A rising star in the glare of the media, Maggie Q has long been famous as an action heroine in Asia. Recently however, she has joined the top rank of upcoming young actresses in Hollywood. Half Vietnamese, she was brought up in Hawaii, but began her career in Hong Kong’s film industry after being spotted by Jackie Chan.
Her breakthrough performance saw her cast alongside Tom Cruise as the only female member of his team in “Mission Impossible 3.” It paved the way for her villainous turn in this summer’s blockbuster “Live Free or Die Hard,” which she has followed up with a comedy about ping-pong co-starring Christopher Walken. Away from the cinema, Maggie Q is a vocal supporter of animal rights, recently launching a new campaign to encourage people to go vegetarian. She talks to CNN’s Kristie LuStout.
KLS: Now you’ve starred in two Hollywood blockbusters, and one of the largest films ever made out of China. You must be feeling good right now.
MQ: Um, I’m very lucky. I have to say, I’m overly blessed. I have been able to cross over and work with great people, and sort of come back to Asia also and do work here that means something to me, and be able to get it the attention it deserves over in the West.
KLS: Now your big breakthrough in Hollywood was in the movie “Mission Impossible 3” with Tom Cruise, tell me about the audition.
MQ: Um, I went into, I flew over from Hong Kong to LA, and I don’t know if you’ve ever, I’m sure you’ve flown from Asia to LA a lot or to that side. So when you get there, you sort of hit this wall of jet lag at about 3 o’clock — 3 o’clock in the afternoon, you want to die. I mean, there’s no coming back. So of course I land, and they say your audition tomorrow is at 3. So I was terrified, and I went in and that night I went to sleep and caught a really bad fever. Woke up, went to the audition sick as a dog, shaking in my boots, violently shaking I was so ill, hot, cold, hot, cold. Went in and I had to do three scenes for them.
KLS: Your mind was saying, I have to bring it, I have to do it.
MQ: I was like, I mean, there’s no excuse, because then I’m going to recover in a couple days and go: I blew it because I was sick and I couldn’t mentally get through it, but that’s what it’s always about in this business. It’s sort of like, you have to have that confidence and go in, just put it all aside, whatever’s going on in your life, however you’re feeling, and just be on.
KLS: You got the role, and I gotta tell you, it was quite a Hollywood debut. I’ll never forget the scene where you walk out of the Lamborghini, was it a Lamborghini? Wearing that stunning red dress, you were an absolute knockout, absolute knockout.
MQ: I don’t know about that. We tried, we definitely tried.
KLS: Did you feel at all under pressure during filming?
MQ: Umm, weirdly I didn’t, it was funny. It was like, it was one of those things where that cast and that crew, Tom included, and the producers and the director and everyone, they made me feel as if I had been in Hollywood for 10 years. No one ever made me feel like I was the newcomer, no one ever made me feel like I shouldn’t be there. They were all like, hey, welcome to the family, and that was really important because I mean, yeah, I went in with, you know, a level of confidence that was a bit under par, wasn’t as high as it should’ve been but…
KLS: So you hung out with Tom Cruise, you hung out with his kids, chilling in the trailer?
MQ: Yeah, yeah, it was great, so much fun. I mean, it was like a family, and when the film ended, we were all sad and we’d miss each other.
KLS: Now you were also in “Die Hard 4” recently with Bruce Willis, you played the villainous cyber-terrorist. How was that?
MQ: Great! I liked being the bad guy. You know, once in a while, you sort of have to be like a bad girl. Um, I met Bruce and the director, and we sort of, you know, it was very simple, I mean, the whole process. Bruce was basically like, look, you’re it. I mean, I see you, this is you, this role. And I was like, oh, uh, ok. I had no idea what to say in response to that. I just went, umm, thank you. Yeah, a big thank you. And um, and yeah, they offered me the role. I didn’t have to audition, I was very lucky thanks to Tom and everyone else who kind of put me in, you know, this pocket of acceptance, and so I was, yeah, I was able pretty smoothly to get “Die Hard.”
KLS: Now Bruce Willis said he, quote “caught a beating” filming the fight scenes with you. Who’s the tough guy here? Bruce or Maggie?
MQ: No, me. Um, there’s something to be said about being a tough woman, being able to take care of yourself and sort of, you know, hold your own, especially in Hollywood or anywhere in this business. It’s not easy being a woman in this business, I have to say. So I enjoy those roles, those tough roles. That’s not to say I don’t want to do anything else, but I certainly appreciate that whole woman-empowering sort of thing.
