Lucy Liu Interviewed – ‘Code Name: The Cleaner’

     January 4, 2007

Openingtomorrow is a movie called Code Name: the Cleaner. In the film Cedricthe Entertainer plays a regular guy named Jake who wakes up in a hotel roomwith 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 youcan probably guess from the set-up, the film is about Cedric figuring out whohe is and how he got there. Starring alongside him in the film is Lucy Liu.

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

Theinterview was done a few weeks ago and in roundtable form. Lucy talks prettyhonestly 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’malways looking for a comedy because I think it’s one of the most challengingthings to do, it’s one of the most fun things to do, and I think doing a comedywith 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 youa fan of Cedric’s?

Yes. I had seen a lot of hismovies before, and actually seen a lot of his comedy, too. But I’ve never seenhim in a lead role before, so it was actually refreshing, and also to seehim…I don’t know, I really enjoyed watching him in the movie as an audiencemember. Do you know what I mean? Like I thought…The clog dancing is one of myfavorite scenes, and the Ricola thing. Like it’s all improv, you know? And he’sjust hilarious. [laughs]

Was ithard to keep up with his improv?

Well actually, I think it justraises you to a higher level. It pushes you to improve your skills and sort ofjust get off the script and do whatever it is. Because you’re so aligned todoing what is written a lot of the times, because I come from a theatrebackground, 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 inthis case, we sort of just tore the whole thing up and re-wrote and did thingson the day, especially if he was improvising as we were doing the scenes. So itkind of pushed me to just be a lot more open with the dialogue and come up withthings that could be funnier. I mean, who knows, you know what I mean?

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

Well, oddly, it’s now ingrained inmy body. [laughs] It’s like,”Okay, we’re going to do a fight scene off the fly.” We hadn’tplanned 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 choreographa lot of it because I felt very comfortable doing it. I know all of thedifferent moves that I have learned from my other movies, and it just felt likea very natural progression for me, and incorporated other things that I’velearned. Like, my body has sort of changed and become more flexible, so weadded splits, we added different things, and also added comedic elements ofusing the toilet plunger or the toilet brush, to make it extra funny.

Nicollettehad 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 shedoes 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 middleof winter. [laughs] So she’s got a great body, and she’s incredibly toned.

Are youdrawn to these secret agent type roles?

Yeah. I mean, I think the ideaalso of spoofing Bourne Identity, which I love that movie and I love theseries, was really funny. Especially when he’s really a janitor, you know whatI mean? And she’s sort of undercover as a waitress. I don’t know, there’ssomething very…It’s kind of not really, you know…It’s not James Bond atall, and at the same time, it’s not to the extreme of Austin Powers. So it’ssomewhere in the middle of reality, which I thought was very funny. And theflashbacks I thought were great, where he’s in combat and doing his moves.

You getto do some over-the-top lines, like “you would remember mama…”

Oh yeah! Yeah, that was like animprovisation.

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

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

Did youask to be an executive producer?

I demanded it! [laughs]

Did theyoffer 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. Ijust felt like there needed to be some changes in the script. And it justseemed 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 canget in there.” Sometimes when you sign on as an actress, you don’t want tostep on too many toes in terms of the writing. But they were completely open toit and we gutted it completely. I mean, because originally the woman waswritten as someone who’s Jamaican. So it was either Jamaican or me. “Up toyou, your choice.” [laughs] Soobviously we just sort of changed everything around and just made her not asangry, and not as straight, but made her a little more comedic and gave her alittle more sass. And on the day when we were improvising in the scenes, wetried to make it funnier, too. And I think we had a really good chemistrytogether offset. So hopefully it came off on screen as well. Just that theyhave a really nice physical dynamic, that I think is always enjoyable in acomedy. Physical energy between the people.

Do youthink that was there from the very beginning?

With us?


