Lucy Liu was born on December 2, 1968 in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City, New York. In high school, she adopted a middle name, Alexis. She is the youngest of three children born to Cecilia (1925–1986), who worked as a biochemist, and Tom Liu (1913–1975), a trained civil engineer who sold digital clock pens. Liu's parents originally came from Beijing and Shanghai and emigrated to Taiwan as adults before meeting in New York. She has an older brother, Alex, and an older sister, Jenny. Her parents worked many jobs while Lucy and her siblings were growing up.
Liu has stated that she grew up in a diverse neighborhood. She learned to speak Mandarin at home and began studying English when she was 5. She studied the martial art kali-eskrima-silat as a hobby when she was young. Liu attended Joseph Pulitzer Middle School (I.S.145), and graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1986. She later enrolled at New York University and transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she was a member of the Chi Omega sorority. Liu earned a bachelor's degree in Asian languages and cultures. Liu worked as a waitress at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase club circa 1988–89.
Liu was discovered by an agent at the age of 21 while traveling on the subway. She did one commercial. As a member of the Basement Arts student-run theater group, she auditioned in 1989 for the University of Michigan's production of Alice in Wonderland during her senior year of college. Although she had originally tried out for only a supporting part, Liu was cast in the lead role. While queuing up to audition for the musical Miss Saigon in 1990, she told The New York Times, "There aren't many Asian roles, and it's very difficult to get your foot in the door." In May 1992, Liu made her New York stage debut in Fairy Bones, directed by Tina Chen.
Liu had small roles in films and TV, marking her debut. In 1993, she appeared in an episode of L.A. Law as a Chinese widow giving her evidence in Mandarin She was cast in both The X-Files in "Hell Money" and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in "The March to Freedom," before landing a role on Ally McBeal. Liu originally auditioned for the role of Nelle Porter (played by Portia de Rossi), and the character Ling Woo was later created specifically for her. Liu's part on the series was originally temporary, but high audience ratings secured Liu as a permanent cast member. Additionally, she earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series. In Payback (1999), Liu portrayed Pearl, a high-class BDSM prostitute with links to the Chinese mafia.
Liu was cast as Alex Munday in the film Charlie's Angels, alongside Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. The film opened in November 2000 and earned more than $125 million in the United States. Charlie's Angels earned a worldwide total of more than $264 million. The sequel, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, opened in June 2003 and also did well at the box office, earning $100 million in the U.S. and a worldwide total of more than $259 million. Liu also starred with Antonio Banderas in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, a critical and box office failure.
In 2000, she hosted Saturday Night Live with Jay-Z. In a 2001 episode of Sex and the City entitled "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" she guest starred as herself, playing Samantha Jones' new client. She starred in the Sex and the City–inspired TV show Cashmere Mafia on ABC. Liu also made a cameo appearance on Futurama (as herself and robot duplicates) in the episodes "I Dated a Robot" and "Love and Rocket", and on The Simpsons in the season 16 episode "Goo Goo Gai Pan."
In 2002, Liu played Rita Foster in Vincenzo Natali's Brainstorm (a k a Cypher). Soon thereafter, she appeared as O-Ren Ishii in Quentin Tarantino's 2003 film, Kill Bill. She won an MTV Award for Best Movie Villain for the part. Subsequently, Liu appeared on several episodes of Joey with Matt LeBlanc, who played her love interest in the Charlie's Angels films. She also had minor roles as Kitty Baxter in the film Chicago and as a psychologist opposite Keira Knightley in the thriller Domino. In Lucky Number Slevin, she played the leading love interest to Josh Hartnett. 3 Needles was released on December 1, 2006, Liu portrayed Jin Ping, an HIV-positive Chinese woman.
In 2007 Liu appeared in Code Name: The Cleaner; Rise, a supernatural thriller co-starring Michael Chiklis in which Liu plays an undead reporter (for which she was ranked number 41 on "Top 50 Sexiest Vampires"); and Watching the Detectives, an independent romantic comedy co-starring Cillian Murphy. She made her producer debut and also starred in a remake of Charlie Chan, which had been planned as early as 2000. Liu guest-starred as lawyer Grace Chin on Ugly Betty in the 2007 episodes "Derailed" and "Icing on the Cake."
