Interview: Lucy Liu (Kung Fu Panda 2)

Interview: Lucy Liu (Kung Fu Panda 2). By Simon Miraudo.

Lucy Liu has made a career out of playing powerful women, including Ling Woo in Ally McBeal, Alex Munday in Charlie’s Angels and O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill. She continues that tradition in the Kung Fu Panda films, where she offers her voice to Master Viper, a lady snake well-versed in ancient martial arts. We spoke to Liu about the difficulties of voice acting, her time spent on Broadway,  working on The Man With The Iron Fist with RZA and Russell Crowe and her five favourite films of all time.

Watch the video here!

You can also check out our interview with Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson here.

SM: I always like to begin by asking if you remember a film that you watched growing up that inspired you to get into acting.

LL: That’s a good question. There wasn’t a specific film. I watched a lot of television growing up; we didn’t really go out to see movies in the cinema. My parents were working all the time. I remember there was another actor that lived in the neighbourhood that did commercials, and I was so fascinated by that. I thought it was such a cool job, and not long after I decided I wanted to be an actor as well.

SM: I understand with something like Kung Fu Panda, you’re in isolation while you’re recording your voice work. How do you keep your energy up? How do you psyche yourself up to voice these kung fu battles when you’re by yourself?

LL: [Laughs] It’s easy, because they don’t have you in for long periods of time. They have you in for maybe one to three hours, so it just varies. You can’t really go in and be exhausted if they’re asking for that short period of time, you know what I mean? Sometimes they’ll ask you to work around a schedule you already have, which is easy also. You can sort of judge, “Am I going to be exhausted by the end of the day?” They’ll generally tell you if you need to do action. They’ll also, oftentimes, have you do the dialogue first, and they’ll do the action at the end so your voice doesn’t get hoarse.

SM: So you don’t have any candy or sugar tricks?

LL: They have water; they have sugar; they have everything you possibly need. [Laughs] I guess one of the things that helps your voice as well is if you have a bite of an apple. It clears up your voice as well, which is a nice secret to have.

SM: You have a great crew in the film that you work with; not just Jack Black, but also Angelina Jolie and Seth Rogen and David Cross. Did you get a chance to at least meet them, or bond with them, between films, to get a chemistry going?

LL: We bonded on the red carpet, and also when we did press; when we had downtime in Cannes and also when we do [junkets]. Generally when you do this, you’re moving from hallway to hallway, and sometimes they’ll lump you together, and do interviews together, which is always fun. But generally we don’t intermingle. They don’t let us get together! In case we overthrow … who knows. It’s just fun to be able to see each other, and we get to travel in the plane together, which is always fun.

SM: If anyone could enjoy a plane trip, it would have to be in that scenario.

LL: Yes, well everyone will probably be passed out and exhausted by that point. But you get to play board games together. People are reading. You get to eat together. It’s fun.

SM: Tell me a bit about how doing a voice role, where you do your work and sometimes don’t see it for over a year…

LL: Years. This one was three years.

SM: Three years, there you go. How does that compare with Broadway, and God of Carnage, which is as immediate as it gets?

LL: I love the idea of having the variety of those things. I love doing theatre because you can’t really get away; you can’t escape. You’re in, you know?! You’ve signed the contract; you have to show up; you have a deadline of being there for the curtain call. You can’t have an off day. You can, but you pay for it immediately. The business that we’re in is entertainment, and you want to, naturally, please the people that are there, and feel connected to them, and feel connected to yourself as an artist. So I really do enjoy theatre so much, and it’s how I started in fact. When I graduated, I started doing theatre pretty much right away.

SM: Nice one. I understand you’re working on another kung-fu film at the moment; The Man With The Iron Fist with RZA.

LL: That’s right.

SM: Tell me a little bit about that.

LL: We just shot that in China. They had been working on that for a long time, and I just came in on the last five weeks, which is nothing compared to what they’ve been through. It was quite cold; it was the wintertime. We shot it in Shanghai and it’s set in the 1800s. I’m really excited to see how the movie turns out. I had some wonderful scenes with Russell Crowe, who’s incredibly talented. And it was RZA’s first time directing, and he wrote a script; I think Eli Roth came onboard and wrote the script with him. It should be good; it should be kind of an interesting mixture of cult, martial arts, epic drama slash … you know … just a kick ass movie.

SM: What more could you want?

LL: Exactly! I mean, hopefully that’s how it will turn out. I have great hope for it, and I think however it turns out, I had a great time working with the team of people. They were wonderful.

SM: I like to finish with a question that many have come to dread, and that is: what are your five favourite films?

LL: Oh dear! Just pop that on me! You couldn’t give me notes yesterday?

SM: I’ll give you leeway, it can be of all time, it could be recently…

LL: Let me see. Well … now, you’re just going to take up all the rest of your time with my mind going ‘Ummm’. I just need to put my thinking cap on.

SM: Any kung-fu films?

LL: Well, one of my favourite films is Drunken Master 2 with Jackie Chan. I remember watching it when I was younger and being in awe of, physically, how he was moving. And also, he was supposed to be drunk, and the movements really indicated that he was. I thought it was really emotional too. I love the connection between the two things. I think he’s pretty fantastic. I also love the movie Hero; I’m a huge fan of an epic like that. There are so many movies. I think that Reservoir Dogs is one of my favourite movies as well. I think that Quentin Tarantino has a way of capturing characters and making a story that is so unique and he’s sort of taking some things and hashed them together from the past; from some classic zeitgeist. It’s a very rare thing. I also love movies like, well, recently I saw Bridesmaids, which I thought was absolutely genius and funny and hysterical. I laughed till I cried. I just want to show you that the mix is not just kung-fu movies or violence! I do think movies like that are wonderful, and I enjoy them very much. There’s another movie that I cannot remember the name, and it’s like my favourite movie of all time. The Peter Sellers movie…

SM: The Party? Dr. Strangelove?

LL: No no, he plays the gardener…

SM: Oh, Being There.

LL: Being There! [To self] “Hi, anyone home?” I’m just a bit jetlagged. Being There is one of my all-time favourites. So, that’s what I have for you in the time that I’ve been given. That I’ve been allocated [laughs]!

Kung Fu Panda 2 opens in Australian cinemas June 23, 2011.

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