Lucy Liu is going rom-com.
The Elementary star headlines Netflix’s new romantic comedy Set It Up, about two lowly office assistants (played by Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) who try to Emma/Much Ado About Nothing/Parent Trap their two tyrannical bosses into falling for each other. Liu stars as a demanding and overworked sports reporter named Kirsten, with Taye Diggs as the eventual object of her affection. It’s a fluffy but charming love letter to the genre, and Set It Up includes plenty of nods to the most famous rom-com tropes, from an awkward elevator meet-cute to a scene where someone rushes to the airport to make a dramatic declaration.
“I love the entertainment value of what a romantic comedy is, and how people will sit and watch and enjoy, you know?” Liu says. “That to me is why I enjoy being a part of them most of all — because I like being the audience member as well. You can get cozy with your girlfriends to watch. It’s just fun! You know what it is.”
Before Set It Up hits Netflix on Friday, EW caught up with Liu to talk about becoming a rom-com heroine herself and reuniting with Diggs, her onetime Ally McBeal costar.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Kirsten is this sort of Miranda Priestley boss-from-hell figure, who can also be very sympathetic at times. How do you approach playing this kind of larger-than-life character?
LUCY LIU: I really wanted to have fun with her and give her sort of a fierceness and let her be as extreme as she wanted to be because I thought it would be funnier if she was just very committed to her job. And I committed to her personality, which was that she wanted the best out of everyone and she wasn’t going to take less than 200 percent from anyone.
Did you have fun leaning into her more monstrous qualities?
Yeah, I mean, it’s always great to do that. It’s nice to just unleash and be as colorful as possible. [Laughs]
Are you a rom-com fan?
I am. I love romantic comedies a lot. I think one of my favorites is an old rom-com: It Happened One Night. It’s so good. It’s just very smart, and the dialogue and the delivery and the timing between [Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert] is just fabulous.
What do you think makes a perfect rom-com?
I think [the romantic story] is sort of A to Z, and then whatever happens between A and Z is what makes it interesting. There’s obviously the classics like When Harry Met Sally, which is an unexpected A to Z, which is why it became so popular. She was a little bit ahead of her time because normally rom-coms aren’t as progressive as somebody in a diner having an orgasm. [Laughs] And that’s what I think makes it really fun. People were really not expecting that, and it kind of really pushed the women’s movement forward a little bit because it’s not something you’d ever seen before.
It seems like Hollywood is not as eager to make rom-coms as perhaps it once was. Why do you think that is?
It could be because there’s a real movement towards Marvel and comic books right now and focusing on superheroes. That seems to be much more popular. And it could be that it’s financially driven, and they might think that romantic comedies are more formulaic. I don’t know exactly, but I know there is definitely a deficit when it was a genre that littered the theaters at one point, and now it’s a rare find.
There is sort of a timeless quality to rom-coms. With Set It Up, it’s distinctly 2018 with the setting and the use of social media and everything, but there’s something so classic about two people falling in love.
I think what’s fun about [Set It Up] is you have all the main bullet points of a romantic comedy, but you see strong women in it, and that develops as the story progresses. And I like that aspect. My character is trying to give Zoey’s character a leg up or a chance, and really believing in her. I think that’s a nice quality about how this particular one developed. It wasn’t just about the relationship between the man and the woman. It was also about the relationship between herself and also her boss. It’s not just one-dimensional.
I know you’ve worked with Taye Diggs before on Ally McBeal, but tell me about reuniting with him on this movie.
He is so much fun, and working with him after all these years was so special. We both have kids now and can talk about that. He looks exactly the same but even better, which is crazy. He’s still as sexy as ever, and he committed fully to this character. He’s so funny in this movie. And he made a very unlikeable character — I think — very likeable and hilarious.
Between this and Elementary and directing the Luke Cage season 2 premiere, how do you pick what projects you want to do? Is there a through-line or a thread that you always look for?
The thing is, I’ve been working on Elementary for six seasons, and we’re about to start into our seventh season. I initially wanted to do a comedy, which I’m not doing currently, so when the opportunity for this came up, I really thought it was an excellent way to give audiences a little bit of what they loved about Ling Woo back in the day. And also for me to play a little bit more. Because Watson is a little more of a serious character, and it’s definitely much more of a drama than this, obviously. And the Luke Cage opportunity just came up at the right time.
Is there something you haven’t done yet that you really want to try?
That’s a hard question because there’s so many things I would like to try. I’d like to do a movie in a different language. There’s also trying to do a miniseries or something that’s quite different, or in a different location. There’s an endless number. I don’t have a list. But when it comes up, I’ll know.