"Elementary" (premieres Thurs., Sept. 27 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS) is a new kind of Sherlock Holmes tale, with Jonny Lee Miller as the modern-day Holmes -- tattooed, British accent and fresh off a stint in rehab, solving crimes in New York City -- but it's the Watson twist that has everyone curious.
Lucy Liu stars as Holmes' sober companion, Dr. Joan Watson, a former surgeon who has her own demons to battle. HuffPost TV caught up with Liu to hear more about this departure of a role for her (Watson, even in this iteration, is nowhere near as physical or as glamorous a role as Liu usually does) and why the backlash about Watson being female is not unlike the controversy when Barack Obama became our first African-American President.
We also talked about the roles she's recognized for the most (but not before she reunited with her old pal and costar Matt LeBlanc in a very Hollywood hallway moment: "He's so great -- I love him. He was in 'Charlie's Angels' as my boyfriend and so he asked me to do a few episodes of 'Joey,'" she said), a few twists and turns ahead for Watson and one idea that probably won't happen, but would be sort of amazing if it did.
We last saw you and loved you on "Southland," but this is a complete 180.
Yeah, this is a totally different environment, a totally different character. A different kind of chaos. It's not as easy with the wardrobe because that wardrobe on "Southland" was just a uniform every day. For this, she's casual ... she's relaxed. And I don't think Watson will be seeing any action on this show, at least not for a while.
What can you tell us about your version of Watson?
I think the thing about Watson is that her story is going to come in dribs and drabs. The mystery behind what happened to her and how dark she is and how veiled she is of her own personal nature, and yet at the same time, she's trying to get personal with him and find out more about him and have him be comfortable with her. It's a crazy dynamic because she's hiding in trying to fix him up, hiding in his distress. They're both very messy people. They're both damaged in a way that is creating a complete person.
There is that element of the Sam and Diane back-and-forth, even if the producers have said these two will never get together. They still need each other.
They do need each other, but it's not a love match. The beauty of it is that there's always a crime in the way. And within the crimes, they learn about each other, which is always nice. He gains respect for her when she's able to help him with cases. There's a really important dynamic that happens between two people ... especially someone of that calibur, who's so smart; it's important for him to really trust somebody.
And to realize that Watson isn't just there to babysit him, right?
Exactly. It's a really fine line.
Her mystery though ... how soon will the layers of her issues be peeled back and revealed?
Oh, does she have layers! She's got lots of issues, but otherwise it's not really that interesting to play. It's good though because it's not revealed right away -- you want to tease bits of it, otherwise the audience will get bored. Why was she kicked out? We might not know for a while. I think in the first season, we'll have to reveal a little bit about what happened to her. Even if they don't explain her emotional value behind it, they'll have to explain the situation and why she ended up being where she is now. After the pilot, we do bring up a little bit of it, so you do get that view into her, but it'll be a slow reveal because we do have the procedural aspect of it too. You don't want to get it all out up front. Hopefully the more the audience learns about Joan, the more they'll like Watson and the more they'll understand her, and I think they'll see why the two of them are so well matched.
I just think the smartest thing the show is doing is saying that Holmes and Watson will never hook up romantically. Because that's where almost every show goes these days, and with a female Watson, it felt like an automatic.
Right. Will they? Won't they? I think not going there allows other things to grow ... as opposed to fester. [Laughs.] Maybe people will still want that, who knows. But there's so much source material for cases, so I'm curious as to how they're going to open that up and allow the audience to ride along. We're not going directly off the Sherlock Holmes stories -- these are fresh takes.
But there will still be nods back to classic elements, like the fact that Moriarty will still be Sherlock's nemesis, the big bad. What a part! I kind of can't wait to see who they cast ...
It'd be cool if I was Moriarty! A double-agent spy! [Laughs.]
Amazing. You know there was so much backlash when the casting was first announced -- people were angry that they'd make Watson a female. Did that surprise you?
Everyone seems really excited about it, I think. It is shocking -- not for me because I like things to be turned on their head -- but for some people, it's sort of like making 007 a woman, you know what I mean? They're like, "Wait a minute ... this is what it's supposed to be. Ham and cheese is ham and cheese -- you don't suddenly make it gruyere." Then they taste it and they like it. Brie, swiss, cheddar ... people hate change, but suddenly it'll become normal. Like it did with Obama. It got so blown out of proportion, then it happened and now it's not a big deal to have an African-American President. It just takes time for people to understand that the world isn't going to blow up if Watson is a woman. People were weird when they found out there'd be an Asian in "Charlie's Angels" ... people were surprised, but then I think they were pleasantly surprised [with how it turned out].
Is that still one of the roles you're recognized for the most? Your career has a pretty wide range ...
It depends on the age of the person, and also the country. A lot of European people really love "Ally McBeal"; the little ones -- like 12 and under -- love "Charlie's Angels"; then you get the big "Kill Bill" fans; and then every once in a while, it's little things I've done like "Lucky Number Slevin" or "Code Name: The Cleaner" with Cedric the Entertainer. There's also still a small handful of people who'll reference "Cashmere Mafia," so it's really funny. But I like to mix it up.
"Elementary" premieres Thurs., Sept. 27 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.