don Knotts and Mr. Roper too. If I watched them now, I’d probably laugh even harder because there are so many sexual jokes in there that I kind of missed when I was younger. That’s probably why my parents didn’t want me to watch it. And look at me now!
What movies do you remember growing up?
Willy Wonka. Definitely. [My family] always used to watch Sound of Music. Every Christmas Sound of Music was on. Also, I remember Escape to Witch Mountain. Escape to Witch Mountain was another one that I used to watch a lot. Very “G” movies. And I remember we wouldn’t go to the movies a lot, but we went and saw ET and it was intense. I was bawling in the movie theatre. And now, funny enough, I’m working with Drew. How weird is that? At that time I had a huge crush on Henry Thomas, the kid who played E.T.’s friend
What about Star Wars?
I remember Star Wars. There was a line out the door for the movie theatre. We went and saw it and it was amazing. I didn’t really get sci-fi that much when I was younger. Then we saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was in my early teens.
What kind of toys did you play with?
Big Wheel was something that I longed to have. We could never afford Big Wheel, so I would borrow it from the neighbors. Of course, by the time we borrowed it, the brakes had been worn out. You know how you go really fast on the Big Wheel and then you slam on the brakes and it just starts spinning a 360? That was the best thing about it.
We used to play Connect Four all the time, and Monopoly. Connect Four was a big thing. Also there was this game called Mr. Mouth. Basically, there was a little guy with little eyes on it and [its mouth] would open and turn all the way around in a circle. You had little hands that had chips on it and you had to flip the chips into the mouth. It was all about physics.
What about playing Wonder Woman?
Oh yeah. I wanted to be Wonder Woman so badly. I had these huge silver bracelets that I used to wear. The invisible plane was the one thing I could have because it was invisible. I loved Wonder Woman.
What kind of breakfast cereals did you eat?
My mother wouldn’t let us have sugar in the morning. Ever. So the only thing we ever ate for maybe ten years of my life was Special K. Special K, morning, noon and night. We used to eat cereal all the time. Special K with bananas. Special K this, Special K that. Hated it. I was sneaking stuff at neighbors’ houses. I had Lucky Charms, Cap’n Crunch, Peanut Butter Crunch, Crunch Berries- you name it. My favorite, I think, was Cap’n Crunch and Peanut Butter Crunch.
Now, ironically, I eat Special K with bananas all the time. It’s kind of like Pavlov’s dog. Must be ancient Chinese torture.
Were you a junk food junkie?
Oh my God! I was such a candy whore. I would have those dip sticks where you’d use the dip stick and you’d dip it in the thing, eat all of the powdered stuff, and then eat the dip stick after that. Pink Snowballs were amazing. I would eat Jolly Ranchers. Cherry Jolly Ranchers were my favorite, and now they make them mini-sized, which is really fantastic. I used to have Bravos, which was another form of Doritos, but they were circular. I would eat anything that was bad for you. In fact, I was eating so much bad stuff that my entire arm would always break out. How gross is that?
That’s what you do when you’re deprived of something. You go crazy when you can get it. What else did I have? They had those $100,000 Bars. They were kind of braided caramel with chocolate over it. I used to eat those a lot. Twix was great too. Pop Rocks were huge until that whole scare with the Pop Rocks and the soda and the Mikey kid. You know, Mikey will try anything? Well, he exploded. That was the whole rumor from Pop Rocks and soda. That was it. No more Pop Rocks.
What did you dress up as for Halloween?
I dressed up as Mighty Mouse. There’s a picture of me with a bowl haircut and [my Mighty Mouse] costume with cap. What else did I dress up as? We had limited costumes because we didn’t have any money. Just like my brother was Superman and I was Mighty Mouse. I don’t think I did a lot of dressing up when I was younger.
What music were you listening to?
Olivia Newton-John! “Let’s Get Physical”- that was huge. We knew the entire album forwards and backwards. We listened to a lot of Chinese music too, but Olivia Newton-John was huge in our house. ABBA was really big too. Those are the main ones I remember. We had a very limited collection.
