“New York is usually vibrant, because it’s a walking city, but now everyone is wearing masks and avoiding each other,” she laments. “It’s difficult because Rockwell likes to be moving around all the time. It’s just impossible to have him not put things in his mouth when I turn my back!”
Why Women Kill is creator Marc Cherry’s latest series to showcase a female ensemble. He started out in 1990 as a writer and producer on the The Golden Girls and its short-lived spin-off, The Golden Palace. He also co-created the female-driven sitcom, The 5 Mrs Buchanans, went on to create the Golden Globe-winning series Desperate Housewives, and followed that up with Devious Maid.
Why Women Kill is a 10-part series detailing the lives of three women living in the same California home over three eras: Beth Ann (Ginnifer Goodwin), a ’60s housewife; Simone (Lucy Liu), an ’80s socialite; and Taylor (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), a present-day lawyer. There’s bisexuality, open marriage, adultery, a closeted spouse, an overdose, a front-yard brawl and a choking incident involving meatloaf – and that’s just the first episode!
Ultimately, the show examines how the roles of women may have changed through the decades, but their reaction to betrayal remains the same.
The actor had just wrapped Elementary when Cherry called to pitch her the character. “He said he really had Simone in mind for me, then he walked me through the actual storyline,” she recalls. “It definitely changed a little bit from what we talked about at the start, but during the writing we got to know each other more and I felt like he had a great way of telling a story.
“I also loved the idea of Simone living in the ’80s with the hair and shoulder pads, and what the relationship to the cheating is for each character, as it has an unexpected ending.”
The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Lucy was raised in the Jackson Heights neighbourhood
of Queens, in New York City, and initially planned to pursue a degree in Asian languages and culture at the University of Michigan.
But she also secretly dreamed of becoming an actor, studying old Charlie Chan movies, and finally raised the nerve to audition for a supporting role in a college production of Alice in Wonderland in her final year.
Lucy was astonished when she landed the lead role, and it was all the encouragement she needed. As soon as she graduated, she broke the news to her parents that, despite her freshly inked college degree, she was moving to LA to become an actor.
After appearing in a string of TV shows including E.R. (1995, three episodes) and Ally McBeal (1998-2002, 79 episodes), she landed film roles in Charlie’s Angels (2000), Chicago (2002) and Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003).
Lucy looks back and sees her young self as more guileless than driven, hardly the Asian trailblazer breaking stereotypes in Hollywood that she’s become.
“I think I was just too naive and didn’t know what was ahead of me or what I was going to be up against,” she admits. “I had some idea when I got to LA, because a friend of mine would have 10 auditions in a day or a week and I would have maybe two or three in a month, so I knew it was going to be much more limited for me.
“But then I got really lucky with a few jobs, which put me in rooms for auditions where I looked like no other woman in the room. I thought, ‘I don’t even understand why I’m here, but I’m going to give it my all.’
“I think when you are somewhat the black sheep, you don’t really have anything to lose, because they are not necessarily looking for you. So you may as well go for it!”
Some reviewers have compared Why Women Kill’s catty Simone to uber-bitch Alexis Carrington (Joan Collins) in the iconic ’80s soap opera Dynasty. “I didn’t really watch Dynasty because I couldn’t relate to it as a child of immigrant parents, and I didn’t understand that kind of wealth and the claws coming out to scratch you,” says Lucy.
“But as you go on in life, you start to understand a little bit more what that pop culture was. When I started doing Charlie’s Angels and went back to that era to see the representation of those women at that time, I realised they weren’t just all kitschy, but they were also incredibly smart and sexy.”
As friendly and accessible as Lucy is, she’s also full of pride when asked about her son. Has she used some of their isolation time to introduce him to her voice work as Viper in the animated Kung Fu Panda films? Definitely not, the protective mum replies. “He doesn’t know what I do. All he thinks is that I’m an artist and I’m a mommy – and that’s enough for now.”
Rockwell was born in 2015 via gestational surrogate after Lucy made the decision to become a single parent. “Elementary was the longest job I ever had and it gave me the ability to stay in one place, because we were syndicated and we knew we were going to be making a certain number of shows,” she explains.
“So that was also the impetus for me to think, ‘Maybe I can have a family of my own.’ It wasn’t like I was making bad decisions before that, but I had made the choice to prioritise my career. Then, one day, I just felt like it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to look back in 30 years and realise I was still having the same conversations about my job every day. I wanted more.”
Lucy gets emotional while talking about how motherhood has changed her. “It’s almost become this cellular feeling of connecting to the universe in a way where you understand the idea of the cycle of life and the responsibility of having another being who is a part of you but outside of yourself. It’s a very different feeling to doing a project where you know you will finish and move on. This is a life-long decision that changes your life and prioritises things in a very positive way.”
Given how candidly she has spoken about going it alone as a parent, it’s surprising how little she’s volunteered about her personal life. She explains it is all by design: she has never spoken publicly about her relationships, although online stories have flagged a handful of boyfriends, including a three-year relationship with actor Will McCormack that ended in 2008, and a relationship with Israeli-American shoe tycoon Noam Gottesman in 2010.
“I’ve always been very private and I fly under the radar as much as possible,” she says. “I do that in a very specific manner. I don’t bring people I’m dating to any public event because it’s a big responsibility that I’m not sure anyone wants.
“Your work is your legacy and you want to be able to do more each time, and change so you can continue to have some kind of value,” says Lucy, who has also been a producer and director. “You don’t want people thinking of you as just someone who dated someone and getting distracted from your work.”
For now it seems Lucy Liu’s legacy is doing just fine, thank you.
Why Women Kill is available at SBS On Demand from July 16.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale July 5.