“I live, breathe and sleep Nikita,” says 32-year-old Mililani High School alum Maggie Quigley—or Maggie Q as the rest of the world has come to know her. Currently residing in Toronto, filming the last set of episodes for the hit CW series, the usually L.A.-based actress can’t help but be immersed in the butt-kicking persona she plays on television.
But stepping into the role wasn’t too much of a stretch in light of the fact that Q was one of the select few to train with actor and action choreographer Jackie Chan during the time when her acting career had yet to flourish back in Asia.
Born to a Vietnamese mother and Irish father, Q initially began her life in the limelight as a model. Things took a dramatic turn after she trained with Chan and his crew of skilled martial artists. “Jackie’s got a team of 10 to 12 guys who travel with him, and each guy is an expert at a certain discipline, whether it’s karate, taekwondo, etc., so they are able to aid him in whatever choreography he does,” she elaborates.
She was the only girl chosen to be part of the program, which was intended to help launch a new generation of action-film stars. And her foray into the world of disciplined fighting and every other form of self-defense was quite the baptism by fire—her training sessions hardly consisted of waxing on or off.
The iconic action star and his group made sure the Eurasian model paid her dues to guarantee that she’d be ready to make her big leap into the realm of action-packed films. Q remembers the tenacious sessions with Chan with an embarrassing laugh: “I’d be learning all these moves from my instructors, and at the end of the day, Jackie would say to me, ‘OK, show me [what you’ve been taught],’ and it would never be good enough.” She adds, “I’ve never learned so much than during that time… [Jackie] makes you work really hard. He kind of stepped in as this father figure, someone who’d say, ‘You want me to be proud of you, but you have to put in the time and the effort and the energy to earn that from me.’ That was always the relationship with him.”
Chan’s high expectations paid off. Afterward, Q fast became the action-film darling of the Asian movie industry with parts in Hong Kong-produced high-octane thrillers like Gen-Y Cops and Manhattan Midnight. But it wasn’t till her role as Zhen, the sultry IMF team member in the final installment of Mission Impossible, that got Hollywood to really take notice and welcome her into their exclusive circle. The MI3 gig, compounded with major roles in Live Free or Die Hard and quirky film Balls of Fury, left Q in a position where she was now associated with some of the industry’s biggest A-listers. However, her new place in the American film scene didn’t mean a complete disassociation from the Far East—not one to leave her Asian acting roots completely behind, Q then starred in Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon, her first period piece.
At first, doing television in the U.S. was a road that Q did not want to tread on. “Since I was in the film side for so long, [TV] was something that was unfamiliar,” she says. “I judged it because I didn’t know it, and that was a mistake we all make.” But when Q read the initial script for Nikita, she was impressed at the way the show was set up—that it could go in so many different directions. She saw years of growth.
Just who is this character that Q has come to be synonymous with? In a nutshell, “She is your damaged female hero/product-of-her-circumstance persona, just trying to survive,” Q succinctly sums up. Nikita is based on the French 1990 classic of the same name, but only in this version, the spy that Q now plays is described as the Nikita that would have been. “We sort of pick up where the French film left off: Nikita having gotten out of the agency and going rogue—trying to get vindication for those who wronged her.”
Not surprisingly, the brooding bad-girl-turned-good character quickly reeled in a loyal fan base, and by the end of its first season, the series was in the running for several awards, including nominations for an Emmy and the People’s Choice Awards and by The American Society of Cinematographers. With the second season now in full swing, you can expect to see even more plot twists and turns, as the former assassin tries not to stray off her path to redemption.
“What’s beautiful about the series is that you get to grow with this Nikita and see her be put in different situations. You can witness the transcendence [of] this character, like you would a friend, a sister or a mother. In the series, we see so many sides of Nikita that you would have never seen in the [original] film.”
So which part does Q prefer to play: good Nikita or bad? She doesn’t give a straightforward answer but points out, “The bad-guy role has a lot more freedom; the good-guy role has plenty of parameters. ” Q also adds, “You can see this in The Dark Knight—where Heath Ledger took his character; but when you’re good, when you’re Christian Bale’s character, there are certain limits and there are things you can’t do.” As for Q’s role, it lies somewhere in between. “With Nikita, there are a lot of gray areas… what you think is right may be wrong for someone else, and the show works really hard to spotlight that difference.”
