Lucy Liu is an Emmy Award winning actor who has portrayed such iconic roles as Kill Bill‘s O-Ren Ishii, Charlie’s Angels‘ Alex Munday and for the past five years she has filled the role of Sherlock Holmes’s trusty assistant Watson on Elementary. An all-new episode of Elementary, which was directed by Liu, premieres August 27th at 10:00pm ET/PT.
CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke with Liu about directing, her time on Elementary and the visions of a man named Norman.
MW- Hi Lucy, how are you today?
LL- It’s going well! How are you?
MW- All’s good over here, really excited for next week’s episode of Elementary which is titled, “The Visions of Norman P. Horowitz,” and in addition to your role as Watson you also directed this one. What can we expect to learn from the visions of Mr. Horowitz?
LL- From this episode we are taken into a world where someone is able to tell when somebody is going to die. He (Horowitz) had written this a while ago so I’m not saying he’s a soothsayer but he somehow has the ability to predict when that’s going to happen. So it becomes a case that we take on that becomes much more complicated, of course, because that’s how our show is [laughs]. It also reconnects us with somebody that we worked with in the past and everyone basically becomes a suspect.
I really enjoyed working on the project because there was a lot of clutter and the production value was very different from anything I’ve ever done before. There was something that was just very engaging. Every time I’d think ‘Oh, I’m so nervous about directing and I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get the script.’ There’s that really exciting feeling that you get before you receive a script, it’s kind of like opening a present, especially when it’s on episodic obviously, and then when you get it you have this feeling of – you really have a vision of what you want to do. I was able to really take that and run with it. I feel really good about how the episode it turned out.
That’s a long way of saying something that you asked me [laughs].
MW- I love it! Now you’re no stranger to directing, you’ve directed a few other episodes of Elementary, how does your preparation differ when you’re directing and acting in an episode?
LL- When I’m playing Watson I’m thinking very much about the lines, the fluidity and the continuity of how that works. I’m not thinking about all the details of the props and when you’re directing you really have to consider the weather and the value of your day. Everything is counted by the minute and by the second. You have to sort of think as a producer would think. You don’t have the ability to glide through your day as easily as you are as an actor.
As an actor you really have to focus on getting your lines and I think about the wardrobe and how that connects to the scene – how it makes sense. I think as a director you have to think about everyone’s connection. I always find that to be really valuable because when you’ve done all your homework on the day you can just focus on the actors. Of course things come up like the weather, the traffic – things you would not want to necessarily have to deal with as an actor.
You’re told where to go as an actor more so and then as a director you really need to be in charge and be able to tell people how to go about their day. You have a lot of decisions to make and I find that to be a very different way of collaborating. I don’t want to say it’s tiring but you have to really be on point.
MW- And like you said as an actor you’re in charge of how you deliver a line but when you’re directing there are always things coming up that are out of your hands, like the weather.
LL- Yea! Or the car got stuck or something happened or the trailer’s not here. These are all things you have to take into consideration when you’re on the other side. It’s kind of an amazing thing to have to worry about. You really are wearing hats and you can have a better appreciation for how people do their job as well.
MW- Those are some of the tough parts obviously, but what are the most rewarding parts of directing to you?
LL- I love the connection between people and I love the relationships that you build which are so much more plush and more filled in than when you are just acting. You really get to understand the full talent of somebody when you are working with them behind the scenes. When you show up to set everything is already done, you don’t need to really engage in other things.
But when you show up to work with people as a director you start from the beginning and that is such an important aspect of how you are able to set the pace and the challenge for everyone else. I really think that the details of how things are executed really make a difference on screen. Behind the scenes too for everyone involved. You feel like you’ve really put an effort in and people really dedicate to their jobs. It’s just so impressive to behold.
MW- On a show like Elementary where you have your crew that’s been there for years is it even more special to you to direct that group of people that you’ve spent so much time with?
LL- Yes, because you really have a family and you have a reliable source that you’ve been working with for such a long time. You have a camaraderie with them already and so everyone wants to put their best foot forward. That’s such a great feeling! I’ve had that feeling also with other people that I’ve worked with that I’ve never met before. As a crew you want to just really be behind them and you want to support them and you want to give them as much encouragement and you want to engage with them too and you have a shorter period time to do it.
I always find it to be so rewarding, whoever I’m working with, whatever crew I’m working with, but this particular crew, I have a real relationship with them. I feel so grateful that we have had the time. People don’t leave – they keep coming back, and I feel like that just says a lot and speaks volumes about how the work environment has been on our show.
MW- So season six now for Elementary, what do you think it is that’s resonating with the audience that’s allowed the show to continue with so much success?
LL- I think there is the backdrop of the reading behind it, obviously Rob Doherty created the show but it stemmed from the literature itself. Arthur Conan Doyle created something that was really unique and people tune into it. I’m not saying that Johnny and I are necessarily replaceable but he created something that was so wonderful and so engaging. Rob took something and created something from that and was able to really take charge and make it part of the zeitgeist now – which is not an easy thing to do.
I’m really impressed by how he managed that, I give him all the credit basically [laughs].
MW- I think you deserve your fair share too.
MW- Well it’s been great talking to you today Lucy, congrats on the new episode and good luck with the rest of the season!
LL- What a pleasure, thank you so much!
Catch a new episode of Elementary on CBS this Monday, August 27th at 10:00 PM ET/PT. Check your local listings for more information.