2011 Metro UK

In a Toronto warehouse that has been transformed into a sweatshop, Hong Kong action princess Maggie Q has just hit a Chinese man in the face with a steam iron. ‘Shoot it!’ she yells, her adrenalin pumping in readiness to break out more eye-popping martial arts madness. This time while the cameras roll. Why? Because she’s Nikita, the star of Warner Bros’ glossy new series about the ass-whupping assassin.

After she’s done trouncing the various goons/stuntmen lurking among the reams of fabric and old sewing machines, Maggie bounces over. She’s cradling her right arm with an ice pack but is still looking preposterously sexy. ‘Right now I’m feeling it,’ she exclaims. ‘I hit my arm on someone’s forehead. I’m feeling weepy!’

Weepy she may feel but there’s an electrifying buzz surrounding Hawaii-raised Maggie Quigley, who was born to a Polish-Irish-American father and a Vietnamese mother, and whose surname ended up being shortened by her Far East fans to make it easier for them to pronounce.

For starters, she’s loving the fact that she’s playing a heroine who is layered, flawed, conflicted: in a sense, this new Nikita starts where her predecessors (played by Anne Parillaud in Luc Besson’s 1990 film, Bridget Fonda in the US remake, Point Of No Return, and Peta Wilson in the 1997 US TV series) left off, with her turning against the sinister secret government agency that trained her to kill.

She’s also aware that this is a good time for female action heroes. ‘It is,’ she says. ‘It certainly wasn’t 13 years ago when I started. It wasn’t cool to do action then. Now, actresses are like, “I love what you do”. In Salt, for example, Angelina Jolie is not playing the Bond girl, she’s playing Bond. That’s what it’s about now. I can’t tell you how many films I’ve gone for where someone so much less qualified than me has been picked to be the main villain or whatever. They got it because they were guys.’

In Maggie’s last memorable turn on screen she was beating Bruce Willis to a pulp in Die Hard 4.0. (that is, until she wound up at the bottom of a lift shaft crushed by a 4×4). ‘That was fun,’ she says of pulping Willis. ‘He was a good sport about it – he doesn’t usually get his ass kicked by anyone. And I was a girl. Bruce comes from a different school of action than I do – he’s of the John Wayne kind: punch, punch combo. That’s what he’s good at. The reason why my character was on a par with him was because she was so fast. He was like, “What the hell is going on?”’

Before that, Maggie was one of Tom Cruise’s gun-toting assistants in Mission Impossible III. And before that she spent the best part of a decade working in Asia, most of it spent under the watchful eye of Jackie Chan, who made it his mission to turn this former jobbing model into one of a new breed of Hong Kong action stars.

‘I think the biggest thing I learned from him was work ethic,’ the 31-year-old says. ‘I don’t know a harder-working person. When you work with someone like that, who has come from nothing, he doesn’t take s*** from anyone. You have to work really hard, otherwise you’re gone. I could be on a set with Jackie and drink my water and put it down. He could be across the room and he’ll look over at me and say: “When you walk away, that bottle of water is going with you.” Oh yeah, it was no joke. If we dropped something and didn’t pick it up, or didn’t put something away, or weren’t respecting somebody, we would get yelled at. It was know your place, do your job, do it well.’

And that discipline remains with her today. For Nikita, she encouraged her co-stars – including ER’s Shane West and Kick-Ass’s Lyndsy Fonseca – to attend a boot camp arranged by her boyfriend David Leitch, who trained Matt Damon for the Bourne films and was for years Brad Pitt’s stunt double. ‘I knew that the cast wouldn’t be at the same levels I’m at so it was important for them to do it. The show won’t work if we’re not all believable on screen. They got their asses kicked. It was great,’ she laughs.

After Nikita finishes, there’s more action from her in the movie Priest, in which she stars alongside Paul Bettany as a woman of the cloth in a post-apocalyptic world. (‘Never could I have imagined it to be as cool as what I’m seeing now in the cuts,’ she gushes sweetly.)

And when she’s not working, Maggie will continue her yoga, boxing and cardio workouts every day in preparation for unleashing her next can of crazy on someone. But is there a softer side to her? Well, she meditates, smiles a lot and doesn’t eat animals. So perhaps she is nice, after all. ‘If I’m p***ed off I can be as hardcore as any woman who is p***ed off,’ she chuckles. ‘But I’m a very zen human being most of the time.’