On Q:

Perfecting the Prowess

BY YU SHING TING | PHOTOGRAPHY BY KURT ISWARIENKO FOR COOL HUNT INC.

WHEN A 17-YEAR-OLD MILILANI HIGH ALUM left Hawai’i to pursue a modeling career in Asia, the furthest thing from her mind was the notion that, within a considerably short period of time, she’d become so recognizable that walking down the street became a challenge. Flashing cameras followed her every move. Detailed where she shopped. With whom she dined. And so on.

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“In Asia, I truly felt that I did not have a choice to stay out of the spotlight because there was nowhere to hide,” Maggie says during our exclusive phone interview that followed a day on set. “It’s cities and it’s sort of this controlled environment so they kind of know where you are and they’re all over you. I felt like I was in a fish tank, and I don’t miss that, not even for half-a-second.”

So when Maggie Q moved to Los Angeles in 2005-where the paparazzi had their sights honed on more promiscuous (and trouble-prone celebutants)-she was able to renew her vigor for what launched her career in the first place.

Her new dedication to acting led almost immediately to being cast opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III. The blockbuster hits began lining up-Live Free or Die Hard, then Balls of Fury. And while her “departure” from the non-stop spotlight wasn’t destined to last long, she’s grown in such a manner that she’s able to manage her life comfortably.

“When I go through LAX, obviously everyone is there, TMZ and a bunch of photographers, and I check-in and do my thing,” Maggie says matter-of-factly. “And they’ll still catch you in those moments, and that’s fine. But I think in large part you can keep yourself out of that,” she says, adding that she’s in a romantic relationship with someone but is quick to note that she prefers to keep that part of her life private.

As the star of CW’s television drama Nikita, it is undeniable that Maggie has joined the ranks of Hollywood’s most notable and beautiful young faces.

“If you know me, it’s very sort of funny that I’m in this business. I love what I do-but I’m most definitely a low-key person, and that’s one of the things that really hurt me in Asia,” she says. “Before I made the move back to the states, I actually considered leaving the business in a real way because it wasn’t what I signed up for … the criticism and the weirdness that came with. It became more than what I was doing creatively, and to me it wasn’t worth it.”

Although the world now knows her by the moniker Maggie Q, those who grew up with the former athlete (she competed in Mililani in cross country running, track-and-field and swimming), remember her as Margaret Quigley.

Her parents still live in Hale’iwa. And while she doesn’t get home as often as she’d like these days, she did squeeze in a quick 48-hour trip this past summer for a special occasion.

“My mom just retired (from Leilehua Golf Course) which was really exciting,” explains Maggie. “I can’t even imagine her not working. I knew I couldn’t make it to her retirement party because I had to get up here to Toronto-where we film Nikita. So my sister called me and said ‘we know you’re really busy and it’s O.K. you don’t have to come, but I talked to mom and she said something like she doesn’t need anything else before she dies just to see you at her retirement party.’ I was like ‘thanks!’ So I booked my ticket that day and I called production and said ‘listen, I’m going to be a couple of days late.'”

A self-declared animal-lover and nature girl, Q spends more time working than not, something that’s not only helped maintain her focus on the work, but propelled her forward. Immediately after Nikita wrapped its first season (with killer reviews and strong ratings), she was busy promoting the film Priest that was released in May. Then it was off to do a global press tour for the second season of Nikita, which started filming in July.

On-screen, she continues to play the sexy assassin bent on a revenge mission to destroy the secret agency that trained her. Off-screen, Maggie works diligently to meet the physical demands and grueling hours of the show’s production schedule.

“The first season just wiped me out in a way I never felt before,” she admits. “The physicality of it is draining, but also when you’re a lead on a show, you have a different responsibility than other people do. When I show up to work, people are looking to me for a type of leadership, something that sort of keeps the crew and everybody going. Whether that’s my personality or not, that responsibility falls to you anyway. It just so happens to be that it is my personality to care about everybody else, and because I do that I really do wear myself thin.

“[There is my] workload, my training, my dialogue, my physicality, and everything else I have to do. But if I don’t preserve what I got going on, we don’t have a show.”

