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Good cop — Play cop

A West Linn resident is a Portland police officer by day and a movie detective on the weekends
by: Vern Uyetake, Dan Liu of West Linn is a Portland Police sergeant who also plays a detective in movies.

A film strip. Images. Music. Emotion. Laughter. An art form like no other. And for one man, film provided an avenue for his inner artist to take form.

Expect to see a familiar local face gracing the big screen in a few weeks. West Linn resident Dan Liu is a police sergeant in Portland by day and motion picture star on the weekends.

What started as roles in a D.A.R.E. commercial and small local independent films, turned into roles alongside Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, and now, Diane Lane, Billy Burke and Colin Hanks.

For his role as a detective in the upcoming Lakeshore Entertainment/Sony Pictures film 'Untraceable,' Liu works alongside the FBI and detectives to solve a virtually untraceable serial killer committing murders live through his Web site on the Internet.

Off the set, Liu, 44, is a Portland Police Bureau sergeant assigned to East Precinct. He is one of several supervisors who oversee patrol officers working east of I-205. He also helps supervise 14 school resource officers and is in charge of the Portland Police Honor Guard.

And while his career as a man in uniform seems worlds apart from that in front of the lens, the two parallel each other in many ways, Liu said.

'I have learned that almost every contact you make you have to look confident and act confident. It doesn't mean that you are,' Liu said of law enforcement. 'It sort of leads to acting, I guess.'

Man in uniform

Born and raised in the Portland area, Liu became a member of the Portland Police Bureau at age 30. He moved to West Linn seven years ago to be closer to family.

A tall man, strong with a serious demeanor, Liu resembles an action hero. But he's funny, easy to talk to and seems to know each visitor to the Starbucks on Salamo Road - shaking hands with West Linn police officers as they grab a quick cup of coffee.

Liu said he was attracted to the different opportunities offered by Portland police and the diverse community.

In 1996, Liu taught D.A.R.E. and spoke during the public service announcement.

And the rest is, as they say, history.

'That was my first gig, if you will,' Liu said. 'No pay. For the Police Bureau.'

From there Liu ended up doing a short promotional film for Bureau of Emergency Communications, better known as 9-1-1 for Multnomah County.

Bitten by acting bug

Liu was comfortable in front of the lens. He often was interviewed on the news if an event that took place in Portland needed to be explained. He participated in several industrial films involving child advocacy, the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Medical Association.

His role as an extra in Paramount Pictures' 'The Hunted' - starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro - got Liu thinking that this whole 'acting thing' might take on a life of its own. Shot around Oregon, 'The Hunted' cast Liu as an extra for authenticity in a neighborhood scene involving crowd control.

'Then they shoulder tapped me and asked if I wanted to do something different,' Liu said.

Liu quickly learned some lines and was inserted into a scene where he finds a bomb in a house and gets into a scuffle with the homeowner and her daughter.

'They call it a bump,' Liu said of leaving the rest of the extras. '(I later found out) that there was a much bigger number on the paycheck.'

Damon Jones, owner of Actors in Action in Portland, brought Liu into his casting company six years ago, admiring his talent on camera and his ability to act natural.

'Dan is so easygoing and such a likable guy - and a dedicated member of society,' Jones said. 'He's just himself and is one of the most solid members of this agency, a dedicated professional. And it's just about him being him.'

Getting a sneak preview

The weekend gig with 'The Hunted' was monumental for Liu and fit into his normal work schedule - all of his film roles have, even if they get cut from the movie.

'They had a premier for police officers and I was like, 'OK, it's over. Maybe I'm in the deleted scenes section part of the DVD,'' Liu said of watching 'The Hunted.' 'In it or not, I learned that you still get paid and it's a credited role. I still get residual checks every now and then.'

Liu then went on to star as a paparazzi photographer in 'Thumbsucker' - starring Keanu Reeves - as well as an FBI agent in 'Lie Detector.' But it is his role in two upcoming releases that earned him mega screen time.

'Paranoid Park' is directed by Gus Van Sant, famous for his direction in 'Good Will Hunting,' 'Psycho,' 'Finding Forrester' and the 'Under the Bridge' music video for the band Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Liu landed the role of a detective in 'Paranoid Park' set for national release in March 2008. The coming-of-age film is about a skateboarder who has a run-in with a security guard that results in the man's death. The teen wanders the streets of Portland as his life takes a turn for the worse. Liu said watching the film's premier in Portland was interesting.

'It's hard to watch myself on screen. … There's a big chunk of it and you just stare at your head and it's the size of a mini-van,' Liu said.

Tracing his biggest role

In November 2006 Liu auditioned for 'Untraceable,' starring Diane Lane, Billy Burke and Colin Hanks. Three months later the director and producer offered Liu a role.

'It was so funny. They said they created a character for me, not the role I auditioned for,' Liu said.

Working around his patrol schedule, Liu sometimes worked the nightshift in Portland and then traveled to the set. He scored a role as Burke's detective partner and worked closely with him and Lane.

'Diane Lane is the lead FBI (agent) and Burke is the lead detective and they're both going after this cyber case. It's that old classic FBI, detective love hate thing,' Liu said.

The movie is about a serial killer that kidnaps people and touchers them live on the Internet. The more people that click onto his site, the faster the person, who he has kidnapped, dies.

As the people are getting killed faster in the movie because of the Web site's popularity, the ability for the cops and detectives to get there in time and find the killer lessens.

'We're trying to catch him. The Portland police are the police (force) in the movie,' Liu said. 'Anyone from this area will recognize Portland.'

The film is set to hit theaters nationally next month, and Liu said he enjoyed learning more about the acting industry from the best.

'Colin Hanks is so much like his dad (Tom Hanks). You can see that once you start chatting with him,' Liu said.

While quite a few of his roles in films mirror his job as a real-life cop, Liu said 'Untraceable' in particular had him thinking about the increase in identity theft and child predator crimes.

'I think the movie will bring to light how vulnerable we all are with the whole Internet issue,' Liu said.

Lana Veenker Casting in Portland recognized Liu as the Best Stand Out Audition by and Actor in an awards ceremony this year, saying that Liu beat out actors like Forest Whitaker, Kevin Connelly and Tommy Lee Jones for his adult role in 'Paranoid Park,' and his work in 'Untraceable.'

'I joke that they took me (for the roles) because I had the lowest pay demands. 'Instead of (a huge paycheck), Dan will just take a free lunch,'' Liu said, laughing.

Liu didn't seek-out film work, it found him. And it's something he doesn't want to let go.

'He doesn't try too hard. He's happy with who he is and takes direction well,' Jones said. 'He's always focused on the project, not necessarily him as an actor.'

Liu's children - ages 9 and 7 - will someday be able to watch some of these thriller films and Liu has already helped his son land film roles as well.

'Even before I became a cop my priority has always been my family, no matter what,' Liu said. 'With that said, if a better opportunity arose where I could provide better for my family, I would seriously reconsider my options.'