In 2007 Empire named Liu number 96 of their "100 Sexiest Movie Stars." The producers of Dirty Sexy Money created a role for Liu as a series regular. Liu played Nola Lyons, a powerful attorney who faced Nick George (Peter Krause). Liu voiced Silvermist in Disney Fairies and Viper in Kung Fu Panda.
In March 2010, Liu made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award–winning play God of Carnage as Annette on the second replacement cast alongside Jeff Daniels, Janet McTeer, and Dylan Baker.
In March 2012, she was cast as Joan Watson for Elementary. Elementary is an American Sherlock Holmes adaptation, and the role Liu was offered is traditionally played by men. She has gained praise for her role as Watson, including 3 consecutive nominations for the People's Choice Awards for Favorite TV Crime Drama Actress.
She also has played police officer Jessica Tang on Southland, a television show focusing on the lives of police officers and detectives in Los Angeles as a recurring guest actor during the fourth season. She received the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Drama Guest Actress for this role.
In August 2011, Liu became a narrator for the musical group The Bullitts.
In 2013, Liu was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Liu was named Harvard's 2016 Artist of the Year. She was awarded the Harvard Foundation’s arts medal at the annual Harvard Foundation Award ceremony, during the Cultural Rhythms Festival in Sanders Theatre.
She is also part of the cast in the upcoming post-apocalyptic thriller Future World, directed by James Franco and Bruce Thierry Cheung.
Lucy Liu kicked off her directing career in 2011. The movie, titled Meena, was based on a true story, about an eight-year-old Indian girl who is sold to a brothel. The movie was screened in New York City in 2014.
Lucy Liu's other directorial credits include 4 episodes of Elementary and an episode of Graceland. She is set to direct the second season premiere of Luke Cage.
Liu had previously presented her artwork under a pseudonym, Yu Ling (which is her Chinese name). Liu, who is an artist in several media, has had several gallery shows showcasing her collage, paintings, and photography. She began doing collage mixed media when she was 16 years old, and became a photographer and painter. Liu attended the New York Studio School for drawing, painting, and sculpture from 2004 to 2006.
In September 2006, Liu held an art show and donated her share of the profits to UNICEF. She also had another show in 2008 in Munich. Her painting, "Escape", was incorporated into Montblanc's Cutting Edge Art Collection and was shown during Art Basel Miami 2008, which showed works by contemporary American artists. Liu has stated that she donated her share of the profits from the NYC Milk Gallery gallery show to UNICEF. In London, a portion of the proceeds from her book Seventy Two went to UNICEF.
In 2001, Liu was the spokeswoman for the Lee National Denim Day fundraiser, which raises money for breast cancer research and education. In 2004 Liu was appointed an ambassador for U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She traveled to Pakistan and Lesotho, among several other countries.
Early in 2006, Liu received an "Asian Excellence Award" for Visibility. She also hosted an MTV documentary, Traffic, for the MTV EXIT campaign in 2007. In 2008, she produced and narrated the short film The Road to Traffik, about the Cambodian author and human rights advocate Somaly Mam. The film was directed by Kerry Girvin and co-produced by photographer Norman Jean Roy. This led to a partnership with producers on the documentary film Redlight.
Liu is a supporter of marriage equality for gays and lesbians, and became a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign in 2011. She has teamed up with Heinz to combat the widespread global health threat of iron deficiency anemia and vitamin and mineral malnutrition among infants and children in the developing world.
In 1991, Liu underwent surgery after a breast cancer scare. "The doctor sort of felt and said it was cancer and it needs to come out. I went into shell-shock. It was pretty traumatizing." The lump was removed just two days after the doctor's examination and was found to be benign.
Liu has studied various religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism and Jewish mysticism. She has stated, "I'm into all things spiritual—anything to do with meditation or chants or any of that stuff. I studied Chinese philosophy in school. There's something in the metaphysical that I find very fascinating."
She has been a member of the Chinese-American organization Committee of 100 since 2004.
Liu announced the birth of her son, who had been born via a gestational surrogate, on August 27, 2015; the father is unknown.
Since the birth of Rockwell, Liu has been heavily involved in celebrating diversity in modern families. One major campaign she was involved in was the Tylenol's #HowWeFamily Mother's Day Campaign.Film