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Lucy Liu Interviewed – ‘Code Name: The Cleaner’
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Opening tomorrow is a movie called Code Name: the Cleaner. In the film Cedric the Entertainer plays a regular guy named Jake who wakes up in a hotel room with no memory of who he is and how he arrived there. To add to the problems, next to him are a dead body and a briefcase of cash.

As you can probably guess from the set-up, the film is about Cedric figuring out who he is and how he got there. Starring alongside him in the film is Lucy Liu.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I always enjoy watching Lucy Liu. Not only because she’s nice on the eyes, but due to her charisma on screen. No matter the part, she manages to pull me in. And did I mention she’s nice on the eyes?

The interview was done a few weeks ago and in roundtable form. Lucy talks pretty honestly about how the film came together and why she loves making comedies.


Question: So were you looking for a comedy?

Lucy Liu: Well, first of all, I'm always looking for a comedy because I think it's one of the most challenging things to do, it's one of the most fun things to do, and I think doing a comedy with a comedian is always very helpful because you've got a little cushion. Because if you're not funny, he's got to be funny. [laughs]

Were you a fan of Cedric's?

Yes. I had seen a lot of his movies before, and actually seen a lot of his comedy, too. But I've never seen him in a lead role before, so it was actually refreshing, and also to see him...I don't know, I really enjoyed watching him in the movie as an audience member. Do you know what I mean? Like I thought...The clog dancing is one of my favorite scenes, and the Ricola thing. Like it's all improv, you know? And he's just hilarious. [laughs]

Was it hard to keep up with his improv?

Well actually, I think it just raises you to a higher level. It pushes you to improve your skills and sort of just get off the script and do whatever it is. Because you're so aligned to doing what is written a lot of the times, because I come from a theatre background, and you do what's written, you pause when you're supposed to pause, you take your moments, but ultimately, you respect the writer's wishes. And in this case, we sort of just tore the whole thing up and re-wrote and did things on the day, especially if he was improvising as we were doing the scenes. So it kind of pushed me to just be a lot more open with the dialogue and come up with things that could be funnier. I mean, who knows, you know what I mean?

Do you have to start from square one when doing the martial arts?

Well, oddly, it's now ingrained in my body. [laughs] It's like, "Okay, we're going to do a fight scene off the fly." We hadn't planned on doing the fight scene with Nicollette, and suddenly they're like, "Let's do a fight scene together at the end." So I helped choreograph a lot of it because I felt very comfortable doing it. I know all of the different moves that I have learned from my other movies, and it just felt like a very natural progression for me, and incorporated other things that I've learned. Like, my body has sort of changed and become more flexible, so we added splits, we added different things, and also added comedic elements of using the toilet plunger or the toilet brush, to make it extra funny.

Nicollette had never done anything like that before, had she?

Nicollette? I think she took some, like a tae kwon do class or something. But she's really flexible. I think she does yoga and stuff. And she's in great shape, as you saw in the movie. I mean, I wouldn't be able to get down like that in lingerie right away in the middle of winter. [laughs] So she's got a great body, and she's incredibly toned.

Are you drawn to these secret agent type roles?

Yeah. I mean, I think the idea also of spoofing Bourne Identity, which I love that movie and I love the series, was really funny. Especially when he's really a janitor, you know what I mean? And she's sort of undercover as a waitress. I don't know, there's something very...It's kind of not really, you know...It's not James Bond at all, and at the same time, it's not to the extreme of Austin Powers. So it's somewhere in the middle of reality, which I thought was very funny. And the flashbacks I thought were great, where he's in combat and doing his moves.

You get to do some over-the-top lines, like "you would remember mama..."

Oh yeah! Yeah, that was like an improvisation.

Was it hard keeping a straight face when you had to say that kind of stuff?

Oh yeah. I mean, the whole thing was just absurd, you know what I mean? Because she's a very sassy girl, she's very spicy. And she also has to kind of keep up with who he is as well, as well as she's undercover. [laughs] "You would remember hittin' mama." That's another thing about being an executive producer, you can go in there and you can re-write the dialogue, and no one's going to slap your hand. So we went and re-wrote dialogue and made it a little bit more urban, a little bit funnier.

Did you ask to be an executive producer?

I demanded it! [laughs]

Did they offer it to you?

Well, they wanted me in the movie. I met with Cedric and I fell in love with him, and I wanted to work with him. I just felt like there needed to be some changes in the script. And it just seemed like a lot of, you know, getting your hands involved, and so they said, "Well, come on board as an executive producer. You can creative, you can get in there." Sometimes when you sign on as an actress, you don't want to step on too many toes in terms of the writing. But they were completely open to it and we gutted it completely. I mean, because originally the woman was written as someone who's Jamaican. So it was either Jamaican or me. "Up to you, your choice." [laughs] So obviously we just sort of changed everything around and just made her not as angry, and not as straight, but made her a little more comedic and gave her a little more sass. And on the day when we were improvising in the scenes, we tried to make it funnier, too. And I think we had a really good chemistry together offset. So hopefully it came off on screen as well. Just that they have a really nice physical dynamic, that I think is always enjoyable in a comedy. Physical energy between the people.

