“I got a call from [executive producer] John Wells; he and I had worked together before way in the past on ‘ER’ and he said that he was interested in seeing me do something that was a little more raw again,” says Lucy Liu of how she was cast this season on TNT’s “Southland.” She played Jessica Tang, an LAPD officer working, sometimes unscrupulously, to become a sergeant.
Liu is an Emmy contender for Best Drama Guest Actress for her performance, but it wouldn’t be her first time nominated for TV’s top honor. She previously received a Best Comedy Supporting Actress bid for “Ally McBeal” in 1999. “I had just entered into a completely different stratosphere by working on ‘Ally McBeal’ because it was so popular,” she says of her breakthrough role on the FOX legal comedy. “When I was nominated, I was so excited, but I didn’t really know what it meant. I think that now, when you know more, it’s almost more exciting in retrospect.”
She adds about the influence of awards recognition, “When you are excited about some other project that you might want to produce, people will get on board maybe because they saw that you were nominated for something. That might mean something if they don’t know your work.”
“Southland” has yet to break through at the Emmys – apart from Peewee Piemonte, who won Best Stunt Coordination last year – but Liu may be on voters’ radar. Not long after our interview, she received a Critics’ Choice TV Award nomination for Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series. To Emmy voters, she has submitted the episode “Integrity Check,” in which Officer Tang is joined by a documentary crew during a shift that ends in the near-fatal assault of her partner John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz).
Tang herself survived the season, though there are no immediate plans for her to return next year. “I think it was just a one-season situation, and that’s kind of what made it exciting as well,” Liu explains. “At any point, I thought, ‘Oh my God, she’s going to get killed! She’s going to get shot!’ In some ways I was hoping for that, because it’s sort of like, ‘She’s dead!'”
Liu will next be seen this fall in CBS’s “Elementary,” in which she plays Dr. Watson to Jonny Lee Miller‘s Sherlock Holmes.
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