Clocking 12 to 18 hours a day, and at times working six days a week, Maggie rarely gets time to play. (Our 11 p.m. phone chat is proof of her late hours.)

“I really don’t have free time per se, even when I’m off I’m in writer’s meetings or training or learning choreography or on-set,” she says. “TV is really different from film. I get a new 60-page script every nine days. My day-to-day life really is work. But my joy now is last season I only had my little dog (a Chihuahua named Pedro) up here with me and this year, I got all my big dogs (Lady and Caesar). When I go back to my trailer or when I’m at lunch and I get to be with them, I feel like that’s my free-ish time.”

An Auspicious Meeting

After a series of rejections following her move to Japan, then Taiwan, the half-Vietnamese (her mother) half-Irish-Polish (her father) starlet had a chance encounter with a woman at the night market who suggested Maggie move to Hong Kong. On a whim she bought a one-way ticket, called her new friend from the airport and took a bus to the woman’s office-who is still her manager, 14 years later.

While in Hong Kong, she appeared on more than 100 magazine covers including various Asian editions of Time, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Madame Figaro, Marie Claire and Elle. She also began acting in the TV drama House of the Dragon, which was a huge hit in Asia, and led to roles in the horror film Model from Hell, and then in Gen-Y Cops, in which she made such an impression on Jackie Chan that he had her cast in the award-winning film Manhattan Midnight.

She also starred in the popular action film Naked Weapon, which was directed by Tony Ching Siu, the action choreographer for Hero and House of Flying Daggers. In 2008, she starred in the critically appraised Chinese feature Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon, opposite Andy Lau.

Before making her American television debut with Nikita, Maggie was cast in Operation: Endgame, The King of Fighters, New York, I Love You, as well as the lead role in EA Games’ Need for Speed: Undercover which is one of the most successful franchises in video game history. She also was offered a role on Hawaii Five-0, but turned it down.

“The problem was not that I didn’t want to be in Hawai’i or be on that show,” she says. “The team of people who did the pilot are good friends of mine. But the female character was not interesting for me, personally. It was not something I thought was going to challenge me. It was a big network, CBS, and the whole thing. But for me, it’s not really about that. I took something on a much smaller network and with a much smaller reach, but the character Nikita meant something to me. It struck me and it was something I wanted to grow with.

“I was a big fan of the 1990 film, and it was the same character they were re-imagining for television. What (director) Luc Besson did in the 1990s to me and to a lot of people was very brave and different because we hadn’t seen yet on television that sort of damaged heroine. She is a strong female character but her strengths come out of survival and how she keeps fighting. To me, that’s something I think we all do in some capacity.

“But for Nikita she has this incredible life that was so damaging to her during her formative years-and how does she redeem herself? And, how do you come to terms with that when you weren’t given a choice and you’ve turned into this monster? How do you come back from that? That journey to me was not just an interesting one, but it seems like it could be a long one, which is good.”

Nature Girl

In real life, Maggie is a self-described “hippie” with a great love for the natural world. She’s a vegetarian, does yoga, meditates, hikes and enjoys spending time with animals. When she’s not filming, she says she’s immersed in two things: nature and literature. She also works with eight different animal rescue organizations, ranging from ocean protection agencies to dog and cat rescues.

“My ultimate dream is to be able to emulate some of the really great organizations I work with in the West and be able to incorporate the principles … over in Asia,” she says. “Animal welfare in Asia is not on the priority list. There are smaller grassroots organizations in Asia that are doing amazing things. But they are not supported the way organizations are here. I have dreams and plans to do that-and it will happen.”

Yet her heart doesn’t stop merely at animal; Maggie plans to spend the upcoming holidays in Peru planting biodynamic gardens in the Andean mountains. Then she’ll take a hike up Mount Pichu Pichu to participate in a yoga retreat.

“I got to bring it back to the core of who I am,” she says. “I want to be in very simple accommodations. I want to be in nature and I want to work on myself,” she concludes, the consummate-and admirable-work in progress.