As a deeply troubled teenager, Nikita (Maggie Q) was rescued from death row by a secret U.S. agency known as Division. Fooled into believing that she was being given a second chance to start a new life and serve her country, she quickly learned that she was instead being trained as a spy and assassin. After being betrayed by the only people she thought she could trust, she did the impossible by escaping, in order to seek retribution and destroy their covert operations.
During an interview to promote the CW’s Nikita, show star Maggie Q talked about taking on the legendary character, her love of action roles and vowed never to wear that red bikini in the pilot episode again. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: This character has been around for awhile, in various incarnations. What’s it like to take on what has become a legend of sorts?
Maggie: I felt confident because of the team that they put around me, with the director, the writer and the cast. I believe in everyone so much. I’m excited for this journey. It’s a challenge, but if we’re not challenging ourselves, what’s the point. It’s cool that there have been different incarnations, but we’re doing something really different with this one. I know that’s lip service, but you’ll understand the difference when you see it.
Was it important to you not to rehash the origin story?
Maggie: Right, that’s what makes it different. We’re really going from where the legend ends, and we’re going into the future of her. She’s gotten out now. This is her tale about how she gets back at the people who have hurt her.
How long have you been doing martial arts?
Maggie: I’m half Asian, so people immediately go, “Oh, you do kung fu,” like that’s what we do. We wake up, we do kung fu, we brush our teeth. It’s just assumed that you’re not working your ass off to make this believable and make this something great, and we absolutely are. All of us. I’m not a wushu champion. I was an athlete when I was a kid. I was a swimmer and a runner, but all this action stuff is such a challenge. It really, really is. I’m lucky that I’ve been doing it for long enough that I have a formula that works for me, but it certainly isn’t something that I can close my eyes and do. Absolutely not.
How did you initially get into martial arts then?
Maggie: When I was living and working in Asia, at the time, Jackie Chan was looking for these new young people to star in movies that he was producing, but not starring in. So, his team of guys trained me when I was very young, in different disciplines. They molded me. They gave me my introduction. I wouldn’t say they taught me everything because, once I got to Hollywood, I feel like that’s when I really got into the action genre. I really got the time to focus on things when I was booked for a project. They were very serious. They were like, “Listen, we’re going to train you from the ground up. This is how we’re going to make you real.” So, it does become very real. You can’t fake this stuff. You either know it, or you don’t.
Since you have a background in action movies, is it easier to do this role, or are there still physical challenges?
Maggie: Both. It’s comfortable for me. I weirdly feel very natural, in the physicality that comes my way, whether it’s guns, cars or whatever. For some reason, it’s second nature to me. But, every action project you take, whether it be a movie or TV series, is always different and a lot of people don’t really know how big a difference it is. It’s a different style of fighting, a different tempo and all of that. It’s been good, though. It’s been fun. I like the physical challenge. It’s fun for me.
What was it like to spend three weeks training for this?
Maggie: I set that training up. They didn’t have money to train us. My partner is an action director, so I asked him if he could get all of his stunt team together and create something for my cast. I have the training and background, but they didn’t. They had none. For me, it was important that everybody in the show was believable, and I knew that they weren’t even close. So, for three weeks, we did three days a week and we broke their asses. They couldn’t walk. Lyndsy would text me and go, “I can’t even eat. I can’t raise my arm.” I thought it was so fun. I’ve been through that for so many years, so to see someone else go through that was awesome.
With the physicality of this role, do you find yourself slinking home at night and crawling into bed?
Maggie: I don’t do anything but sleep, when I’m not working. I have no life. I’m no fun. All I want to do is sleep and get ready for the next day. It’s awesome.
Do they space out the action sequences for you, so that you don’t have to do them so close together?
Maggie: When I started in film, I was living and working in Asia, and I swear to you, when we did films there, it was so fast. It was much like TV. They did films in two weeks or six weeks, so I actually realize now that I’m very used to this pace, and I enjoy focusing, getting it over with, getting it out of the way and saying, “Let’s move on. Let’s do something cool again. Let’s get going.”