Do you think that was there from the very beginning?

With us?


I did. I did, yeah. I feel like people are sort of beginning to realize that they can kind of match me up with anybody. Like you can put me with Josh Hartnett, you can put me with...Like the ethnicity boundary isn't really there. It doesn't really matter. It's sort of an open arena, and it shouldn't be about color. It should just be about relationships, you know? And I like to sort of meld that into my work, and make sure that it really comes naturally no matter who it is, and what ethnicity. It shouldn't matter. Actually, somebody pointed out in the poster, that it's a very multi-ethnic movie. And I was like, "Oh, I didn't even notice that. Probably because I'm Asian! I didn't think too much about it." So to me, I thought that was one of the attractions.

What other things are your type of humor?

You mean like broad comedy and things like that?

Yeah, anything.

Okay. [laughs] Nacho Libre, I thought was hilarious. There were so many moments in there that were so funny. I like things that are somewhat unique in their comedy, and that people wouldn't really think of. I think certain formulas also really work. Because I grew up watching sitcoms, and like the formula, laughter, laugh tracks...And it works for me. I grew up watching Three's Company, and the physical comedy. There's something very, I guess, canned about the idea of humor to me, in some ways. Like I like certain formulas, and I think they always work for me. And I think when you add a little element of an oddity in there, it makes it even funnier for me.

Is Charlie's Angels in there too?

Charlie's Angels was a little more campy, and...I need to rethink that because it's been so long. I don't consider my own movies like in there. "Let me, for example, let me pull up my own resume!" I think more about outside of my own...Like I think when you ask me or somebody asked me a question about my opinion about movies, I always think of myself as an audience member, you know? And I love going to see movies. They're like my favorite thing to do. Like I love Elf. Do you know what I mean? And that's fantasy. And I loved the innocence of who he was in this world. Like Bob Newhart, I think is really, really funny. That's somebody, to me, is like a comedy genius. But to me, there are so many different things. I love to combine like the fantasy with that, and to have heart in that, which I think Nacho Libre had, and Elf had a lot of, too.

Were there more Charlie's Angels spoofs aside from Jacuzzi's outtake?

No. That was the only one. [laughs] But she is so funny. I mean, every scene, every take that she did, I laughed. Like, because I was supposed to come up to the window, and she's like...And I'm supposed to say...I did a couple different things like "Get your ass in the trunk," "Get your junk the trunk," whatever we were doing. And she's like [shows attitude] She wouldn't even have to say anything! I mean, she was so funny. I even said, to the other producers, I said, we need to have more of her in the movie. She is so funny. And I think they actually ended up reshooting when he comes into the office building and she's there. She was like, "Do you know what being in the trunk for eight hours does to a black woman's hair?" [laughs] You know what I mean? She's just funny. And she also is somebody who can riff really easily and well. She's very talented. She has her own show, as well.

So to her, you were the girl from Charlie's Angels, and not the girl from Ally McBeal?

Yeah. No, I guess she wasn't into television. [laughs] She didn't watch enough television to do that joke on me. She said that once. You know, every time we had a different take, it was very funny.

Do you have any say on what will be on the DVD?

Well, we have sort of like a little reel I think they gave out to everyone which was sort of a behind the scenes, and they'll probably put a little of the EPK on that. I'll see how it's packaged in the end, but right now, we just want to get it released before it hits pirates. [laughs] Hits the pirating. You know, it may never make the DVD, may not even have to focus on the DVD because it'll be out in China like tomorrow, before the movie's even out.

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Could you talk about some of your upcoming projects?

Sure. Projects coming up that I've shot awhile ago, that may be coming out, who knows, is a thriller, a sort of vampire horror movie called Rise, that I think is coming out next fall, but I'm not sure. And then I did a movie with Cillian Murphy over the summer. It was a romantic comedy, a very small movie called Watching the Detectives.

How was working with Cillian?

He's great. He's incredibly talented. It was his first foray into comedy. I think he did a great job. You know, he's very impressive, because he focuses a lot on his family, and he's not an intense person where you can't approach him and talk to him. Because all of his movies are so incredible, and he's always playing such dramatic roles, it's really refreshing to see him doing something much lighter and comedic. And he's running around naked in half the movie. [laughs]


Yeah, exactly. That's what makes comedy, is naked people, I guess.

It's a theme with you...

Yeah, everyone has to be naked when I do a round of comedy with them. [laughs]

What's the best Christmas gift you've ever received?