KLS: Ok, I’m going to give you a quick action-star checklist, just say yes or no. Ok, sword fighting?
KLS: Kung fu?
KLS: Can you handle guns?
MQ: Yes, yes, yes.
MQ: No, I’m not a numchucker. I wasn’t schooled. I thought I was prepared!
KLS: But you do all these action scenes, you gotta be pretty buff — what’s your workout routine?
MQ: Um, I, well, besides having a vegetarian diet, I definitely, I exercise every day and there’s nothing I don’t do. I mean, you know the whole idea of not eating meat and not having, slowing your body down and having enough energy is huge, and then I, I mean, there’s nothing I don’t do. I run, I do yoga, I swim, I bike, I box, I love to box. I’m a huge boxer.
KLS: Now recently you just returned from the Gobi Desert, harsh environment. You spent six weeks there filming with tens and thousands of other actors, and horses. How did that experience go?
MQ: Um I, it was made, it was the hardest film I’ve done in my life to date. The hardest.
KLS: Than all the actions scenes that you’ve done?
MQ: Everything. I mean, I’ve never done a more difficult film. Um, it’s entirely in mandarin, which is, was mind-blowing for me ’cause I don’t speak mandarin and I had a lot of studying to do, a lot of preparation. And then besides that, the fighting, just the acting, and the level, the conditions were horrendous. I mean, we would have rain storms, sand storms, you know, dead heat, freezing cold, in one day, in the matter of 10 hours, and so, those conditions, and then having to do what I had to do, and the whole time I’m concerned about the animals — are the horses ok, we gotta buy them food, we gotta make sure they’re ok — like, everyone on the crew thought I was crazy, crazy.
KLS: Now tell me, how would you describe your on-screen persona?
MQ: I always play these tough roles. I never smile, I’m never sort of happy or laughing. Um, I just had a comedy that was released a couple weeks ago in the States as well, called “Balls of Fury,” and I looked at it and I wasn’t laughing in that either! I wasn’t smiling, I was tough in it. I was fighting people, I was angry, and that’s sort of where her humor came from, but um, I just, you know, I think I have yet to have an on-screen persona that has anything to do with Maggie, the real Maggie.
KLS: Now you’ve also produced a movie called “Earthlings,” tell me about it.
MQ: “Earthlings” is the definitive animal-rights documentary. Um, it was a blood, sweat and tears project pretty much. Um, as you probably already know.
KLS: You were working with some really startling material, it’s hard to watch.
MQ: It is. When you’re sitting in a sort of, you know, our director in a garage in Burbank for five years going through 400 hours of stock room footage, um, you know, sort of devastating, crying your eyes out, trying not to hurt so much because of what you’re seeing. Trying to understand the bigger picture and get the message out. It’s difficult, it’s difficult to do what we do, we’ve made our decisions. We have made choices that don’t cause suffering. But not everyone does. And we’re trying to get that information to them.
“Earthlings” is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, and Moby donated his music very kindly. They’re both vegans, and um, the writing is so beautiful, the message is so poignant, you can’t watch this movie and not care. It’s just not possible. Now the level in which you care, I don’t know and I can’t say. But I’ve not shown it to anyone who hasn’t been affected by it, and I really hope we can get this out in Asia because this is where we really need it.
KLS: So how many dogs do you have?
MQ: I have seven.
KLS: And they’re all from shelters?
MQ: They’re all from shelters. One of them, like I told you, Caesar’s from here, and then, wait, two of my dogs are from here — from the SPCA, from this very location. And another fantastic organization called Hong Kong Dog Rescue based in Lamma, I have one dog from there. And the rest I adopted in LA. I mean, this is the thing. You come to a shelter like this and you see these perfectly beautiful, healthy dogs, there’s just no need to go to a pet store. There’s just no need to pay for a dog, they all need homes.
KLS: Now what’s incredible is your career is in overdrive right now, and you have seven dogs. So how do you find the time to take care of them?
MQ: Oh, when you love something, you make it happen, you know? Hi sweetheart… Well, this is the perfect example of what you can find at a shelter. Oh my god, I’m melting. Look at this healthy, gorgeous little man who’s looking for a home.
KLS: This is exactly how you found all the loves in your life?
MQ: All the loves in my life, my dogs are the greatest loves of my life. I mean, no man could ever compare to my dogs, unfortunately.
KLS: Where did your love of animals come from?
MQ: I think when I was a kid. I think everybody goes through that period of time when you’re a kid where you… growing up’s hard. And there’s times where I felt sort of lonely and alienated, and I remember all the love coming from these guys. And with animals, they don’t have to tell us how much they love us. I mean, you do this, and they give you kisses, and you know… There we go! See, we just met! And look at all the love, I mean so much love.
