Lucy Liu has played edgy and sexy tough in some of her biggest roles, from “Ally McBeal” to “Charlie’s Angels” to “Kill Bill.” She more recently tried out a a confident, ultra-successful “Sex and the City”-type persona on two short-lived TV series, “Cashmere Mafia” and ‘Dirty Sexy Money.”
She has shifted again in a two-night mini-series shot in Atlanta and airing on Lifetime starting Sunday called “Marry Me.” The New York-based actress has opted to be a more fragile, yet still beautiful and impressively stylish social worker named Rae Carter. Her dilemma: three men all want to marry her at the same time. This clouds her image of marriage as a “fairy tale.”
Unlike most of her previous projects, Liu is in almost every frame of the movie rather than as part of an ensemble. “I’m getting killed,” she said with a smile during a break at Rhodes Hall in September during the shoot. “I’ve gone to three restaurants. Otherwise, it’s work, going home, learning my lines and going to sleep.”
And there is a pure romantic comedy for the Lifetime audience. “The only action is what we’re doing today. Opening a window and getting trapped in it,” she said.
She said the plot was convoluted enough with three guys chasing one gal to stretch “Marry Me” to four hours.
One of the guys is an interior designer who knows exactly what he wants. His target: Lucy Liu’s character Rae. Another is her earnest former boyfriend, who dumped her to go take pictures of frogs around the world but comes back with a different mindset. Her third suitor is a bit of a wild card, a wealthy jetsetter who could give her anything she wants from a material standpoint.
Liu compares it to “The Dating Game.”: “Each person represents a different aspect of what you think you might what but is it what you really want?”
The miniseries lets Liu stretch out her comedic chops, something most people don’t think of her for. And she’s thrilled they picked her for lead as an Asian American. “They mixed up the cast,” ethnicity wise, she said. (One of the men wooing her is Hispanic.) The original script, she noted, was for a Southern blond girl. “It’s kind of cool to break away from that.”
The film was originally set in northern Virginia but when the producers found Atlanta to be the most financially prudent locale, they shifted the plotline to Atlanta as well rather than pretend Atlanta is a different city, a common contrivance An adopted child, Rae is an Emory grad who grew up in a wealthy Buckhead family. (This justifies her classy wardrobe and beautiful residence despite a social worker’s paltry salary.)
Barbara Hall, who had created “Judging Amy ” and “Joan of Arcadia,” said she wanted to do an adult romantic comedy to “explore what marriage means to people and why they still do it. We took one woman’s journey and examined that.”
“It’s one of those institutions we had forever,” she added. “It’s just a question whether you need to apply new ideas. Or if it is really rooted in something old fashioned.”
Rae goes from having nobody to “an embarrassment of riches.” She also wanted to ensure all three guys were viable options so it’s difficult to guess who she will choose in the end.
She said she considered Liu as the lead relatively early: “We weren’t trying to go for gritty romance. We wanted something lighter.”
Moving to Atlanta was not a big deal for her. Hall had worked on “I’ll Fly Away” in the 1990s. “I’m really surprised how cosmopolitan the city is,” he said. ” It reminded me of cities like L.A. and New York. This felt like the Southern version of that.”
Mitch Harbeson scouted the locations and he went all over town. Besides numerous shots of the skyline, you’ll see the following Atlanta spots during the four-hour mini-series:
- Lucy Liu (as Rae) jogging through Piedmont Park
- Rae meeting a date at a space in the High Museum
- Rae at Parish restaurant for another date
- A part of Rhodes Hall masquerading as the Biltmore in North Carolina.
- Yet another meeting at The Lobster Bar. “This is really a spectacular building,” Harbeson said.
- The St. Regis Hotel, fronting as a London hotel. “There was a suite we wanted. Jennifer Aniston was in town for another film and we were at first having to convince her to move,” he said. But fortunately, timing shifted and she was out by the time they needed the suite. “I can’t tell you how many gray hairs I got from that potential problem,” he said.
- The parent’s home was off Peachtree Battle. “We were looking for something that was a bit weathered but not in a bad way,” he said. “It just couldn’t look too new.” He said they poked through literally 50 houses.
- Northside Methodist Church. “We looked at 76 churches,” he said. 76???? They wanted something simple with beautiful, classy wood finish and also a lot of space between the street and the church for the finale scene.
“Marry Me,” Lifetime, Sunday December 12, 9 p.m., Monday, December 13, 9 p.m.
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog