Lucy Liu Talks Female Empowerment And Cronuts (Obviously)

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Lucy-embed-1 There are plenty of things that make Lucy Liu different from all of us —namely, her epic Hollywood fame and the fact that she's been immortalized in a Destiny's Child song. But, much to our delight, the list of things that make her like us is even greater. Liu's worked hard to get to where she is now, and firmly believes in the power of female mentorship — and in organizations that provide opportunities for growth, like the Girl Scouts. As a partner in the Girl Scouts' Treasure Trade project, Liu is joining forces with Nestlé to promote the organization that gave us so many childhood memories (and badges!), and helped shape us into the women we are today. And like you, too, Liu is a huge fan of the cronut. (Obviously.)

Tell us about why you're involved with Girl Scouts. We know your goddaughter is a Girl Scout, but what else about the organization makes it personal?
"Today is her birthday! She’s turning nine. She’s doing her bridging ceremony on Friday, so she’s becoming a Girl Scout from a Brownie and changing her vest for her sash, so it’s a really big deal."

So, this is great timing for all of this, as well.
"Yes! I wasn’t a Girl Scout myself. I was super envious and thought it was something incredibly expensive, but it’s not. It’s something you can join, and I can kind of live vicariously through [my goddaughter] now, which is fun."

"I love their work with the community and that they give back, because when you’re that young you’re really learning what it means to share and what it means to give back. I didn’t really learn that until much later, you know after I started working and people started inviting me to go to charity events and dinners for different organizations. I started learning about that then and I decided, 'Hey, you know what, I think I want to focus on one thing myself,' and I chose to focus on children. So, I work with UNICEF. To me, as long as it involves children, it is a really positive thing."

What kind of role do you think mentorship plays in Girl Scouts? Do you think it’s hard for women to find role models who are too old to be a Girl Scout?
"I think it’s harder because you are more developed at that point and have less of a connection with people. You’ve already kind of established your groups of people that you’re going to spend time with. As a child, you learn confidence and you build character that way. It kind of gives you the courage to go up to people and say, 'Hey, I’m interested in doing this, can I come and intern for you?' and I think that just seeing how she’s evolved in this short time, by the time she’s sixteen or seventeen and she’s interested in working for some law firm or wherever it is, she’ll feel like it’s ok to say yes, to ask somebody something and if they say no, that’s ok, too — just ask someone else. Giving yourself more opportunity is never a bad thing. I always love if a corporation as big as Nestlé Crunch (it's their 75th anniversary this year) teams up with the Girl Scouts. It means something to know that they have something to give back, and they can — because they have been, not just in America but globally, everywhere — so, it’s nice to know that they can connect that way, as opposed to just making money."

Part of that partnership is the Treasure Trade, which asks consumers what personal treasure they would give in exchange for one of the famous Nestlé Crunch Girl Scout candy bars. What are you trading?
"I’m kickstarting it with the Charlie’s Angels' action figure. Kids love Charlie’s Angels, and at this point in their lives they’re probably watching it now and getting into it sort of like girl power. It’s fun, you know?"

Photos: Diane Bondareff/Invision for Nestlé Crunch
Lucy-embed-2It was an important movie, and I’d love to talk about your career. What kind of jobs did you have before you were an actress?
"Oh my gosh, I mean, I did so many things. I worked at a catering company, I did extra work for commercials, I was a secretary, I worked as a hostess, I worked in retail. I’ve done so many things. I worked at an ice-cream shop. To me it was always about being involved and being active in my own life, and making sure that I had enough money to at least pay the rent."

Some say that just one day working in the service industry prepares you for life.
"Yes, and it also teaches you how hard people work, and how being polite to someone is really important because people have hard days. It’s nice when someone is nice and thanks you for something you do, and yes, you’re getting paid for it, but it’s sort of like 'this is symbiotic.'"

Speaking of being nice, historically, you’ve played some characters that are not the most popular person on the show. Take your role on Ally McBeal, for example. What do you think it means for a woman to play the “bitch” of the show?
"To me, it wasn’t playing that role stereotype. I think that, unfortunately, and you’ve probably heard this from many interviews with other people, women who are strong and have something to say get labeled, but for a man it’s sort of a positive thing: He’s super confident, and he’s so forward thinking and so smart and gets labeled as ambitious. To me, it’s a strange gender situation where women are constantly struggling to compete. When they have what it takes, it’s just not a given for them and they just have to struggle to get there, and even if they don’t have to struggle to get there because they’re smart and they’re intelligent and they’re able to do it, they get labeled. I think that’s an unfortunate thing, because the social foundation of women staying home – they don’t have that option now."

"There was an article in the New York Times not that long ago saying that women who are working are now 30% of people who are employed, and you know they’re bringing home the bacon. And I think that whole idea of women empowerment that started in the '70s or the '60s when they were burning their bras is carrying on to a whole different level now. Not only are they mothers and they are bringing home the bacon and they are working full time, it’s a full-scale corporation at home. You’re running your own house, too. You have help at home, but you’re also working a full-time job and you’re the president of the corporation or vice-president of the corporation and it’s not easy. And also you’re trying to be feminine and you have to be masculine at work, so it’s sort of a strange balance, you know?"

The expectations are the same, but the demands are so much higher right now. Take your role as Watson on Elementary. You’re the female version of a character that’s been male for over 200 years. What are the challenges of trying to land a role that’s inherently male? And to that point, what's hard about being an actress today, especially if you don't meet the white, blonde stereotype of America?
"I think the stereotype of what's 'American' is changing vastly. I mean, it’s still a gradual change, but I think even having President Obama in the White House is a big shift. I think in the first election it was like, 'Oh, an African American president is such a big deal,' and now it’s not about that. It’s like, 'What can he do, and what changes is he promising to make?' I think that shift happened over the course of four to five years."

"For me [as Watson], it was also sort of that this was inherently supposed to be a man’s role and they turned it on its head, and what does that mean? It doesn’t mean you have to walk around with a pantsuit, it means you can be feminine and you can be who you are, but you can be strong and you can be intelligent, so it’s about matching that. And you also want to make sure that it’s mano-a-mano with the character of Sherlock, otherwise it becomes quite mundane. He’s an intelligent character — he’s very colorful, and he’s going to need somebody who he’s going to respect highly to want to be his partner. So, you can’t really have one without the other. You need someone who is going to be intelligent and bring something that he can’t bring to the stage. So, her pointing out things or her helping him solve cases, as he says in the series, 'You make me better.' That’s what you hope for in any partner or any relationship."

That's a really great way of explaining it. One last question, I heard you have a serious sweet tooth. Have you ever had a cronut? This is something new we’ve learned about.
"I just talked about that today! Literally, we talked about that this morning. It’s a big thing now. I’ve had a pretscent, which is a pretzel-crescent, they have them at City Bakery and oh my God, so delicious."

Is City Bakery your favorite?
"City Bakery has this thing there that’s one of my favorite things. I’m kind of old-school, so one of my favorite things is a black-and-white cookie. It’s so my favorite thing. Or a cupcake, something basic. But you say 'black and white cookie' and my eyes get really big."