After a two-year absence, Lucy Liu returned to TV in January and promptly got her ass kicked. The first scene the 43-year-old Queens, New York, native filmed for Southland found her at the mercy of a six-foot-nine assistant director with no stunt experience who'd been cast as a criminal. "He threw me on the hood of a car," Liu says. "I smashed my head on the windshield."
Much to the surprise of the theatrically trained actress, such fight scenes have become her calling card. This month her martial-arts skills are on display, as they were in Kill Bill, for RZA's long-awaited directorial debut, The Man With the Iron Fists. "It's an old-school Chinese period piece mixed with modern-day music and rap," Liu says with glee. She relished starring as a madam opposite Russell Crowe's kung fu warrior. "I run a brothel with an underground gang of lady killers," she says. "It's the kind of place where you think we're serving you but really you're serving us." Liu is getting used to turning convention on its head, also playing Dr. Watson on Elementary, CBS's present-day reimagining of Sherlock Holmes. "I'm putting an Asian-American woman's spin on a role for an English male," she says. "It's exciting to know you can be part of that change, to know you are that change."