, Queens, New York, U.S.A.
Liu was born in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. Her parents were immigrants from Taiwan. Liu has said that she grew up in a "diverse" neighborhood. Her family spoke Mandarin at home and she did not learn English until she was five years old. Her father, Tom, was a civil engineer, and her mother, Cecilia, a biochemist, but they sacrificed those careers in Taiwan to come to the United States. Liu, at her parents' insistence, devoted her spare time to studying. She attended the Joseph Pulitzer Middle School (I.S.145) and she graduated from New York City's Stuyvesant High School in 1986. She attended New York University for one year, before transferring to the University of Michigan, where she joined the Chi Omega sorority and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Asian Languages and Cultures. At one point, Liu worked as a waitress in Michigan.
Liu began acting in 1989, after auditioning for a role in the University of Michigan's production of Alice in Wonderland during her senior year. Liu was cast in the lead role, although she had originally only tried out for a supporting part. Liu had small roles in films and TV (including 'The X-Files' in 'Hell Money' and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in "The March to Freedom") before landing a role on Ally McBeal. Liu originally auditioned for the role of 'Nelle Porter' (played by Portia de Rossi), and the character 'Ling Woo' was later created specifically for her. Liu's part on the series was originally not meant to be regular but the enthusiastic audience response to the actress's 'feisty' Ling Woo secured Liu as a permanent cast member. It also earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Liu cemented her reputation playing bad girls by portraying "Pearl" the sadistic dominatrix/hitwoman for the Chinese mafia in the film 'Payback' (1999).
Liu played Alex Munday in the 'Charlie's Angels' film, alongside established Hollywood stars Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. The sequel, 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle', opened in June 2003 and was a box-office hit again. In between the two films, Liu starred with Antonio Banderas in 'Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever', a critical and box-office failure.
She played O-Ren Ishii, one of the major villains in Quentin Tarantino's 2003 film, 'Kill Bill'. She won an MTV Movie Award for "Best Movie Villain" for the part. Subsequently, Liu appeared on several episodes of 'Joey' with Matt LeBlanc, who played her love interest in the 'Charlie's Angels' movies. In 2006, she played leading lady and love interest to Josh Hartnett in the crime thriller 'Lucky Number Slevin'.
Liu has guest-starred as lawyer Grace Chin on 'Ugly Betty' in the episodes "Derailed" and "Icing on the Cake". In a 2001 episode of 'Sex and the City' entitled "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" she guest starred as herself, playing a new client of character Samantha Jones, who does public relations. She starred in the 'Sex and the City' inspired TV show, Cashmere Mafia on ABC. In 2007, Empire magazine named her among the "100 Sexiest Movie Stars".
She is the voice for Silvermist in Disney Fairies franchise. She also appeared in Kung Fu Panda, an animated film in which she voiced Viper. On March 2, 2010, Liu made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning play 'God of Carnage' playing Annette as part of the second replacement cast along side Jeff Daniels, Janet McTeer and Dylan Baker.
With her parents' work ethic, Liu continued, "I'm always multi-tasking, doing 10 things at once". She speaks Mandarin Chinese and English natively, and "a little bit of Spanish, a tiny bit of Italian, a little bit of Japanese," for her role in 'Kill Bill'. She also rock climbs, practices martial arts, skis, and plays the accordion.
Liu is also an artist in several media, and has had three gallery shows showcasing her collage, paintings, and photography. She started doing collage mixed media at 16 and then moved to photography and later painting. Lucy Liu had an art show in September 2006 and she donated her share of the profits to UNICEF. She also has another show in 2008 in Munich and has stated that she will also donate her share of the profits to UNICEF.
In 2001, Liu was the spokesperson for the Lee National Denim Day fundraiser which raises millions of dollars for breast cancer research and education. In 2005, Liu was appointed a U.S. Fund for UNICEF Ambassador; in that capacity, she has traveled to Pakistan and Lesotho, among other countries. She also hosted an MTV documentary for the MTV EXIT campaign in 2007, produced to raise awareness of human trafficking in Asia. Early in 2006, Liu received an "Asian Excellence Award" for Visibility. She is also the first Asian American woman to host Saturday Night Live.
Liu is a spokesperson in support for marriage equality for gays and lesbians.