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The Fretts on Film Interview: Lucy Liu on Linsanity, Meditation and More!

March 17, 2012

Lucy Liu hits movie theaters again this weekend as a beleaguered public-school teacher in Tony Kaye’s Detachment, and while I didn’t enjoy the film, I admired her performance, especially in an emotionally charged scene with James Caan. I recently did a lovely interview with Liu for an upcoming isue of Emmy Magazine about her award-worthy work as a LAPD officer in TNT’s Southland, and we got off on a couple of fascinating tangents.

Bruce Fretts: You’ve become known for physically demanding parts in recent years, whether in the Charlie’s Angels pictures, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1 or your upcoming martial-arts movie The Man with the Iron Fists, costarring Russell Crowe and Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (who also directed). Do you seek out those kinds of roles, or do they find you?

Lucy Liu: I try to take a backseat to the action thing because I have the anxiety that it will be the only thing that connects me to anything I’ve done. I’m not sure I want the legacy I leave behind to be just that. I think it’s wonderful. I love action movies—I love to watch them. I like knowing that I’m part of that zeitgeist as well because it’s something that people get an adrenaline rush from and it’s exciting and fun, but my only fear is that to get caught in that, it’s hard to get out of it.

I don’t know how I fell into that category, and I’m pleased to be in it, but I’m excited to have other roles that I’ve done that haven’t had that. Maybe not so surpisingly, some of those projects I’ve done are, number one, not as popular or number two, just not as widely seen. So people know me more as action-oriented.

Lucy Liu slayed us as O-Ren Ishii in Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”

Bruce: I read that you study Eastern religions and practice meditation. I started meditating in the past couple of years with my kids, and it’s changed my life. How does it affect your work?

Lucy:  I get up every morning pretty early and I meditate before anything, even if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning. I take 20 minutes at least twice a day and I take that time for myself. I try to just decompress and allow myself that time because you end up running around and suddenly it’s midnight. If you say you’re going to do it later, you don’t end up doing it because you don’t have the time. I find it to have been something very transformative for me as well. When you take that time for yourself, you’re really connecting to everything universally. You’re taking any of the energy that you may require that may want to come to you and you’re able to channel it into your work or your life or your family. You will receive inspirations from those moments.

Sometimes when you don’t even know what you want in your life, little seeds will be planted during the time of meditation. Whatever happens you take steps forward, little ones even, and you don’t even know how or what you’re doing but you’re doing it, like you’re hypnotized and suddenly you have this beautiful gift in front of you that has been given to you from another space you created in your mind. Children would probably benefit from it more than anything to have that time for themselves. It’s hard for them to sit still obviously, it’s almost more of a challenge, but what a gift if I’d had that time for myself since I was younger. They do it at certain high schools. Living in the city, it’s very rare to have a quiet time,. To force yourself to have it is a strange idea but it really does make a huge difference.

Bruce: As a native New Yorker, have you been following the Jeremy Lin story?

Lucy: The whole Linsanity thing is kind of wonderful. My brother went to a game, he has season tickets, and he said he’s never seen so many Asians at a Knicks game. I love that in some strange way this man has been able to bridge the Asian American male into society in a way that is physical and dominant and not diminuitive and passive. That’s a wonderful way to connect it. Obviously there’s an indordinate amount of pressure on him but at the same time he has another aspect to him spiritually as well. He’s Christian, right?

WWJLD: What Would Jeremy Lin Do?

Bruce: Yes, his religion seems to be a big part of his life.

Lucy: Whatever anyone believes, to know that you’re not in the one in control is a wonderful place to be because no matter what happens you’re giving yourself up to another place. In China, we don’t really have religions, we have philosophies, and the philosophy of knowing that you are not the Creator and not the one that has control is a wonderful thing. There is something really wonderful about his work because he’s saying, “I’m just the vessel.” There’s something really great about that, seeing that he has faith, no matter what faith it is, if it’s helpful, it’s great. I don’t care what it is, even if it’s Scientology.

It’s wonderful that he’s Asian and that he went to Harvard. He’s representing so many different levels of what’s good and how you can combine them to make something that precise and that successful. Hopefully it’s not a phase but even if it is, it has already created a wave of change. I think it’s wonderful that people are fighting over where he’s from—is he Taiwanese  or is he Chinese? Everybody wants a claim to something that’s popular, and I like that. I haven’t seen a game yet, but I’ll try to. I think it’s great. I love the story of somebody who’s been struggling but is now in a place of success. I can understand that. I’m kind of a sucker for that.

Bruce: I’m incredibly excited about The Man with the Iron Fists. Do you know when it’s coming out?

Lucy: It’s coming out in—I don’t actually know when it’s coming out. I’m curious to see how it turned out. I think that’s going to be an unusual movie. Maybe we’ll have a time to talk about that in the future.

What’s your favorite Lucy Liu movie? Post a comment!

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