Set along the coast of Malibu, California, Maggie Q. poses effortlessly against a background of crashing waves and a setting sun. A production team scatters around, working rigorously around her. Even after a long day of work, every single person has a smile on his or her face. It’s clear within the first few moments that the energy in the room radiates from Maggie Q. No stranger to the camera, she gracefully contours her body while cracking jokes in-between shots.
It is no wonder this Hawaiian-born actress began her career as a model, eventually becoming the face of Shiseido cosmetics. Before long, Maggie Q. broke into the Hong Kong movie scene and since then has worked alongside some of the most renowned actors including Jackie Chan in Rush Hour 2, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III, and Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard. All of her successes have led her to the lead character in the hit television show, Nikita, a remake of the movie/TV titles about an assassin gone rogue.
With the soft evening light accentuating her physique, Maggie is radiant; a bonafide star.
Having written for various magazines throughout my career, this interview with Maggie Q. is more meaningful than any other I have done in the past. Not only is writing for the first issue of Elle Vietnam a pleasure and a privilege, Maggie Q. and I share a common history: our families emigrated to the United States from Vietnam. Maggie should be exhausted from a long day of shooting but she sits down next to me and smiles; ready to go. In the dimly lit room, Maggie is warm, intimate, and absolutely stunning.
You started your career as a model. Do you feel as though being a model has influenced your craft as an actor?
No, I feel as though my modeling career was a catalyst to something bigger. Growing up in Hawaii, I always knew that I wanted to leave and modeling was a means to an end. It opened up doors and gave me opportunities that I would never have had the chance to pursue. It was definitely a special time in my life.
Tell us a little about your current film, Priest.
Priest is not your typical vampire-horror film. You won’t be seeing Count Dracula with huge fangs, pale skin, and a black cape on in this movie. The vampires in our film are ferocious monsters. I would compare it to Blade Runner, but more relevant to the time that we live in.
How did you become involved in this project?
I had to fight really hard for this role, as I do for many others. Often times the studio or director will have a certain look or person in mind before they even start casting. Obviously I am not blue-eyed with blonde hair or have All-American looks, and I’m glad that I don’t! [smiles] I have to break through those barriers and overcome people’s expectations.
Are you into the whole “Twilight”/ “True Blood” Vampire craze?
No. I think the “vampire/twilight” craze is well past my time. [laughs]
Your fans are mostly familiar with your work in Action or Drama-type films. Many don’t realize how funny you are! Are you interested in doing comedies?
Thank you! [smiles] Oh, Absolutely! Unfortunately most of the comedic roles for Asians typecast people in a humiliating way. It’s not to say that I can’t take a joke, but I would never want to participate in something that is demeaning.
How about a romantic comedy?
There are certain actresses in the industry that are always casted in these roles. I think it’s time for an Asian woman to take the lead! [smiles] I think we live I a time where Asian Americans are moving to the forefront of entertainment and we are starting to recognize the value of diversity. I know that I don’t look like many of the actresses in Hollywood, but I wouldn’t want to! I think beauty can take all shapes and forms. To me, beauty can be unconventional.
What do you miss the most about living in Hong Kong?
In all honesty, Hong Kong has a very special place in my heart. Not only was I able to pursue my career in a very fulfilling and formative way. I thought that I would never be able to get acclimated because of the language and cultural differences, but after 8 years I made some of my closest friends there. My best friend, who I met in Hong Kong, passed away years ago and it hasn’t been the same for me since.
You’ve had the opportunity to live all over the world. Where do you consider home?
Even though I have only lived in Los Angeles for the last 6 years, I would still call LA home. Most of the people closest to me are here and I’ve grown such a fondness for this city. I get to escape to my lovely home tucked away in the hills away from everything. It is very quiet and I’ve got all my dogs. It’s a really great lifestyle. I love the outdoors and LA has so much to offer. I think that people often times misunderstand LA. They think it is all “Hollywood”, but it’s so much more than what you see on TV. You’ll never find me in that kind of scene, it’s just not me.
Your role in Nikita requires a lot of physical work. Are there times when you feel as though you can’t perform a stunt?
Many people don’t realize that I am performing all of my own stunts! We are well past the days of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ where a stunt double comes in with a bad wig on and then suddenly cuts back to the actor panting in a unrealistic way [laughs].I have never done martial arts in my life until I moved to Asia. I’ve been trained by some of the best people in the world so I’m extremely fortunate. I’ve been able to train in everything from boxing to martial arts to wire work and gymnastics… it’s almost second nature now! But, there have been times where I haven’t been allowed to do a stunt because of insurance or liability reasons. I love a challenge, but not at the expense of breaking my legs! [laughs] Getting hurt would mean more than just physical pain. It would mean other people, such as the cast and crew, who would be affected in the production process. It’s just not worth the risk.
In the very first episode, your character is almost a mentor to Alex, played by Lyndsay Fonseca. Her character notes that you taught her the popular notion: “no risk, no reward”. Is this something that you feel applies to your personal life?
