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Having a blast: Lucy Liu loves the energized role written specially for her on 'Ally McBeal'

Saturday, February 06, 1999

Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. - She's one of Kelley's angels. Actress Lucy Liu might consider "Ally McBeal" executive producer David E. Kelley a guardian angel, too. Liu, who plays cold-as-ice Ling Woo, auditioned for the role of Nelle Porter, which went to Australian actress Portia de Rossi. But Kelley liked Liu and created a character for her.

"There were six women there including myself, and I was the only woman of color," Liu said, recalling her audition. "And I thought, this is a joke, there's just no possible way I'm going to get this role."

When Liu got the call that de Rossi had the part, she didn't put much credence in the casting person's claim that Kelley liked her and that he'd write a role for her.

"People say stuff all the time, especially in Hollywood," Liu said. "You don't think it's actually going to happen. And it did. And it happened quickly."

Kelley later told Liu he liked her reading but thought she was too frigid. He had plans to make Nelle warmer over time.

"He didn't think I - me, as a person - could be a friendly, warm person," she said. "I must have gone in there and been really cold, I guess."

Kelley made Ling a friend and client of de Rossi's lawyer. Ling frequently enters a scene accompanied by her own theme music - the same music heard for the Wicked Witch of the West in "Wizard of Oz" - and she often lets out a sound effect-enhanced gutteral growl.

"I'm having such a blast," Liu said. "Kelley has written for me some of the most colorful, interesting, fun - I'm doing stuff that I never thought I'd be able to do. [Ling] brings some sort of friction and an energy that is not as confused as everyone else."

Machiavellian lawyer Richard Fish (Greg Germann) has been making a play for Ling, but even with his self-confidence and ego, he becomes putty in her hands.

"They both have very high energy and a lot of the same ideas about money and life," Liu said. "They're both, in some ways, manipulative. The physical chemistry between the two of them is something that I think is beginning to develop slowly."

By coincidence, she and Germann have the same music teacher - for the accordion.

Liu said her father insisted his children learn to play a musical instrument ("Somehow I think he was very influenced by the Osmond family," Liu said) and she had to choose between a violin and an accordion. The accordion won.

Liu, who can be seen in the Mel Gibson movie "Payback" as a dominatrix, gets unusual reactions from "Ally McBeal" viewers she meets on the street.

"They run," Liu said, laughing. "They run to the other side of the street as soon as they see me. Actually, they're really sweet. They always say afterwards, 'Wow, you really are nice!' And I've thought, what did you expect?"

Liu's family emigrated from China and she was born in New York, where she spoke Chinese for the first few years of her life. She said it's important for her to play non-stereotypical roles.

"I've done a lot of different roles in terms of culturally, from different countries," Liu said. "But now I'm getting into a place where I can actually be - it sounds a little strange - sexual as a woman and as a minority. And that's really unusual."

A Fox publicist promises something will be revealed about Ling in Monday night's episode (9 p.m. on WPGH), but details are hush-hush. That's fine by Liu, who said she's signed to appear in episodes the remainder of this season.

"We have a bunch more episodes to do and then we'll just take it from there," Liu said.

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