KLS: Now I’m gonna sound like a big meanie asking you this question, but I gotta ask it. When people see celebrities taking up causes, whether it’s animal activism or something else, sometimes people get a little bit cynical. So how do you prove them otherwise?
MQ: I think the proof is in the pudding, really. I mean, you either live your life, I mean you live your life the way… You gotta practice what you preach for sure, and um, I’m asking people to come and rescue dogs. I’ve rescued seven, I know how it feels, I know the love that is to gain from this, I know the help that you can give these animals is a small part of our lives. Um, so that and the fact that you have to dedicate yourself to causes for your life. This is not a frivolous decision I’ve made, like, oh it’s cool right now to love animals. And then in a year I’m gonna move on. This is something I’m definitely going to dedicate my life to.
KLS: We have your stylist in here. Your publicist is there.
MQ: My hairdresser in there.
KLS: It’s all covered. Now we need to get the actress…
MQ: We need to get the actress in with a dog.
KLS: These are two of your fans right here.
MQ: Hello! So generous with your kisses, so generous. You guys are twins! I love twins! Oh, thank you… What kind of dog is this?
KLS: It is a mongrel.
MQ: Oh you, ok, I wanna go in and see him. Delhi? Shall we? She’s Jumpy. I like Jumpy. Hi sweetheart. Ok. What a good girl you are.
KLS: I can totally see you’re a dog person.
MQ: Oh my god, ’cause I don’t care if I’m getting dirty or not.
KLS: Well the thing is, like, they jump on you and you’re like, that’s fine, ’cause you’re a dog.
MQ: Yeah, it’s fine. I love you, you can jump on me.
KLS: You know, I used to call my dogs my sisters. One sister, one brother.
MQ: I call them my babies, my kids. I say, I gotta go home and see my kids, and people on the set will go, you have kids? Yeah, I have seven. You have seven? And I’ll keep them going for as long as they’ll believe me. And then they finally figure it out.
KLS: Do you try to get the message across to your co-workers?
MQ: Oh, definitely, always. And the great thing is that I don’t push it on them. I let them ask me. And once they ask me, then that’s it. Then I go.
KLS: Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? You know what your message is, but how do you get it across?
MQ: It’s not to judge people, and their lives and what they’re doing now, and it’s to understand and respect the decisions they’ve made, ’cause we all have to go at our own pace, you know? Not everyone can understand this the way that we do. Right sweetheart? The way that me and Delhi… Delhi, it was very nice meeting you, thank you. Thank you for your love. Are you sure she’s a girl?
KLS: Well, I’m a HAPA, which means half Asian person.
MQ: Well yeah, I know that you’re mixed, but what…
KLS: Well, we have a HAPA radar, it’s built in.
MQ: It is.
KLS: We always can sense each other…
MQ: It’s immediate, when you walk into a room and you see another mixed person, you can spot them immediately.
KLS: HAPA radar goes off.
MQ: HAPA radar. I love that you know that word.
KLS: So you’re half Vietnamese?
MQ: Half Vietnamese, and you?
KLS: Half Chinese.
MQ: Oh ok, great.
KLS: Do you have a connection with Vietnam?
MQ: I do, I have so much family there. You know, when you come in at the airport and you see a ton of people waiting outside?
MQ: They’re all my family. They’re not other… I sort of walk out and they’re all 700 of them are like ohh, and I’m like, I’m related to all these people. Um, a lot of family there.
KLS: So being half Asian, do you feel that gives you an edge in Hollywood?
MQ: Um, yes and no. I feel like because the balance is such in life, I think everything about us is a plus and minus. And I go into Asia and I’m the Western Asian girl. And I go into Hollywood and I’m the Asian girl who’s not Western enough. So there’s definitely a fine line to be walked, but, to be honest, if I walk into an audition and people are worried about what ethnicity I am, I’m not doing my job. I need to come in and be Maggie, and they need to fall in love with that person or what I’m bringing to the table instead of focusing on those issues. And they do, and it’s really hard to be a woman walking into a room and be ethnic and have them not care.
KLS: That’s interesting, because you’re basically saying the burden then is on you. To say I’m not an Asian actress, I’m just an actress.
MQ: Absolutely. I mean I’m not gonna lie. 90% of the scripts I get are for White girls. And Asians may think I look really Western, but Westerners think I look really Asian. So I am in this sort of, pocket of, this big questionable pocket, so I definitely need to go in and really make people see more than that. And it’s not easy.
