Her family spoke Mandarin at home and she did not learn English until she was five years old. Her father, Tom, was a civil engineer and her mother, Cecilia, a biochemist, but they sacrificed those careers to come to the United States. Liu, at her parents' insistence, devoted her spare time to studying. She attended New YorkUniversity for one year, before transferring to the University of Michigan where she joined the Chi Omega sorority and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Asian Languages and Cultures. At one point, Liu worked as a waitress in Michigan.
In 2008, after pitching an interest in being part of the hit new show Dirty Sexy Money, the producers immediately created a role for her as a series regular. She plays the role of Nola Lyons, a powerful attorney that faces Nick George (played by Peter Krause).