There are some hiccups getting connected with Maggie Q, television’s latest incarnation of the beautiful rogue assassin, Nikita, but when we finally do, I forget the animated voice at the other end of the phone line has shared the screen with the likes of Hollywood powerhouses Tom Cruise in MI:III, Bruce Willis in the last Die Hard installment, and Paul Bettany and Karl Urban in the thriller Priest (due out this May). Instead, I’m swept away by Maggie’s obvious passion for animal rescue: this girl isn’t just hardcore on screen, she’s got some serious spirit that defies anyone not to take an interest in the issue.
Coming from an animal-loving family, Maggie has a canine connection that is practically inherent. It started with doing odd jobs around the neighborhood to get one of the neighbor new puppies. Six-year-old Maggie then told her parents she’d found the pup on the street and that the flea-and tick-infested animal had no where to go, so they’d have to keep it.
“I would do things like that, anything to get an animal; any dog off the street and cat that got hit by a car. I would bring them home, that was me,” she says.
When we talk, Maggie is on a break from filming in Toronto and has just returned to her Los Angeles home from her daily hike with the family: Cesar, Ladybird, and Pedro.
MD: We’ll start with what’s number one on our minds: tell us about your dogs.
MQ: The three that I have now are from Asia and two are from different rescue groups that I worked with. At one point my count was up to eight rescue dogs. They were like Russian dolls, 90 pounds all the way down to the Chihuahua, who is 3½ pounds. Four of them were best friends and the other four were best friends. When my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, we basically split them down the middle. We’re still friends and when he’s traveling, I still look after the dogs.
MD: What do you love best about your brood?
MQ: Most people love that their dogs are really loyal, really loving; what I love about my dogs is they all have attitude. It sets them apart. You can have a Lab who’s always really happy, always gets the tennis ball. My dogs all have attitude problems and it just makes me laugh.
MD: If you were a dog, which breed would you be?
MQ: I’d probably be a cross between my two favorites; a Pit and a German Shepherd.
MD: I’d say that fierce combination suits your choice in character roles as well.
MQ: It totally does. There are two power breeds that I love. I love all breeds, but German Shepherds and Pit Bulls are two of my favorite dogs of all time. I grew up with Pit Bulls and despite what they go through, and what their reputations are, and what we as people have turned them into, they are the greatest family dogs. They’re so good with kids, so loving, so loyal, and they’re so strong.
MD: Are there any characteristics that you share with your dogs?
MQ: My dogs are very specific about whom they like. They know whom they like and they know whom they don’t like, and that’s totally momma. I have the same instincts.
MD: If they were movie stars, who would they be?
MQ: I think Cesar, my son—he’s the Shepherd-looking one—he would be Humphrey Bogart; so perfect and handsome. Or even Brando; I don’t think there’s anyone more beautiful than a young Marlon Brando. My white Shepherd is definitely Grace Kelly, and Pedro, my Chihuahua, I don’t know, George Lopez? [Laughing] Do you know why? George is a really good friend of mine.
MD: How did you become involved with animal charity?
MQ: I started in animal charity, fundraising, and rescue in 1997 when I moved to Asia. I worked with Hong Kong Dog Rescue, which I got two of my dogs from, and PETA Asia Pacific. After that, I started working with Animals Asia Foundation, which is probably one of the greatest groups in the world. They do dog and cat rescue and they rescue the Moon Bears of China. We opened a rescue center for these bears in Vietnam and one in China. I also work on a government level with them in China on getting dogs and cats out of meat markets, which is one of the most horrifying things you’ve ever seen in your life. I still have nightmares.
MD: It takes a special kind of person to take a stand when the rest of us aren’t strong enough to stomach it.
MQ: It’s hard to be. It’s funny; when you’re an animal lover and get involved in animal rights, it’s a whole different deal, impossible almost. Sometimes, I don’t want to know any more, but it’s one of my life’s missions. Animal cruelty is absolutely unnecessary in the world that we live in. I’m going to do everything that I can in my lifetime. When I moved to LA from Asia, I wanted to get involved and my publicist said ‘I’ve got the group for you.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been more touched in my life by a story than by the story of Best Friends: how they came to be and what they’ve done for animals. The two founders have become two of my closest friends. I go up to [the sanctuary in] Utah every year for a week to ten days and volunteer at the shelter. It’s my sanctuary, it’s where I go to find peace and recharge and see the work that people are doing for animals.
MD: What’s your favorite thing to do with your dogs?
MQ: My favorite thing to do is our hikes. Nothing makes me happier than to see my dogs running, running at full speed in the mountains, up the trails and through the trees.I think dogs that are doing things that are really wild and really natural are what’s most beautiful.
MD: Tell me about your perfect day.
MQ: I think my perfect day is usually when I’m up at Best Friends. I go to volunteer and I usually rent a little house. The whole day spent in service to animals, that’s my perfect day.
MD: So when you’re on set in Toronto and your dogs are at home in LA, what do you miss about them most?
MQ: They make me laugh. Not on purpose obviously, but they’re just so comical and they have so much attitude. When they’re around, there’s so much joy and when they’re not, it’s harder to find that joy.
MD: What’s the most important lesson they’ve taught you?
MQ: All my dogs came from bad backgrounds and were all at one point really out of control. Now, I take them to movie sets. They’re so grateful and so happy with the simplest thing—their walk, their family time on the sofa—and I think that we, as people, get so jaded. The minute that we forget that the simplest things should make us happy, that’s when we become unhappy.
MD: You’re a big advocate of training. Is there a particular method you adhere to?
MQ: I think that’s one thing that people don’t realize; it’s not just about rescue, it’s about rehab, too. I wouldn’t be the responsible owner that I am, the parent that I could be, without Tyson Kilmer. He’s the new face of where we need to go in terms of rescue and rehab.
MD: Whom do you admire?
MQ: Jeffrey Masson Moussaieff is a wonderful author who basically writes from the emotional point of view of animals. Jane Goodall is one of my ultimate heroes, always. The founders of Best Friends. And those people who have the small little rescue groups, the grassroots people, the people who use their own money everyday to take one, two, three dogs off the street and find them homes, those people honestly are my ultimate heroes. The people that do the everyday stuff—I look at them with a lot of awe and admiration, it takes a lot of selflessness.
MD: And what inspires you?
MQ: I make decisions with my heart. It moves me forward towards the projects I should be doing and the organizations I should be working with. I feel that if you know what you love, you’ll always be okay.
MD: Is there a message from your heart you’d like to leave with our readers?
MQ: I’m excited about things in my career always, but the thing that excites me most is the idea that my voice could be louder one day and that people will take the time to be the compassionate beings that we are evolved enough to be. We’re the only animals on the planet that evolved in this way, who can make informed decisions and understand what compassion really is. We’ve been given that gift, why aren’t we using it? It’s our responsibility.