KLS: So in terms of being an Asian breakout star like Lucy Liu and all that, you’re beyond that. You don’t even want to think that way.
MQ: I don’t, yeah, because, you know, when they… It’s all these categories. We always feel like we need to compartmentalize everything in life, like she’s this and she’s that and he’s this and he’s that. And the reality when it comes to the actors is that no actor’s one thing, I mean, never. And so to be able to have them just see me as a person is really the challenge, and it is a challenge.
KLS: What drew you out to Asia when you were 17 years old?
MQ: Yeah, I was a broke student. I’m not gonna lie, I was broke. And I was just a kid. I came out here and I experienced more friendship and more love and more support, um, then I could have ever found in my life. Um, there were more people who cared about me in Asia then where I was, little did I know. And I came out here and I found my family here.
KLS: Jackie Chan cared for you.
MQ: Yeah, they took me on, yeah they did. They saw enough in me that they could promote me in the right way to get me into this business, and I’ll always be grateful.
KLS: And he really groomed you as an action star.
MQ: He fully did, I mean Jackie, just Jackie being Jackie is grooming, period, because he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. And to watch his life and his career and how he’s gotten to where he’s gotten.
KLS: Did following in Jackie’s footsteps as an action star come naturally to you, the physicality of the role?
MQ: It did. Weirdly it did. I don’t know how I fell into this niche, it’s really funny but it’s… You know, sometimes in life you don’t really know how you got where you got, it’s sort of life… You know that you’re working for it, but you didn’t realize there’s a bigger plan.
KLS: Are you going to continue to work back and forth between Asia, China and Hollywood?
MQ: Yes. That’s the goal. I mean, to be honest, there’s so much talent here that has yet to be discovered, and some of it has been, and like, “Three Kingdoms,” coming back here to do a movie that I really care about, that the director took 14 years to write, dream project. Um yeah, I’m going to come back for that because guess what, there has to be a reason why I was able to cross over and why life allowed me to do that, and so me crossing over now allows me to come back to Asia, um, partake in movies here, and get them the attention they need in the West, bring them over, show what we have here.
I know that that’s one of the reasons that’s why I’m here and um, all Asia being one of the biggest regions that needs the most help with animal rights. There’s gotta be a reason why I came here, why I was able to make it, go back, and have a stronger voice to be able to come back here. You know what I mean, Kristie, there has to be a reason! And so I see that, I see the bigger picture all the time and so I feel chosen and I feel very blessed because of that choice, whoever chose this for me.
KLS: Now, you are a superstar here in Asia. You get recognized everywhere — Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan. When you come back here and see the paparazzi, how do you feel?
MQ: Umm, ok, two things. I know they have a job to do. And to a certain extent I respect that, but at the same time, um, you know I enjoy my privacy in LA so much, uh, it’s one of the things I value most over there. Um, I did feel for a while I was suffocating a little bit in Hong Kong, in Asia, just because it’s not big enough to separate your life from your work.
KLS: In Hollywood you can do that?
MQ: Oh, absolutely. I felt like I was in the thick of it for many years, that I couldn’t sort of ever really be myself, ’cause I always had to have this public persona, ’cause they were always watching, and there’s always people around, and that’s very tiring. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s exhausting and suppressing — who it is that you really are, what you care about, it hurts almost. So being able to cross over to America, have my privacy and be able to have that time to develop what it is that I truly love and now come back to speak about it…
KLS: Now Maggie, you’re a star. And as an actress your stock is rising. How far do you want to go? Do you want to get an Oscar, do you want to be a megastar like Tom Cruise? What’s your goal?
MQ: I, God, that’s such a good question. I wish I knew more about my life! Oh, who wouldn’t want an Oscar? Who wouldn’t want to be rewarded for their work, to be honest? Um, I have a lot of dues to pay in this industry, I certainly do. I definitely feel like I, I’ve done a lot of work in Asia and work that — some that I love and some that I don’t, but then crossing over now I feel like I’m a baby still over there. I feel like I have a lot to learn, I have a lot of people to learn from. So I think it’s gonna be a few years before I can look to that. It certainly is the goal to be the best that I can be. Whether that’s award winning or not, I don’t know. We shall see. I hope so. But um, I think the bigger picture for me, to be honest, and not to be cheesy, is to be able to get to a level where I can really be a voice for animals. That’s my goal.
KLS: Well, I hope you’ll achieve that, and I have a feeling you will. Thank you very much.
MQ: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.