Credit: Sawyer Bengtson Lily Liu, founder and President of Lily’s Talent, has been in the business for many years. After moving from Japan, attending college at the University of Illinois Chicago in 1968, and starting modeling careers for her daughters, Liu knew a new kind of talent agency needed to be formed for emerging talent, and that’s exactly what she created. In this interview, we discussed with Lily Liu her history, her career, her nonprofit, and more. This interview was conducted via email.
Sophia News: Please explain the evolution of your interest and career path. What was the inspiration for your decision to become an agent and open your own agency? Lily Liu: I was represented by a talent agency in my teen years and I felt the industry required more attention to the safety, protection, and well-being of the talent. So, I started my own agency with my own daughters as my first clients keeping this in mind. The success of their careers inspired me to open my agency. SN: Who were some of your inspirations (or mentors) that inspired you along the way as your career developed? LL: My mother who was an entrepreneur when she lived in Japan. She saw my passion to help launch the modeling careers of other talent and she advised me to stay focused, as well as never losing sight of my mission despite any challenges.
SN: What are some of the more profound changes in the industry since your early days of agenting? LL: Back then, talent rates were more fixed, the casting process was more simplified, communication was primarily by phone, talent breakdowns were obtained through fax, and messenger was used to deliver talent photos.  Today, communication and submissions are executed digitally. SN: What makes Chicago such a great place for emerging talent? LL: Chicago has a diversity of talent of all types, ethnicities, and backgrounds. SN: How does Lily’s Talent stand out from other talent agencies? LL: We are a full-service union, franchised talent agency representing diverse talent from all ages, types, backgrounds, and ethnicities for all medias including; print, TV, film, theatre, V.O., as well as live events. Our team is made of diverse, bilingual, licensed professionals with experience and passion to help our clients and talent.
Some of Lily’s fantastic talent. Credit: Melissa Diep Photography
SN: What types of character traits do you look for among the people you want to represent? LL: We look for talent with great personality who are relatable and have the ability to light up a room. SN: Where can we see some of your clients across film and television? LL: Our talent can be seen on The Chi, Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago PD, Shameless and Fargo. Some of our models and actors are also featured on commercials for Kohl’s, Kellogg’s, Nike and Famous Footwear.  These are just a few of the many bookings.
Impressive bookings from Lily’s Talent!
SN: How is COVID-19 impacting the business for your clients, and your company as a whole? LL: We are now booking real siblings with their moms and dads. Most castings require talent to submit from home as opposed to talent going for live in-person auditions. Bookings have less production crew members and less talent involved. Our team assists the talent with selfies, self-taped videos, and with video auditions. SN: What do you know about the industry now that you wish you could have told yourself when you first started? LL: With regards to talent; quality over quantity, passion over recognition, and talent skills over self-centeredness. With regards to the business, find location of the office that is conveniently located for the industry, hire team who are honest, qualified, and passionate about helping talent achieve their goals.
SN: What role does philanthropy play in your life, as well as in the life of your agency? LL: Over the years, I met many talented artists who gave up their dreams due to the lack of mentorship and financial capabilities.  This inspired me to start a nonprofit organization, F.A.M.E. (Foundation of Artists Mentored in Entertainment), N.F.P. 501 C3 organization in 2010.  The focus to help artists gave me more courage to overcome challenges despite any pandemic and economic crisis. SN: What advice do you have for young people today trying to break into film and television as actors or actresses? LL: This is an industry that requires an understanding of the business. It requires talent to be dedicated, devoted, and hard work. So, do your research and find a talent agency for your market.