Was there a teen idol you liked?
I had a huge crush on C. Thomas Howell from The Outsiders. That was a movie that I really latched onto for some reason and I just like fell in love with him. I had a little poster of him. Where is he now? I don’t know. God.
Did you have a favorite sports team?
My father used to watch the Yankees and the Mets all the time on TV. I think I went to one game, but it was not the biggest deal in the world. We used to watch TV at home a lot. We were glued to the television. We were latch-key kids. We let ourselves in after school and we’d sit in front of the TV and watch TV from you know 3:00 until 8:00. We’d eat in front of the TV. We weren’t allowed to eat in front of the TV, but we did anyways. You know how many times we used to spill food running to the kitchen when we heard our parents opening the door? I knew every program on television at that time. I can’t remember a lot of them right now, but we watched a lot of TV.
Did you have a favorite place to go?
We used to hang out at this place called the dump, which was basically a building that was broken down. We used to hang out in the alley way and it was just a building that had been torn down. That’s where we used to hang out and play. But on a positive note, Mr. Softy would come around during the summertime in this truck and we used to eat Marios Italian Ice in those little cups. That was one of our favorite things. Bomb Pops were huge. Have you ever had a Bomb Pop? You know, cherry on the top then the white and then the blue. You always knew if somebody had a Bomb Pop because their mouth was like completely all different colors, but specific colors – American flag colors. And also snow cones were really big; which I didn’t realize they were huge in Mexico.
Did you ever have a fashion disaster?
That would be my entire life. To this day even. I got hand-me-downs most of the time. I used to wear Sassoon and Sergio Valente jeans and Puma sneakers. I had that Dorothy Hammil haircut and we used to use the Short and Sassy shampoo. Dorothy Hammil had the picture on the front of the bottle. In the commercial I remember she was ice skating and her hair would just be flowing. My hair was like three inches shorter than her actual hair, but that’s basically what I used to use – Short and Sassy. That’s why my hair’s long now.
Who was your role model?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be an actress. I just enjoyed comedy a lot. I would enjoy anything that was fun. I wanted to be Marcia Brady. I think you kind of want to be Barbie at that time when you’re younger. Barbie seems to have a perfect life. I used to go over to my friend’s house and play with her Barbie dolls. I don’t think I really had a role model per se, more so that I wanted to be something or somebody different when I was younger. It was kind of a cultural struggle.
You were on Beverly Hills 90210, weren’t you?
I played a waitress at the Peach Pit, and I had a scene with Jason Priestley. It was my first TV gig ever. They were trying to get this joke in, which was [the character is] overly efficient to the point where as soon as someone puts the money down on the table, her hand comes down and grabs it. But I didn’t really understand what was going on because I didn’t know anything. We kept on doing it over and over and finally they’re like, ‘Forget it. She’ll just be the regular waitress at the Peach Pit.’ I had a good time on that. Jason Priestley. It was a huge thrill for me. It was my first gig in L.A.
You did a voice in Johnny Quest as well, right?
Yes. I played like one of the evil twin sisters. I had maybe three lines. I get $.25 cent residuals from it now. It’s like, ‘Whew, I can go out and buy one of those Dipsticks. Mini Jolly Ranchers for everyone!’
Tell us about your character on Ally McBeal.
I play Ling Woo on Ally McBeal. She’s very honest. She’s very direct. She has a great relationship, well, it’s a very demented relationship with Fish in the show. She’s a really fun character to play. She’s really colorful. She’s going to be on Yesterdayland soon enough, I’m sure. I think for the first two seasons she wore a lot of faux fur. Every scene I was in, I was moulting, like things coming off and flying in the air. But she’s a great character. I think other people have ideas of her. A lot of people think she’s such a bitch, but I don’t see her that way. She says what she feels.
What are you going to do next?
I’m not sure yet. I think Ally McBeal has another two or three years left, and in between that time maybe work on something great. Whether it’s films or art or whatever. I may be working on a children’s book with Rhea Pearlman, which would be really fun. So that’s kind of in development.
As long as we’re on the topic of books, do you have any favorites from growing up?
My favorite book was this book that I don’t exactly remember. I remember the character- Herman. He was a mouse. He was the coolest mouse. We couldn’t have big animals like dogs and cats; so we owned, like, a thousand hamsters. They would give birth to more hamsters. I had a hamster named Peanut Butter and another one named Jelly. I had all the different colors. We had rabbits too. So Herman was a huge hit for us.
I remember Judy Blume books. Judy Blume books were really huge. But there was something taboo about them. Something dark- not really Yesterdayland material.
Things were just so different then. Kids today see movies that are so much more advanced, so much more sexually explicit than then. I remember seeing Halloween 3 when I was really young, and I was so terrified in the movie theatre. I cannot watch horror movies. To this day. I went and saw Blair Witch at a screening at somebody’s house, I was crawling out of the theater. When I was in watching Halloween 3, I wanted so desperately to get up from the seat and go out of the theatre and I couldn’t. My legs were paralyzed. I had to move my legs physically with my hands to get out of the theatre. And didn’t sleep in my room for a year. Slept on the floor of my brother’s room, my sister’s room, my parents.
Do you remember the show Charlie’s Angels?
I remember the show vaguely; I don’t remember specifics about the show. I remember playing Charlie’s Angels when I was younger. I was always playing Sabrina because she had dark straight hair. And now I’m an Angel in a movie. That’s bizarre. It really hasn’t hit me.
I didn’t realize there was so much fuss about ‘Oh, we need a third Angel, we need a third Angel.’ I just went in and had the meeting. I knew that they were kind of looking for somebody. I had a meeting with them and then went back five weeks later, or something like that. I went back in and just got hired after that meeting. Now they have action figures coming out. It’s just so bizarre. It’s so bizarre just thinking about your past and knowing that you’re going to be part of somebody’s past. You want to be Tomorrowland, but you’re in Yesterdayland suddenly and you haven’t even been Todayland, you know?
Everything moves so quickly you don’t know how to interpret anything or take it in and digest it. When you’re younger things were so much slower. Technology wasn’t as advanced. Now, everything just goes so quickly. I feel like I’ve aged 20 years just being here in this interview. I’d like my walker, please!
What are the names of the new Angels?
Alex, Dylan, and Natalie. Natalie is Cameron’s [Diaz] character. I think it will be an really interesting because I don’t think you see much in the way of all female lead casts, aside from Sex in the City, and maybe Ally McBeal. I think that’s going to be received really well. I think that’s maybe why people embraced Charlie’s Angels in the 70’s, because there was a whole movement going on then as well – burning your bra and all that stuff.
What’s your character like?
My character is very smart. She’s very strong. She’s capable. She’s very computer savvy. She’s comes from money. She comes from money so she’s got a certain way of being, you know. She’s very straight. She’s very direct. She also tries to bake, but it’s not very successful. But you’ve got to have a hobby.
Did you get along with the other girls?
Yeah. They’re amazing. I’m sure they’ll come in here at some point to do an interview as well. Cameron and Drew are such great storytellers. They remember so many things. They remember songs. The remember really specific things. I feel like a whole gap of my life just kind of evaporated. I don’t know where it went. But they retain stuff. I retain water. They retain memories.
How does it feel to be an Angel?
We’re not taking over for Farrah. It’s more like we’re our own people and we’re the new Angels. We’re not transporting them to here. We’re not going to be wearing 70’s clothing, which I think is a good idea because the mistake sometimes is when you try to redo something or take a character or take clothing from that time, people don’t appreciate it as much because you don’t want somebody to mess with your memory. Hopefully the Angels of 2000 will be what kids will later remember of Charlie’s Angels.