The best gift that I've ever received? Well, it's weird, because we don't exchange gifts anymore. My friends and I, we've known each other for so long, my family, and we spend so much time together that we literally said, "No, we're not going to exchange gifts. Don't worry about it." And we've been donating money to UNICEF. It's weird because it gets to the point where it's not even about the gift anymore. It's that people will come all the way from another state to come for your opening of an art show, or they'll come all the way over there for your birthday for lunch. You know, like to me, that's become such a great gift, acknowledging that I don't actually need anything material. And I go home now, and I just sort of see everything and I just want to re-gift everything. It's like, "Oh my God! I have so much..." Sometimes you just want to change your whole life and you want everything gone, you know what I mean? You grow out of things and you realize that you don't really need things. Like if you have construction or something going on in your house, you realize that you put all these things away, you don't actually ever use them. Like, "It's been in the thing for six months, do we ever use it? No. Do we need it? No." So it becomes a very different thing. And in my experience, I've just become a lot more aware of global affairs and global issues and children. Like whenever I think of doing something, I always think of donating money for somebody for an institution or for an organization, or I ask them what they care about, and I donate under their name, too. I don't know, it's just become a lot know, hopefully not like, "Grandma Lucy is sending a five dollar check to you!" But it's become a lot more...It's just a different thing. It's just become really different. Because I feel like people give things all the time over the year, like, "Oh, I saw this sweater, I really liked it and I wanted to get it for you." So when it comes to that time of the year, it just becomes a very different situation.

Any childhood toy you remember fondly?

We didn't really...And I think maybe this is the problem, was we didn't really exchange gifts a lot during the holidays either. It's not that we didn't celebrate Christmas, it was just like if we're even together in one place, then that's a really big gift.

So it's just being with people?

Yeah, I think so. It's what it's come down to.

Who would you call the entertainer of the year?

Oh, God. Well, since I have to discount myself, I would say...The entertainer of the year? What does that entail? Like what does that encompass?

Not necessarily awards, just anyone who has entertained.

The most? Oh, Borat.


Yeah, Sacha Cohen. That's another thing that I thought was really funny. Like I was crying. I was like, "This is so inappropriate, it's funny." You know, like it was so inappropriate, it just made things so much funnier. Because everyone's so appropriate now. It's sort of...If it's not that politically correct, it's actually quite funny.

Do you have a favorite Three's Company moment? Was it "the one with the misunderstanding"?

Yeah! "That misunderstanding episode," exactly! Oh, and then "when he fell down"? [laughs]

Yes, exactly! Or when Mr. Furley "overheard something"...

And he was like looking for Chrissy? Yeah. Don Knotts. [does Don Knotts expression] That's my Don Knotts impression. [laughs] And then there was Mr. Roper. Yeah. I mean, I don't know...Like I used to watch Happy Days and Get Smart and all those things. Like those to me, I just enjoyed that very like, "Max is in the bubble." "Max, you can't hear anything." "Oh, Max!" There was just a very sort of formulaic way of having comedy then, which I somehow enjoyed as a child.

Was there a film you saw as a child that changed your life?

Well, the only movie that I can remember seeing in a theater, because we didn't go out to theaters much, was E.T., which blew my mind! I just remember being in a theater, and my whole family was with me, and I was just hysterical crying. Like it was just so moving. And the plant dying and coming back to life. You know, it was such a moment. It was so magical to see them bicycling by the moon. And you know, it's so funny because now you think that everything's a greenscreen. Or you can make a movie completely with greenscreen. And then it was just, that was a miracle, you know? And to see how things have progressed so quickly, it's pretty amazing. And hopefully people don't take it for granted. I mean, now everything's so action oriented and it's so easy to put things together that, you know, you forget how simple things used to be and how wonderful they were, you know?

So when you finally met Drew Barrymore and worked with her, were you in awe that she was in that movie?

You know what's so weird? Is that I didn't associate that little girl with her at all. I actually completely forgot. Because the movie itself was, that was that character, do you know what I mean? And that was that little girl, and Elliott and all those people were there, and they'll always be there in that time frame, and they'll always be that age because they're forever captured on celluloid. And this other woman that I knew and that I met was this goofy other girl that had nothing to do with that. And I think when we were doing the first thing, they had a re-release of E.T. and it was on DVD, and I was like, "Oh my God, I completely didn't even put 2 and 2 together." Because you meet the person in the present day, and you know...It's so weird. I should have gotten her to sign my DVD! [laughs] What was I thinking! But yeah, that was a really...

When it did dawn on you, did you say, "Oh my God!"?

No, I didn't. Because it didn't even like...You know, because sometimes after work we have different events that we have to run to, and she was going to that, and not until later on did I realize that she was going to this major event that was a really big moment in my youth. So it was pretty funny, yeah.

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