In the casting call for Cashmere Mafia, ABC’s new drama about four powerful female friends, Dylan Mason was described as having “blonde good looks.” Then Lucy Liu arrived. First, she helped pick a new name for the character. “Mia is a little more international; it could be Asian or Hispanic,” she says. But she was determined to keep the surname Mason, that all-American moniker, just as she’d fought not to change “Alex Munday” in the Charlie’s Angels movie—a symbolic decision she calls “a historical step for me.”
In other words, Mia Mason, you’re no Ling Woo. As Woo, Ally McBeal’s icy, robotic (yet secretly kinky) lawyer, Liu worked a “dragon lady” routine that might have been off-putting, were it not for Liu’s startling charisma. It was a neat trick, this ability to both embody and transcend a stereotype. And it became the actress’s trademark, from her short-lived 1996 sitcom Pearl, in which she played an icy, robotic nerd, to her turn in the Kill Bill movies as the icy, robotic assassin O-Ren Ishii.
Recently, though, she’s been cannily diversifying, sidestepping the risk of veering, Jackie Chanishly, into action-comedy. (Remember Code Name: The Cleaner?) Cashmere Mafia could be the breakthrough that lets Liu be more than a karate-kicking bombshell. Though it’s been tagged as another Sex and the City, a different fantasy animates Cashmere Mafia: power rather than romance, and solidarity in a man’s, man’s, man’s, man’s world—the kind that gets you in with a co-op board (or out, if you screw the wrong woman’s husband). There’s something thrilling about watching this cocky sorority conspire—and about Mia, who’s no stumbling Everygirl but a confident superhero of big-city striving.
In person, Liu is coolly professional about marketing herself. “The team of people I work with, they consider what I want to work on, where I want to go,” she says. But she gets downright goofy describing the television “upfronts”—and her first time headlining a brand-new series. “These things have existed for eternity, and I’ve never experienced them!” she tells me. She sounds, for a moment, as giddy a risk-taker as Mason herself. “I want to fail hard! I really do. I want to fail really hard, so this is the best way to try.”