I did. I did, yeah. I feel likepeople are sort of beginning to realize that they can kind of match me up withanybody. Like you can put me with Josh Hartnett, you can put me with…Like theethnicity boundary isn’t really there. It doesn’t really matter. It’s sort ofan open arena, and it shouldn’t be about color. It should just be aboutrelationships, you know? And I like to sort of meld that into my work, and makesure that it really comes naturally no matter who it is, and what ethnicity. Itshouldn’t matter. Actually, somebody pointed out in the poster, that it’s avery 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, Ithought that was one of the attractions.

Whatother things are your type of humor?

You mean like broad comedy andthings like that?


Okay. [laughs] Nacho Libre, I thought was hilarious. There were so manymoments in there that were so funny. I like things that are somewhat unique intheir comedy, and that people wouldn’t really think of. I think certainformulas also really work. Because I grew up watching sitcoms, and like theformula, laughter, laugh tracks…And it works for me. I grew up watchingThree’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 certainformulas, and I think they always work for me. And I think when you add alittle element of an oddity in there, it makes it even funnier for me.

IsCharlie’s Angels in there too?

Charlie’s Angels was a little morecampy, and…I need to rethink that because it’s been so long. I don’t considermy own movies like in there. “Let me, for example, let me pull up my ownresume!” I think more about outside of my own…Like I think when you askme or somebody asked me a question about my opinion about movies, I alwaysthink of myself as an audience member, you know? And I love going to seemovies. They’re like my favorite thing to do. Like I love Elf. Do you know whatI mean? And that’s fantasy. And I lovedthe 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, thereare so many different things. I love to combine like the fantasy with that, andto have heart in that, which I think Nacho Libre had, and Elf had a lot of,too.

Werethere 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 supposedto come up to the window, and she’s like…And I’m supposed to say…I did acouple different things like “Get your ass in the trunk,” “Getyour junk the trunk,” whatever we were doing. And she’s like [showsattitude] She wouldn’t even have to say anything! I mean, she was so funny. Ieven said, to the other producers, I said, we need to have more of her in themovie. She is so funny. And I think they actually ended up reshooting when hecomes into the office building and she’s there. She was like, “Do you knowwhat being in the trunk for eight hours does to a black woman’s hair?” [laughs] You know what I mean? She’s justfunny. And she also is somebody who can riff really easily and well. She’s verytalented. She has her own show, as well.

So toher, you were the girl from Charlie’s Angels, and not the girl from AllyMcBeal?

Yeah. No, I guess she wasn’t intotelevision. [laughs] She didn’t watchenough television to do that joke on me. She said that once. You know, everytime we had a different take, it was very funny.

Do youhave any say on what will be on the DVD?

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

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Could youtalk about some of your upcoming projects?

Sure. Projects coming up that I’veshot awhile ago, that may be coming out, who knows, is a thriller, a sort ofvampire horror movie called Rise, that I think is coming out next fall, but I’mnot sure. And then I did a movie with Cillian Murphy over the summer. It was aromantic comedy, a very small movie called Watching the Detectives.

How wasworking with Cillian?

He’s great. He’s incrediblytalented. It was his first foray into comedy. I think he did a great job. Youknow, he’s very impressive, because he focuses a lot on his family, and he’snot an intense person where you can’t approach him and talk to him. Because allof 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. Andhe’s running around naked in half the movie. [laughs]


Yeah, exactly. That’s what makescomedy, is naked people, I guess.