Absolutely! I have always had good intuition and it hasn’t led me the wrong way yet. I remember when I was young and still living in Hawaii; there were a group of local boys who said to me, “Maggie, you are going to be famous one day!” I didn’t believe it at the time, but I always knew that there was something else for me out there. Leaving home all by myself as a teenager was a huge risk. But I knew that if worked hard and kept true to myself, everything would fall into place.
What was your favorite thing to wear as a child?
Underoos! Do you remember those? [laughs] In Hawaii, I had a neighbor who had a pair of Wonder Woman underoos that I lived in! I remember her mom had to come over and ask for them back. They were so great!
Being such a busy woman, what characteristics do you need in a partner or friendship to maintain a strong relationship?
It’s really important to me to surround myself by people who don’t put unrealistic expectations on me. I have an incredibly busy lifestyle and although keep the closest people to me in my heart; I don’t always have the time to reach out to them. I need friends who I can call 6 months after having talked to them and pick up right where we left off. If my family can do that for me, I would want my friends to be able to do that as well.
I’m sure you are asked all the time, but being bi-racial, do you tend to relate to either culture more than the other?
Actually, no! No one has asked me that before. I have always related more to the Asian side for numerous reasons. Growing up in Hawaii, everyone around me was Asian or ‘Hapa” which is a term used to describe people who are half-Asian and half-white. It’s funny because when I lived in Hawaii, the mainland felt like it was so far away. We actually called it America! [laughs] Also, my mother has always been a huge influence on my family. She made sure that we were always connected to our Vietnamese heritage. It wasn’t until recently that I started to connect to the Irish/Polish side of my family.
What aspects of Asian culture do you find most attractive?
I love that in Asian culture, there is a strong sense of community. We are taught, especially women, to be selfless and giving. For example, when I eat out with friends who are also Asian, we are always fighting over who pays for the bill. I’ve actually mastered the art of this [smiles]! I get a hold of the bill before it even gets to the table!
What is something that your mother has taught you that you still carry with you today?
My mom came to the US not knowing a single word of English and left everything she knew behind. Knowing the sacrifices she has made to give us a better life, I know that there is nothing in this world that I can’t accomplish. She taught me how to be strong and persevere.
Vietnamese food has become very popular in the US. Do you like eating Vietnamese food?
I grew up eating Vietnamese food, but I didn’t like it when I was young. All we wanted to eat was pizza, hamburgers, and junk food. Now, I love it! Vietnamese food is really fresh and there are so many dishes that I can still eat. Most people know that I don’t like to be called a “vegan”, but consider myself to be a “compassionate eater”. I fully believe that nothing we put in our bodies that suffered is going to nurture us. So I am very, very careful about what I eat.
I remember there was this one time when I was modeling in Japan and wanted nothing more than a bowl of pho. I saved up 12 US dollars (which was a lot of money) and literally took 3 trains to get there. Once I had the bowl of pho in front of me, I asked for sauce and they looked at me like I was crazy! [laughs] No Siracha, no hoison sauce, no nouc mum. It was hilarious!
Would you want to participate in a Vietnamese film and why would that be interesting to you?
All of the films about Vietnam are typically about the war. There is so much history, culture, and fascinating stories that I want to share with the world. Did you know that women in Vietnam were able to inherit property through their mother’s bloodline and become political leaders, judges, and warrior? I’m talking about dynasties ago!
You’re family must be so proud of you and all of your success. How does this make you feel?
My family isn’t proud of me because my pictures are on a billboard or that I’m on television. They are proud of me because I did it on my own and on my terms. Of course when I was younger my parents were weary about me leaving home and going out on my own, but I knew it was something I had to do for myself.
Is there anything about you that you want the readers of Elle Vietnam to know?
Wow, that’s such a hard question. Well, Samantha I do want to tell you something. I know how important writing this article is to you and I am so glad to be a part of it. This is really something special for us both. When this story has gone to print and you show your mom all your hard work on this project, I want you to ask her about the Trung Sisters.
And so I did. I cheated and asked my mom the very next day about who the Trung Sisters were. She began to explain that Vietnamese women have always been in the forefront of resisting foreign domination. These two heroines led the first national up-rise against the Chinese with a people’s army of 80,000 men and women. People believe that without the Trung sisters, Vietnam may not be here today.
Maggie Q taught me that Vietnam has a legacy of strong and brilliant women who have changed the course of the world. We are fighters, we are selfless, and we beat the odds. We overcome obstacles that are put before us with grace and beauty; because that is what has been instilled in us from generations long ago.
Never having been to Vietnam before, it has always been a faraway place that only exists in my mother’s eyes and in songs that she would hum to me when I was a little girl, sick in bed. It is a place where my mother learned to make me Bun Rieu when I would come home from college. It is a place where she learned her strength… and passed along to me.
Written by Alexa on May 12 2011