Plus five other things you might like to know about one of the stars of ABC’s Cashmere Mafia.

By Ken Parish Perkins


Much ado has been made about the similarities between ABC’s Cashmere Mafia and HBO’s Sex and the City. And, certainly, the shows have much in common, not the least of which is that Sex and the City creator Darren Star is an executive producer on the new show. But here’s one big difference between Cashmere and City: Lucy Liu’s character is a lot deeper than Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw — even if they do share a passion for fashion.


 

1. When Liu was growing up, her dinnertime was also lesson time. On the door of the refrigerator in her childhood home, there was a picture of an emaciated child. “We didn’t have much money,” Liu says of her days growing up as the child of Chinese immigrants. “We struggled quite a bit. So my father put the picture on there to show us that no matter how bad we had it, there were people elsewhere who were suffering even more — even starving. More than anything else, the picture was a reminder to focus on what we had, not on what we didn’t have. So we’d eat our rice and cucumber and not whine about it.”


2. She has at least one thing in common with Angelina Jolie. Her movie work, particularly the Charlie’s Angels films, has given Liu international name recognition, which she’s leveraged since 2005 in her role as a celebrity ambassador for UNICEF. “It’s been eye-opening,” she says. “I’ve traveled to South Africa to assist in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and I went to Pakistan after the earthquake there. I was in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently, where we met young boys who were fighting alongside adult soldiers, and young girls who were survivors of sexual slavery. It’s heartbreaking. These children don’t know what a real childhood is. Instead, they’ve had to endure these unspeakable horrors so early in their lives. What we don’t realize is that this war has taken more lives than World War II. You’re talking about over three million people.”

3. She speaks more languages than just English and Mandarin. Many more. “We spoke only Mandarin growing up,” says Liu, who graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Asian languages. “When my older sister went to school, we started learning English. I did one movie in Mandarin (3 Needles). But I also speak Spanish, some Italian, and Japanese and French. It’s not an ego thing. I just want to understand and communicate with people when I travel.”

4. She might be wearing some of your old clothes. Liu’s own fashion sense is apparent on her new ABC drama, Cashmere Mafia, a show about four high-powered Manhattan businesswomen. “I like to mix for myself things that are high-end and low-end,” she explains. “You can get something from Fendi and mix it with [something from] H&M and make it look fabulous. And that’s something that we are doing on the show. We went to Bergdorf’s and had a fitting there for three hours, and then we went to the Lower East Side and went to a secondhand store. We found things from the ’80s that no one would ever probably wear. I think that makes it more unique — not to just have something that’s right off the rack. But that’s my particular character.”

5. She collects art. Oh, and she also makes it. Liu attends art classes when she’s between acting gigs. And her own artwork has been exhibited in Hong Kong, Nova Scotia, and New York. She does photography and collage, “but lately,” Liu says, “I’ve been painting more than anything else. It’s perhaps one of the more gratifying things I’ve done, besides acting. I find both art and acting to be quite personal. I would never stop doing one for the other.”

6. She is not Ling Woo. Hollywood execs have previously tried to cast Liu as the ice-queen type she played on Ally McBeal, however, she hasn’t let them. “Hollywood is about box-office success, so the actors are often put in boxes themselves,” she says. “But you don’t have to stay there. I’ve worked really hard to try and diversify my roles. It happens fast for some and slow for others, like me, because it takes a while to get to a place where you can say no. I feel like I’m really close to that place.”