Elementary Exclusive: Lucy Liu on Joan's Spiral, Wearing Pajamas, Directing Herself

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Joan Watson has had a tough road on Elementary Season 3.

From being on her own at the start of things... to resuming work with Sherlock... to an unlikely bonding with Kitty (who has since left)... now seeing her boyfriend Andrew presumably poisoned in front of her eyes (right after she broke up with him), it's no wonder Joan may be a bit shaken when we find her in Elementary Season 3 Episode 14.

Last year, when star Lucy Liu stepped behind the camera, Joan was off-screen much of the time. However, tonight Watson will be far more involved when Liu directs. As she told me earlier this week, this made for quite the challenge.

Also, Liu talked about Gina Gershon returning to the series, whether Joan will get answers to her personal questions and what she's made of her career since TV audiences first got to know her on Ally McBeal...

Lucy Liu on Elementary Season 3 Episode 14

TV Fanatic: The last episode ended with Andrew either dead or hurt very bad. Do we pick up at that point in this next episode?

Lucy Liu: Yeah. We pick up exactly from that point and then you sort of see what happens to her. She kind of falls into a slump. The relationship between Sherlock and Watson is sort of reunited because he comes to her - I don’t want to say rescue - but you see that he’s very tender with her and he sort of opens up and is there for her essentially.

TVF: It’s very relatable though what Joan’s going through just emotionally how she doesn’t really know what she wants and that’s a very real thing. Does she get some answers in the next episode or two?

LL: She thinks she has the answer to what she needs, but I think in reality looking at it from a more objective point of view as an audience member, you see that she becomes kind of scared and closed off. She makes a decision that kind of eliminates so much of her life that makes her happy because of what happened to Andrew.

TVF: Is somebody targeting Joan? Does what happens to Andrew have something to do with Gina Gershon coming back?

LL:  I think your deductive powers are pretty…you should be on the show [laugh] but, yeah, they're all connected and I don’t think Joan is safe essentially and I think Sherlock recognizes that and that’s why you see him come to her place and kind of assist her. When we see her next, her place has sort of fallen apart. Nothing is clean. She hasn’t been taking care of herself. She’s in the same pajamas the entire episode practically.

I think that the great thing about the show is we can break off from being a narrative show and sort of just focus on the procedural and I think what she does is she decides she’s not going to focus on the narrative part of her life but the procedural aspect of her life.

TVF: I’m glad they brought Gina back because she was a good sparring partner for Joan in the season premiere.

LL: You’re going to see a little bit the two of them together, which is nice. I think that it’s good that it just is between the two of them as opposed to Sherlock, who probably has a lot of enemies as well but it’s nice to see that [Joan has] kind of created a little niche for herself in this business where she also has people that are not so thrilled about her as well.

TVF: Let’s talk about directing a little bit. It’s not your first time but what was the biggest challenge with this particular episode?

LL: Oh, there were a lot of challenges with this episode. First of all, we had challenges in the fact that we were taping in the winter…we shot it at the Bronx Zoo, which was fantastic, but we were dealing with animals and zebras don’t really work out in the winter. Warm weather animals. We had to bring them up from the south and then make sure that they were warm. And as cute as they are, they're not warm and fuzzy animals. You can’t go up and pet them and you have to make sure that they don’t end up maiming the actors with their hooves.

Last year when I did the episode with Mycroft and Jonny that was like it mainly focused around them and I was kidnapped. In this episode, I had quite a lot to do as well on the other end. I had to act in it a lot and had a lot of dialogue. I was like awe.

TVF: How does all that impact your perspective both as an actor and a director since you’re kind of seeing both sides of it at the same time really, which has got to mess with your head a little bit?

LL: I’d say that I think as a director I’d like to work on a project where I’m actually not in it to see the full spectrum of what I can do with my attention just focused on that. At the same time, I think when you’re maximized artistically that way and creatively sometimes you get things that you would’ve never gotten if you weren’t that pushed. I’m not sure if it’s like the night before cramming before an exam or a report’s due. I feel like there’s something that comes out of it that you wouldn't normally get if you were sort of like oh, I've got all the time in the world to shoot this. Who knows what’ll happen?

I think from an actor’s point of view, I love being able to be on the same side of the actors as a director because I know what it’s like and I know that sometimes when you have the urgency as a director to be like ‘come on we've got to get the shot in.’ You can tell that the actors aren’t completely happy with their performance so you really want to be sensitive to that and I think being on the other side of that I know what that’s like.

I really plan my shots out. I really understood that I only needed to master up until to this point and then this was going to be a two shot and then I would cover it here, so I wouldn't cover the whole scene all the time over and over so by the time you’re finished with the scene you’ve done it 25 times.

Lucy Liu directing on Elementary Season 3 Episode 14

TVF: I recently fell into a Hulu rabbit hole watching old TV shows and I found Ally McBeal. The whole series on there.

LL: You are a TV Fanatic.

TVF: A little bit. A little bit... I’m curious because as an actor your past work always lives out there somewhere. How do you think of it, like is it very present for you or do you kind of put jobs behind you when you move on?

LL: That’s such a great question actually. You know for me, I’m very much immersed in Elementary right now and so everything is about this right now. What has made me a director and what has made me a better actor are the works that I have done in the past, so all of those layers and all of those instincts and the awareness that I have is from starting from the very beginning of when I started acting after I graduated college.

You accrue all of that and then you put it into where you are now, so had I not had those things and I just started Elementary and was quite green…first of all I would definitely not be directing. I would not have the confidence to do that. Second of all, I don’t know that I would be able to be as calm and as controlled as Watson is now.

I think when I was doing Ally McBeal there was just this energy and this dynamic spark that character had. There was calmness to her, but there was this sort of very colorful, vivacious thing… [every audition] that I went into at that time in my life was exotic. They didn’t really know what to call an ethnic person in the business at that time. More like ‘we want something that’s not Caucasian or African American, like exotic’ and then you go in the room and there’d be all kinds of different looking people. Not necessarily blonde although they would end up you know casting Ling Woo as blond in the end.

You know the idea of that and what’s not exotic about Watson and it’s not maybe as stimulating as Ling Woo was, but what’s so wonderful is 20 years later or 15 years later I’m playing someone who is a person who is not exotic. What’s exotic is ‘oh, she was man in the literature. She was a male and now she’s a woman.’ That’s an interesting topic but no one’s asking me ‘whoa, why are they putting a Chinese person in as Watson?’ So then it was a thing and now it isn’t.

So politically and socially the timeline has really shown what and how the business has grown and how my relationship to the business has grown and how my race and my gender have also transcended at that time as well and how it’s grown. So I feel proud. Although it’s not as colorful as Ling Woo and maybe not as funny, I’m just trying to represent a real person as opposed to trying to play someone exotic and kooky.

TVF: Well, when you have some down time and you’re watching Hulu look on there and Ally McBeal’s all there.

LL: I would probably be so surprised like ‘who is that?’

Elementary Season 3 airs Thursdays at 10/9c on CBS. 

Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Elementary Season 3 Episode 14 Quotes

Joan: I feel ... okay. I feel clear about something. Our work ... what we do ... it's not just a job now. It's who I am. I'm a detective. I'm ready to embrace that. I live in this world. Your world. And I probably will for the rest of my life.
Sherlock: It isn't my world. It's our world.

Bell: What am I missing?
Holmes: Everything that matters.