Lucy Liu

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In order to become the star she is today, Lucy Liu had to fight her way out of type-casting literally. Back in the days when she was still trying to break through, the aspiring actress realised the only way to move beyond the stereotyped roles she was being offered was to put her martial arts skills to use.

"I was doing a lot of stuff on ER and NYPD Blue, playing the immigrant who gets washed ashore," recalls the actress. "As I started progressing in my career I did this episode of Hercules where I went into the audition and I brought my sticks with me and showed them some of the tricks I could do they got really excited about it and I got the job."

Her training in Kali Eskrima Silat, a form of Indonesian knife and stick fighting, obviously made quite an impression, because it wasn't long before the 5ft 3in actress carved out a niche as an action femme fatale of the small screen. Then her growling portrayal of wrathful lawyer Ling Woo in the hit series Ally McBeal, brought her to the world's attention.

Lucy Alexis Liu is a rather more complex woman than the vengeful vamps she has become known for, however. She was born into a family of Chinese immigrants in Queens, New York, on December 2, 1968. Her parents, a biochemist and a civil engineer, were anxious to bring her up the American way, and put her under no pressure to embrace Chinese culture.

Nonetheless, Lucy developed a passion for her ancestral heritage and, after graduating from high school, took a degree in Asian languages and culture at Michigan University. While working on her Mandarin, the diligent student also found time to take classes in dance, fine art and acting.

And it was in these disciplines that the young performer would most distinguish herself. But Lucy believes it is how she lives, rather than her choice of profession, that is most important. "I think that if I wasn't an actress, if I decided I wanted to go into hotel management, I would do that as ferociously as possible," says the petite beauty. "I love to live my life passionately I don't know how to be mediocre."

The "ferocity" she describes has shone through in movies like Ballistic and Kill Bill. Being Tinseltown's toughest temptress comes at a price, though, and Lucy has often bemoaned the scarcity of opportunities on the romantic front. "Men never ask me out on dates," she once admitted. "People get the impression that I am hard."

Her single status came to an abrupt end in June 2003 when a friend introduced her to screenwriter Zach Helm. The two immediately hit it off and, in April of the following year, the pair announced they were to marry.

Perhaps the actress shouldn't be so surprised that she has found her Mr Right, given that meeting interesting people is one of the things she loves most about working in the movies. Indeed, during her trip to London for the UK premiere of Charlie's Angels, she and her co-stars were asked to dine at Buckingham Palace.

"I never thought I would be getting an invitation to do something with Prince Charles, for God's sake!", she declares. "You're sitting there at dinner and you're thinking 'this is so weird'. How many opportunities are you going to get like that?"
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