Even after the camera stops rolling, Q can’t seem to leave her multifaceted character behind. It’s not easy considering the actress usually works 12 to 18 hours a day, six days a week. They shoot two episodes a month, and Q gets a 60-page script every nine days. Add all of that to the grueling action sequences Q has to film—naturally, the nimble and expertly trained leading lady does her own stunts—and you can presume that downtime probably isn’t on the menu, at least not in large portions.
During the first season, Q actually fell ill because of the intensity required to play the never-a-dull-moment heroine. Having to constantly be in the mindset of her character, Nikita’s life became hers in many aspects, leaving Q emotionally overloaded. But in the end, Q came out on top, with a successful first season under her belt.
But prior to the start of shooting the next set of episodes for season 2, Q—who regrets not being able to visit her hometown as often as she’d like—was able to sneak in a two-day trip to Hawaii. Literally flying to Honolulu under the radar, she made an impromptu visit to help celebrate her mother’s retirement. Initially, she told her mom she wouldn’t be able to attend but was able to do so with a little maneuvering.
“I begged production to give me two days to make it out there,” Q recalls. “So I flew in and snuck into the house in the middle of the night. My sisters were already there. Since we all look and sound exactly the same, when [my mom] came into the room, she was like ‘Hi, honey,’ thinking I was one of them, before it hit her that it was me. She totally freaked out! I was so thankful that I was able to be there for her.”
And her gratitude for her current role never ceases to wane. Q admits that her half-Asian heritage has been a hindrance on more than one casting occasion, so when she was offered the star role for The CW series, she was extremely flattered. She reveals, “I didn’t feel that I was in a position at all to have my own show in America. I didn’t know if people were ready for that—you know, the Asian-mixed girl.”
Q openly discusses the adversity she continues to come across as an Asian-American working in Hollywood. Even for a gorgeous stunner who can land an elbow strike with exact precision, the multicultural Q has hit her share of roadblocks. “Even for someone like me who’s [part Caucasian], I can’t even go to a meeting where they’re not fixated on the fact that I have Asian blood,” she explains. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t really know if people are ready for that.’ Or once you walk into a meeting and [casting agents, etc.] see that you’re of American-Asian descent, they’ll say something like, ‘Do we have any Asian roles? Oh, we don’t have one, sorry.’ I mean, why does it have to be an Asian role? It’s a constant struggle.”
The mold is indeed hard to break. In the end, Hollywood means big business, and like any other industry, what it produces is based on supply and demand. Still, Q longs for the day when her Asian looks won’t be the deal-maker or -breaker for the roles that she gets. But for now, having to wrestle with that kind of reality is something that encourages her to keep going strong. “I like the struggle; I like people telling me that I can’t do things, to doubt that I can’t do it, because it makes me work even harder.”
Fighting in the name of justice seems to be Q’s full-time job, whether she’s fending off Division operatives as Nikita or attempting to eliminate stereotypes she has to face in her own life. But truth be told, she confesses that a little less intensity would be a welcome respite from what she’s been doing lately. Come May, when Q is scheduled to wrap up filming and go on her two- to three-month break, she’d like to pursue one particular project that recently landed on her table. A friend of hers wrote a compelling script and she’s eager to jump on-board. The premise of the story? “Nothing that requires the sort of hoo-ha that’s required of an action show,” Q jokes. “It’s about eight people set on a small island. … It’s very character-driven. Of all the things sitting on my desk, this was the one I felt most connected to; I had such a visceral reaction; I called my friend and said that this is what I want to prioritize during my hiatus.”
In the meantime, as the thoughts of an action-scene-free hiatus loom in the future, Q continues to film in Toronto at a fervent pace—she is, after all, television’s most stunning vigilante. But unlike the wonder women before her, Q appreciates the visible cracks on her character’s armor that allows viewers to easily identify with Nikita. “The female heroes of the past were portrayed as almost flawless, but here, she’s real.”
Source: Modern Luxury