Elementary’s Lucy Liu: I don’t compare myself to other Watsons

The star of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya on Studio Ghibli's traditional Japanese folk story and whether there should be a female Sherlock

When it was first announced that US network CBS was to adapt the Sherlock Holmes stories into a new series, Elementary, there was a collective sigh this side of the pond. Fresh from the success of BBC1’s Sherlock and Robert Downey Jr’s box office incarnation, did we really need another version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth? 


Three years on, Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have proved us all wrong. Their acerbic partnership has delighted viewers for three series as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson crime-solve their way across New York City. But with Martin Freeman’s memorable Watson on British screens – and Jude Law’s moustachioed side-kick lighting up the silver screen – does Liu ever feel the pressure to make her female number two stand out from the crowd?

“I don’t really compare myself in that sense because there are so many brilliant actors doing their job. I think everyone is so unique so you don’t really have to go out of your way to do something drastically different. 

“Everyone appreciates the different iterations of the actual story of Sherlock and Watson and also the characters, too. I think that’s why the literature’s used so much – because there’s so much colour in all the characters and their dynamic together.”

As a leading male/female duo, Liu and her co-star often field questions about their on-screen relationship – and while there’s an absence of will-they, won’t-they action, that doesn’t stop the fans “shipping” the sparky detective duo. 

“I think they’re curious about what’s going to happen with our relationship,” says Liu, “and I’ve confirmed many times that it’s not meant to happen. That’s not what our executive producer wants either – I think it’s something he wants to stay true to in the original literature.” 

Her character Joan’s gender is one marked deviation from Conan-Doyle’s “original literature”, but there are calls among certain fan factions for a female Sherlock. Is that a casting Liu would like to see?  

“I haven’t really given much thought to it – I think in general there are a lot more female roles now than there have been in the past and especially more so on television and that’s why a lot of people are drawn to doing television right now.” But… “I would like to see more female roles out there overall.” 

With Elementary currently airing its third series (Sundays, 8pm, Sky Atlantic) Liu has also turned her attention to the big screen, appearing in the English dub cast of Japanese animation The Tale of The Princess Kaguya – a product of Japan’s award-winning Studio Ghibli headed up by Hayao Miyazaki, the director of Spirited Away and The Wind Rises. 

“The film is based on this traditional Japanese folk story,” explains Liu. “It’s about a bamboo cutter and his wife – they adopt a little girl who shows up one day as a gift in their house. It’s quite beautiful because it’s about about this young girl’s struggle against being who she is.”

Knocking The Lego Movie out of contention in the best animated feature category at this year’s Oscars, director Isao Takahata’s animation is a melancholic tale of a young woman’s love and loss – enchanting and charming, albeit on the long side at two hours and 15 minutes. 

“It’s based on this traditional story they have [in Japan] and the way they put it together was quite masterful,” recalls Liu. “I think that people will enjoy it for so many different reasons. It’s a really remarkable film and the animation itself is all hand drawn so it gives it this very ethereal, magical light feeling.”


The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is out in UK cinemas now