Maggie Q claims mentor Jackie Chan was ‘like a father you couldn’t please’ and compares working with Bruce Willis vs. Tom Cruise.
“When I was offered my first acting role, I didn’t want to do it,” Maggie Q says 25 years after her cinematic debut. “No interest.”
Q, born Margaret Quigley in Honolulu to an American father and Vietnamese mother who met during the war, loved the arts, especially Shakespeare, but never thought she could make a livelihood doing it. Despite early success, she felt that way. She moved to Tokyo at 17 to model to pay for her education. She then went to Hong Kong to star in House of the Dragon, an Asian hit.
“That moment confirmed that being creative could be an option in life. “That shocked me,” she says. I had no idea what I was doing when I started. People looked at me like, ‘You call yourself a talent?’ I heard that. No argument. I had no experience and nothing to contribute. It wasn’t like growing up with actors as parents or having innate skills. That wasn’t mine. I had to learn everything.”
Jackie Chan, a famous martial arts instructor, signed Q to his management organization to make her a star. Q was trained by Chan’s core stunt squad of 10-15 performers, but she caught Chan’s notice (for better or ill) when he cast her in small roles in his films like Rush Hour 2 (as “girl in car”) and Around the World in 80 Days (as “female agent”).
“I would practice my sword work, and Jackie would come in during our training sessions and rehearsals and correct everything I was doing,” she adds. “This sounds severe, but it’s not. He’s like that father who’s never impressed. Obviously. You have to be at his level or better to impress him. He encouraged us to get there without saying, “Oh, you’re doing a great job.” That generated an aggressive work ethic.”
The Chan training paid off. After 80 Days, she played the IMF’s Zhen Lei opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III (2006). A year later, she played cyberterrorist Mai Linh in Bruce Willis’s fourth John McLane film, Live Free or Die Hard (2007), without auditioning.
Born was an action star
Now 44, has continued to grow as an actor and martial artist, appearing in Balls of Fury (2007), Priest (2011), the Divergent trilogy (2014-16), and her most famous role, as Nikita Mears, the assassin who must bring down the agency that trained her and now wants her dead, in four seasons of The CW’s Nikita.
Plays an Iraq war vet during her sister’s bachelorette party in Fear the Night. Q demanded that her character’s weaponry be removed from the film, requiring her to use only hand-to-hand fighting.
Discussed the differences between Cruise and Willis, adding cinematic stunts to Nikita, and being a female action hero in Hollywood in a Yahoo Entertainment Role Recall.
On her career-launching Hong Kong role as a charming assassin
“Ching Siu-tung [Tony Ching] directed Naked Weapon . He’s legendary in Hong Kong movies. Yuen Woo-ping, who conducted martial arts choreography on The Matrix, became famous because he worked with American stunt crews. Other localized ones have had careers for decades but are unknown in the West. They weren’t in The Matrix [laughs].
“Naked Weapon shaped me because I was a lead. My childhood. I was clueless. He trusted my physical and acting skills. It’s a believability combination. His belief baffled me. He was harsh on me. Even though it was challenging, it made me tough. I have no further words. To make the movie, I endured an army boot camp. to buy. I only did it because of his belief in me and his wisdom, which he freely shared with me and told me, ‘You are going to be huge in this genre because you’ve got it.’ “Why?” I ask. Why is it mine? That means what? I said, ‘I’m not a martial artist.’ ‘No, no, no, we don’t want martial artists… there’s no soul,’ he added. All technical. Action movies require a passion that few have. You have that. He was the first to say that, which helped me because I didn’t understand.”
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
I auditioned for J.J. Abrams. Tom may have attended some auditions. He was touring War of the Worlds. I read for J.J. without him. J.J. offered me the movie right after the audition.I guess he was looking for a long time. He read 100–200 persons, according to rumors. J.J. is picky about casting. … He was like, “OK, this is my girl,” when we read.
Tom showed up at my camera test three or four days later. I didn’t know he was coming to the camera test, and they were setting the lighting to figure out my face. The crew and cinematographer are present. This familiar face emerges from darkness. ‘I’m so delighted you’re here,’ he says, hugging me. I wish I could have attended the audition after J.J. told me about it. “I’ve seen this face so many times,” I thought. I heard this voice and experienced this person, but it was never directed at me. So talking to him after watching him was strange.
It’s their right to speak from experience. Tom has always been warm to me. It included. That movie’s call sheet had me last. Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laurence Fishburne. I was the lowest because Keri [Russell] and Michelle [Monaghan] were newer but were doing everything. I’ll never forget Tom’s efforts to keep me from feeling that way. That was important because most individuals his level are the opposite. You shouldn’t feel unique or included. It’s like that tiny bit of intimidation, maybe it feeds them somewhere and they’re comfortable with it and it’s worked for them and that’s fine, but that’s not how he functioned.”
Live Free or Die Hard (2007) was her Bruce Willis encounter.
Just different. Tom has unmatched enthusiasm. That real enthusiasm is intriguing. It takes passion to perform at his level. There isn’t. When I worked with Bruce, he was a franchise star. Tom was more enthusiastic than someone who has done it a million times. He’s more chill. It’s amazing and different, but I’m not going to sing from the mountaintops about it. It’s more like, “Yeah, come on, guys, let’s work.” The atmosphere is different.”
Headlining Nikita from 2010 until 2014
It was the hardest thing I’ve done in the US. I didn’t know how to pace myself because I’d never done TV. One of our first-season producers had done Buffy the Vampire Slayer for seven years. During lunch, he told me, “Maggie, I was on Buffy for many years.” That show’s star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, is also yours. That was her hardest thing. To watch her fight to make every episode and have the stamina and wellness to get through what she was doing took a lot of work. However, since that show was about magic and other things, they could play with the plots to give her breaks when she needed them.
‘With this show, we can’t do that for you,’ he replied. You’re it. ‘And this isn’t a movie,’ he says. 10 months. Maggie, pace yourself. OK, I said. I work hard. ‘You’re not used to working this hard, trust me.’ I promise to never forget that after the first season. That was a gift. Even though I didn’t digest it well.
I was a shell after season one. No more. No adrenals, no endocrine system… Six days a week, I worked 15–17 hours. I learned a lot about leadership and what it takes to lead a show, which is its own animal since you’re dealing with personalities and your own survival. You’re balancing the two. No one who hasn’t led can comprehend how hard it is to find that balance and stay sane [laughs].
“Because I’d come from movies and worked with the best of the best, [stunt coordinators like] Vic Armstrong and Brian Smrz, I had a standard where I was like, ‘I will not deviate from this standard. I’ll give TV movie-quality action. Oh, dear God. Stunt coordinators worked five episodes in the first season.
Immediately fired. ‘No, not good enough. Need my people. I must recruit the best. I did. Action-wise, we did great. That show was great. It was unlike any TV action at the time. Man, no. Not with our folks. I stole great film talent to work with me. They did because they were nice, loyal, and friends. But I brought those individuals in.”