Lucy Liu is no stranger to directing.
After making her directorial debut with the 2011 film, Meena, Liu has made the rounds behind the camera, helming episodes of her long-running CBS procedural, Elementary, for which she’ll direct her sixth episode, airing Monday; Marvel’s Luke Cage; and Graceland. A seasoned actor who has made a name for herself with starring roles on Ally McBeal, Charlie’s Angels and Southland, directing was the natural next step in her illustrious career — partly because Liu felt it was an area she hadn’t mastered yet.
“You always will feel like you’re learning and discovering because that’s part of the process. I love it and every project is a different challenge. It’s a process,” Liu, 49, tells ET, who also debuts her exclusive photo diary from her week directing the latest Elementary episode. “I really love directing. I feel like it’s something that I was given the opportunity to pursue and I have now really fallen in love with it. I don’t see that being outside my world. I feel like that’s something I will continue to engage in as long as I can. It just makes sense to me.”
“When you meet so many creative people, you want to get them together in a group. It’s like, This could become something I really understand,” Liu adds. “My whole world is in the entertainment business and directing is something that is not an easy task, but I really love the exploration of it and I feel like I have so much more to learn. You learn every time you work on something. That’s hopefully what I will continue to do. I’m so curious about life and about things that I don’t see that changing or dissipating anytime soon.”
As Liu tells it, Elementary has been kind to her and her castmates in affording them the opportunity to flex their directing muscles: “It’s a very nice way to say, ‘We really trust you.’ It’s a feeling of confirmation, absolutely.”
This season, Joan Watson has toyed with the idea of adopting a baby, a storyline Liu says the writers came up with in order to give Watson “a personal connection” to play against.
“I think it’s great. It’s nice to have something personal about her in the storyline because there is a lot procedural and murders and things like that [on the show], but there is something nice about exploring that and really bringing that to life,” she says. “It’s a discovery of who she is as a woman and what she wants to do next. The fact that she has the ability to do that speaks to the viewers. They can look outside of themselves and see if that’s something that would be of interest to them as well.”
Liu also took a moment to express her thoughts on the success of Crazy Rich Asians and other Asian-led films like Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and how they could help propel Hollywood forward to be more inclusive when it comes to casting its leads movies and television.
“I think it’s really exciting. It shouldn’t be such a discussed topic. It should be something that is a given. I know that it isn’t, but it’s going to work its way towards that,” she shares. “It’s a very exciting time to be in the entertainment business and to be an audience member because you really feel there is an inclusion of all races. To me, I feel like it will help to gain momentum towards it not being such a topic of discussion in the future.”
As for the success of summer rom-com Set It Up, in which Liu plays Kirsten, a powerhouse editor of her own sports site, she is well aware that the passionate response to the film is a rare feat.
“You want to share your work, so it’s really wonderful to know that it made such an impact and that people were able to tune in and enjoy it. That’s ultimately what it was made for — pure and simple enjoyment,” she says of the movie. “If it helps or if people find it to be encouraging, then great. But my main point is to do great work and share it and to be entertainment — that’s what this business is about.”
But has there been any movement on a Set It Up sequel? Liu admits she isn’t expecting to dive back into that world anytime soon.
“Not to my knowledge. I don’t really go towards discussing any of that generally because it’s not worth really getting into,” she explains. “It takes so long for something to be greenlit that it’s like, I’m glad people really loved it, but I don’t go anywhere beyond that. Otherwise, it becomes a losing guessing game and you never know if something’s going to be successful or not. The fact that it was is wonderful.”
In Liu’s own words, check out her behind-the-scenes photo diary when she stepped behind the camera for Monday’s episode of Elementary in an ET exclusive.
“Setting up for a scene with a crane in a ‘one-er.’ A ‘one-er’ is a scene which is captured without coverage so it plays out in only one long shot. This requires a lot of coordinating details — from the movement of the camera and the actors, to the background, as well as timing for the different moving vehicles in the frame. In this photo I’m talking to Carlos, our ‘A’ camera operator, about the crane movement and speed to ensure the correct timing of the scene.”
“It’s not always serious! Joking around with the cast before the shot.”
“Preparing for a first team rehearsal. Armed with the finder to check the size for the master.”
“Giving some notes to my fellow castmates after our reading rehearsal.”
“When I’m not acting in a scene, I’m able to walk through with the finder and first team which is always a nice way to leave one hat behind.”
“Reviewing playback to ensure we have what we need before we move on to the next set-up.”
“Talking push-in speeds for the next shot with our dolly operator, Jazz.”
Elementary airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.