An interview in Us magazine recently painted the "Ally McBeal" co-star as something of an eccentric, babbling on about having sex with a spirit, liking to be spanked and longing to photograph herself in a very intimate way.
Last week, in a series of brief cell-phone calls from the set of "Ally McBeal," Liu attempted to set the record straight.
Not that she's actually read the interview, mind you.
"My manager told me not to read it until after the Emmys," said Liu, who was nominated this year as outstanding supporting actress in a comedy for her role as Ling, the show's ultra-accomplished entrepreneur and resident sex goddess.
Since then, she said, she's avoided it because "it would probably hurt my feelings."
Liu, who said she spent four or five hours with Us reporter Erik Hedegaard ("I thought we had a really nice day together"), said there's often a tendency to confuse her with the characters she plays.
Spanking, for instance, arose in a discussion of her role earlier this year in Mel Gibson's "Payback," in which she played a dominatrix, she said. The talk about sex with a spirit, she said, came out of a discussion of a dream she'd had (something the Us article actually makes fairly clear). And as for the other, well, "It's all tongue in cheek but I definitely never said that I was interested in taking pictures of my private parts," she said.
"It's definitely making me more interesting than I am," she said.
Not that Liu's real life needs dressing up.
An artist who works in mixed-media photography, she's studied in China and had at least one gallery show. In addition to her work on the Fox series, where she quickly moved from recurring player to cast regular, she's appeared in several movies and spent the summer making two more. In "Play It to the Bone," which stars Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson, she plays a hitchhiker who "kind of comes in and messes things up a little and then leaves," she said. Her role as a kidnapped princess in "Shanghai Noon" with Jackie Chan was "more dramatic," with Liu playing "the damsel in distress."
Both roles are very different from Ling and from Liu herself, she said: "I think people tend to forget that that's why it's called acting."
When speaking of Ling, however, Liu tends to adopt a protective tone. Her character, too, it seems, is often misunderstood.
"I find her to be so much more dynamic than what people see her as," she said of the part "Ally McBeal" creator David E. Kelley wrote especially for her after she auditioned for the role that eventually went to co-star Portia de Rossi.
While there's a tendency to focus on Ling's sexuality because "I really think people want to see something that is exciting," what's sometimes forgotten is that Ling has skills outside the bedroom and the courtroom, including cutting hair and sewing clothing, she said.
"Is there anything that she can't do?" she asked.
So far, though, Ling hasn't made it into the half-hour version of the show that makes its debut tonight as "Ally." Apparently an effort to make the show more appealing to syndicators, "Ally" uses material edited down from shows that aired during the first two seasons, interspersed in some cases with newly shot scenes. ("Ally McBeal," which will continue to air on Mondays, begins its new season Oct. 25.)
"I haven't done anything for it yet," Liu said. "Who knows if I'll ever make it to the half-hour 'Allys' if it doesn't do well?' "
It's a fair question, judging from the tapes Fox sent to critics last week. Although tonight's episode wasn't available, other examples suggest that the character of Ally McBeal also risks being misunderstood outside the context of the hourlong show.
Indeed, in an episode taken from the first season - a period in which I still found the Calista Flockhart character reasonably charming - the concentration of all that Ally-ness, with less of the quirkiness of the firm's other characters to buttress her, made her seem far more annoying than I'd remembered.