Maggie Q on Nikita, Buffy and Punching Out Fellow Actors Like It's Her Job (Because It Is)

MaggieQRed225.jpgAfter achieving recognition as one of the premiere stunt actresses in Hong Kong, Maggie Q (née Margaret Quigley) returned to the U.S. four years ago to film her first blockbuster, Mission Impossible: III. Since then, the stunning Jackie Chan protege has kicked ass in a slew of films including Live Free or Die Hard and Balls of Fury, and now you can watch her take names on a weekly basis in the CW's new action-thriller series Nikita.

Playing the latest incarnation of the French assassin whose looks have killed, Q is balancing the complex physical stunt work and complicated emotions of one of the most intimidating females on television these days. As Nikita approached its fourth episode (airing tonight), Q rang Movieline to discuss her own personal history of girl fights, the reason why you will never see her on the cover of Maxim and what it takes to play a rogue assassin.

There aren't many females on television depicted as being as strong emotionally and physically as Nikita. How much of Nikita's strength drew you to the project and do you feel any pressure to uphold an example to CW viewers?

First of all, thank you for saying that Nikita is strong both emotionally and physically because I feel like that is something that only a female would say. But this character really has had to overcome a very rough past and that complexity was definitely what drew me to the project. But whether or not, I feel pressure, I don't think I do. I just hope that people like the show.

Was it difficult to get in the mindset of a rogue assassin with, to use the CW's words, a "troubled background?" That sounds like a lot of baggage.

Fortunately, [the producers] knew after writing the pilot where they wanted to go the first season which was very helpful as an actor. When I came here, I had a plan for how I was going to [work through Nikita's complex emotions] that but when you're doing TV, your plans kind of all go to hell because you're jumping back and forth between flashback and current day and there is so much to cover in an episode. As women, I think it helps that we are complex creatures by nature so just being a woman helps to understand a woman's journey. For Nikita though, I would say that you somehow have had to have lived a complex life to even be able to touch this character.

How long does it typically take you to learn the choreography for one fight scene?

I can learn a fight in ten minutes which is just bizarre. I can because I just had to. It's not like [taunts] "I can learn a fight in ten minutes!" but I can because I've been put in a position where I've had to. For this episode [we are shooting now], for example, I have three fights. And last weekend was the first weekend I've had in weeks but I gave up my Sunday to come in to just run through choreography. That's what it really takes to make this show great to be honest. I have a fight with another cast member and I called him on Saturday and said, "Look, I need to see you Sunday because you work Monday and I'm on every day this week and we have no time to rehearse if we don't come in tomorrow." He kind of went, "Okay, sure Maggie." He showed up and put the work in.

Well it pays off. Viewers can tell that you are actually the ones fighting. Not stunt doubles.

Right, that's what it takes to make this show believable and on a level of ability that you didn't see with Buffy and those kinds of shows where you knew they were using doubles. You saw wide shots with intense acrobatics and then close-ups of the star. We don't have that in Nikita at all because we're putting the work in and that is going to show. I hope that people recognize that.

How much of your ability to learn choreography almost instantly result from your film career in Hong Kong, where movies are shot much, much faster than here in America?

That's definitely true. That's just because there is a lack of resources over there for film. So you have less time. Not only a lack of resources but also the action directors there are just really good at what they do and they've been doing it for hundreds of years [laughs] so they just don't have the patience. Because they are so good, they don't have room to feel sorry for you or wait. If you're not good, they will move on.

I remember when I was over there, being so young, and just not wanting people to move on. I kept saying, "I can do this! I can do this! Just give me a minute." But there was never a minute to wait for me. So I just had to learn to be incredibly quick with my pick-ups and smart with my execution so that they would look at me in a way that they did not even look at stunt women. That was my goal. I really wanted them to look at me [as an equal] because I had been working with the best. So if you combine that desire with the fact that you are working 20-hour days because there are no unions, you see why you have to learn so quickly.

How did you adjust then working on films in America?

When I came here for my first [U.S. film], which was _Mission Impossible III [laughs], they went, "Now, Maggie, you only have two months to train." I was thinking, "Are you kidding me, I have two months to get in shape to learn this and get this down? What did I do to deserve this?"

That sounds like a pretty good deal.

It was. I'd love to have that time table again. Sometimes in TV you think, "Wow, I'm back on an Asian movie set."

I read that you accidentally punched a stuntman during the Nikita pilot because he didn't duck in time.

It's actually worse than that. He was an actor. With stunt guys, you can punch them in the face because it's, you know, just part of work. You feel bad about that but not as bad as if you punch another actor. He was in the pilot and actually his role was supposed to be a little bit bigger. He went through the choreography with my stunt double. I went through it with someone else. They brought us together and I thought we would be fine but he was a massive guy. He was 6'4" and so when a guy that big doesn't duck in time, he gets hit.

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