Lucy Hisses Along in ‘Panda’
by Paul Fischer
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The gorgeous Lucy Liu hisses along in elegant style as a snake who mentors Jack Black’s Panda in the new animated comedy, Kung Fu Panda. Liu also confirms that while Cashmere Mafia may be resting with the fishes, she’ll be back on the small screen comer the Fall, hanging with the rich and well-to-do. Liu talked Pandas and TV with Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: So, Lucy, do you do a movie like this for the child within you? I mean, what is the attraction for you doing animated?
Lucy Liu: Well, for me, doing any kind of voiceover or animation is always such a great thing to be a part of, because it’s part of a world that I grew up in. I used to watch cartoons pretty much as I was a latchkey kid. So, we’d come home from school on our own, and you just let yourself in, and you sit—plant yourself in front of the TV, and you eat ramen noodles, and you watch every cartoon that’s on television. And you don’t know when you’re young that those things aren’t real, you know, that there’s a voice behind it and there’s people drawing, and creating. Now obviously the technology’s so advanced, and even when I signed on for this project, I didn’t know that you couldn’t have the snake move in that manner. Like, that it was not something that had been seen ever before. I thought, “Wow, how hard can it be?” You know, cut to five years later, this incredible project. It’s magnificent to see it, and if I think about it, I guess Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny, they didn’t really jump from a tree and do all these crazy things, and all these movements. So to see that and to be a part of that really is a dream come true, but, you know, to understand that there is—when you’re seven years old, like I am, you go and you realize that there is a voice behind it. There is a team of people that have been working on this project way before you even came on to do the voice-over. It’s pretty amazing, to see—it’s like, a lifelong project. And when we went to see the movie at Cannes, I turned to John after the movie was over—because it was a standing ovation. I was like, “How are you doing?” “I don’t know.” Because it’s like—I don’t know. Five to ten years of your life on one thing. Finally it comes to fruition and you don’t even—what do you do next? It’s a big thing.
PF: Lucy, you’ve been involved in a lot of different versions of Asian culture stories, from Kill Bill to Shanghai Noon. What did you think of the Kung Fu Panda take on it?
LL: I was actually terrified by Tai Lung when I saw it in the screening. I thought it was quite real, and I thought, “Wow. Kids are gonna be kind of scared when they see this.” But I thought it had so much heart, and there was so much humanity in it, that I—you forget that you’re associating and you’re relating to animals, because they’re all so different. I think growing up—you know, I grew up in New York. And it’s such a multicultural, multiracial place, that it kind of felt like that to me, watching the movie. You don’t differentiate yourself from anyone else, or from the animals, or from what’s happening on screen. And that’s what’s great about kids. Generally, they love animals very much, and they can connect to them. I love that they become a part of that. It doesn’t separate your world from their world.
PF: So, when they came to you with the concept, Kung Fu Panda, were you sold? Or was it getting to do the snake, and all that other stuff that got you to do the project?
LL: Well, I don’t know what your preparation was for it, but when I walked into the room, it was pretty golden. They had this incredible presentation on the wall of drawings and they were trying to tell the story, even though they didn’t completely know the story—because it’s changed over the past five years—of the backdrop and the landscape of what we were gonna be going into. Then they also showed me drawings of what Viper was going to look like, and her coloring. They also had, at that time, a very short clip on the computer of her. How she would move. And that’s when I realized how it had not been done before. Her slithering across the floor was not something that was easily-accomplished. You just learn so much along the way that you take for granted, when you see something in its finished format.
PF: The story evolved while you were working on it?
LL: Absolutely. But when I went in there, they don’t ever give you the script, just some pages, because they don’t really know where it’s going, also. They want you to try out different things, so they make it more farcical, more serious. They don’t know exactly what they want, and they kind of mix it up.
PF: So, they film you guys when you guys are doing the voiceovers. And they can take things that are characteristic of you and put them into the character. Did you see anything of Lucy in Viper?
LL: Not really. I mean, her eyes are gigantic and, you know, obviously she’s got a small mouth. I didn’t feel like I could see a lot of it. But I think that that’s the subtlety of when they do film you. There’s gestures that you’re not aware of when you’re talking, when you’re acting, when you’re doing things. I know that they probably incorporated blinking and moving and things like that, when you’re doing it and you do forget that the camera’s there. I think that’s what they want. They want what is natural to what you would do normally.
PF: Is Cashmere Mafia coming back? And what can we expect in the second season?
LL: You can expect that it’s not coming back. [laughter]
PF: Are you disappointed by that?
LL: No—I mean, I’m gonna miss everyone so much. We had such a fun time on it, and I felt like it was really a great thing to be a part of, because it was something that I hadn’t seen on TV myself. But I’m part of Dirty, Sexy Money now, so I’m gonna be working on Dirty, Sexy Money.
PF: As who?
LL: As Nola Lyons.
PF: Is she manipulative? Bitchy, cold?
LL: Oh, honey, you have to tune in. I mean, you know, you work on something, you don’t even know if you made the final cut. [laughter]
PF: As we’ve been speaking over the last couple of years, you’ve talked about the Charlie Chan project. Are we ever going to see that materialized?
LL: That might just turn into an animated series. No, I’m kidding. I mean, we’re still working on it. It’s taking a long time. We could have animated it by now, actually. I’ll have to talk to John about that.
PF: It’s been about three years since you first mentioned it, I think.
LL: I’ve been working on it for seven or eight years. Can you believe? Soon it’ll be Ironside, like, in the wholesale with a cane. I don’t know. It’s taking a long time, but—in some ways, because it is something that is from somewhere, it has a history, it makes it more difficult to bring it to life, because you want to pay homage to what it was, as well, yet you don’t want to completely change it. If it was something completely new, you can kind of do anything you wanted, you know?
PF: Are you contracted with Dirty, Sexy Money for a year?
LL: Well, apparently I’m just on it. So I’m not sure what’s gonna happen.
PF: Have you signed for anything else?
LL: No, not right now. Just focusing on this, because we didn’t know about Cashmere Mafia until just recently.
PF: Are you sticking with television? That’s the medium you’re happy with?
LL: No, I don’t think it’s “sticking with.” I think it’s just what I think is interesting. Do you know what I mean? Like, to me, it’s not the idea of, what’s the medium. It’s just what I find character-wise more interesting. And creatively, for me, too. You know? Because when I was doing Ally McBeal, I was able to do tons of different movies and things like that, as well.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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