It’s atheme with you…

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

What’sthe best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

The best gift that I’ve everreceived? Well, it’s weird, because we don’t exchange gifts anymore. My friendsand I, we’ve known each other for so long, my family, and we spend so much timetogether 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 weirdbecause it gets to the point where it’s not even about the gift anymore. It’sthat people will come all the way from another state to come for your openingof an art show, or they’ll come all the way over there for your birthday forlunch. You know, like to me, that’s become such a great gift, acknowledgingthat I don’t actually need anything material. And I go home now, and I justsort 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 yourwhole life and you want everything gone, you know what I mean? You grow out ofthings and you realize that you don’t really need things. Like if you have constructionor something going on in your house, you realize that you put all these thingsaway, you don’t actually ever use them. Like, “It’s been in the thing forsix months, do we ever use it? No. Do we need it? No.” So it becomes avery different thing. And in my experience, I’ve just become a lot more awareof global affairs and global issues and children. Like whenever I think ofdoing something, I always think of donating money for somebody for aninstitution or for an organization, or I ask them what they care about, and Idonate under their name, too. I don’t know, it’s just become a lot more…youknow, hopefully not like, “Grandma Lucy is sending a five dollar check toyou!” But it’s become a lot more…It’s just a different thing. It’s justbecome really different. Because I feel like people give things all the timeover the year, like, “Oh, I saw this sweater, I really liked it and Iwanted to get it for you.” So when it comes to that time of the year, itjust becomes a very different situation.

Anychildhood toy you remember fondly?

We didn’t really…And I thinkmaybe this is the problem, was we didn’t really exchange gifts a lot during theholidays either. It’s not that we didn’t celebrate Christmas, it was just likeif we’re even together in one place, then that’s a really big gift.

So it’sjust being with people?

Yeah, I think so. It’s what it’scome down to.

Who wouldyou call the entertainer of the year?

Oh, God. Well, since I have todiscount myself, I would say…The entertainer of the year? What does thatentail? Like what does that encompass?

Notnecessarily awards, just anyone who has entertained.

The most? Oh, Borat.


Yeah, Sacha Cohen. That’s anotherthing 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 soinappropriate, it just made things so much funnier. Because everyone’s soappropriate now. It’s sort of…If it’s not that politically correct, it’sactually quite funny.

Do youhave a favorite Three’s Company moment? Was it “the one with themisunderstanding”?

Yeah! “That misunderstandingepisode,” exactly! Oh, and then “when he fell down”? [laughs]

Yes,exactly! Or when Mr. Furley “overheard something”…

And he was like looking forChrissy? Yeah. Don Knotts. [does Don Knotts expression] That’s my Don Knottsimpression. [laughs] And then therewas Mr. Roper. Yeah. I mean, I don’t know…Like I used to watch Happy Days andGet Smart and all those things. Like those to me, I just enjoyed that verylike, “Max is in the bubble.” “Max, you can’t hearanything.” “Oh, Max!” There was just a very sort of formulaicway of having comedy then, which I somehow enjoyed as a child.

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

Well, the only movie that I canremember seeing in a theater, because we didn’t go out to theaters much, wasE.T., which blew my mind! I just remember being in a theater, and my wholefamily was with me, and I was just hysterical crying. Like it was just somoving. And the plant dying and coming back to life. You know, it was such amoment. It was so magical to see them bicycling by the moon. And you know, it’sso funny because now you think that everything’s a greenscreen. Or you can makea 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 prettyamazing. And hopefully people don’t take it for granted. I mean, noweverything’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 whenyou finally met Drew Barrymore and worked with her, were you in awe that shewas in that movie?

You know what’s so weird? Is thatI didn’t associate that little girl with her at all. I actually completelyforgot. Because the movie itself was, that was that character, do you know whatI mean? And that was that little girl, and Elliott and all those people werethere, and they’ll always be there in that time frame, and they’ll always bethat age because they’re forever captured on celluloid. And this other womanthat I knew and that I met was this goofy other girl that had nothing to dowith that. And I think when we were doing the first thing, they had a re-releaseof E.T. and it was on DVD, and I was like, “Oh my God, I completely didn’teven put 2 and 2 together.” Because you meet the person in the presentday, 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 itdid dawn on you, did you say, “Oh my God!”?

No, I didn’t. Because it didn’teven like…You know, because sometimes after work we have different eventsthat we have to run to, and she was going to that, and not until later on did Irealize that she was going to this major event that was a really big moment inmy youth. So it was pretty funny, yeah.

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