Which worries you more, knowing that you have a day where you’re going to have to shoot a big action scene, or having to do a big emotional scene with a lot of dialogue?
Maggie: You know what worries me? Doing them on the same day, which we do sometimes because TV is so fast. You’re here, and then you’re there, and sometimes you don’t know where you are.
With all the action films and stuff that you’ve done, have you ever had any major injuries along the way?
Maggie: Oh, I’ve injured everything. I’ve hurt my wrist and cracked my shins. It’s ridiculous. Actually, I haven’t broken everything, but I’ve cracked and fractured a lot of different body parts.
How was it to wear that red bikini?
Maggie: That red bikini was the bane of my existence. You’re not going to see me in a bikini again, that’s for sure. I was horrified to wear that. I was mortified. I was like, “Danny, can you put me in a one-piece?,” and he gave me that red bikini. I was like, “That’s not a one-piece. That’s a two-piece with a string.”
What about the rest of the clothes you’ll get to wear, throughout the season?
Maggie: The CW is a very fashion-oriented network and they like their stars to look a certain way. I like that, but at the same time, I need Nikita to be toned down a bit. You can’t draw too much attention to Nikita because she’s an assassin. At the same time, when she is on missions and she’s supposed to be noticed, that’s when we’ll play with stuff. They’re obsessed with her looks in the series, which is hilarious, whereas I’m obsessed with the material.
On the days when you get to play dress-up and you get to wear the really elegant gowns and stuff like that, is it fun for you, or is it just an annoyance because you’ve got to take so much time to do it?
Maggie: You know, I’ve gotten to that point where I’m so used to being sweaty, wearing pants, and sitting like a guy in boots. When I’m dressed up and people are touching me up and doing the whole thing, I’m less comfortable with that. I like to wear less make-up and be tougher. The primp stuff is exciting for people, but it’s less exciting for me. It’s definitely fun, but I like low maintenance. I do. I enjoy it on set because it’s about the characters, the acting and the story, so it’s not really about blush.
What is the relationship like between Nikita and Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca)?
Maggie: We really get into it, in Episode 2, which is cool. One of the things that’s really going to draw people into this series is that you don’t know how all these people are intertwined. You start in the modern day, but their past is very layered and very colored. We’re going to be uncovering that, in the first season. You’re not going to expect what unfolds between these two women, for sure.
Will viewers get to see more of the dynamic between Nikita, Amanda (Melinda Clarke) and Percy (Xander Berkeley)?
Maggie: Yes. Those characters are so cool to me. They’re fascinating. I was so blown away by them. Everyone is so good in the show, and they bring something so special. Without one of them, it wouldn’t work. But, Melinda’s and Xander’s characters are really fascinating. I don’t think you’re ever really going to know everything about where they’ve come from, but you are going to get little bits. It’s going to be really interesting.
How has it been to work with Aaron Stanford?
Maggie: He’s great. He’s so funny. He’s the comic relief in the series, which I really like because you need it. You can’t be serious the whole time. Division, which is sort of the CIA, has so many different faces that make an organization like that work. It’s not just a room full of evil people. It’s a room full of very talented people, who give what they give. How we found them and how they got there is the story.
Is the tattoo you show in the Nikita poster real?
Maggie: Yes, they’re all real, and what’s cool is that I don’t have to cover them. I usually always have to cover them, but with Nikita, it’s in keeping with who she is. She was that street kid. She was hardcore as a kid.
What is the tattoo of, when did you get it and why?
Maggie: It’s a phoenix. When I moved to Asia, it was tough for me. It was a struggle to be a woman in the business. And, I was incredibly poor, inexperienced and insecure. I didn’t go see fortune tellers, but I had friends who did, and I would tag along because I thought it was so fascinating. At the end of the session, they would always look at me and go, “You’re a bird.” They would always tell me that I was a bird, and I didn’t get it. And then, as I started getting older and learning more about myself, I got it. So, I met an artist who basically said, “You understand what bird you represent?” I said, “No,” and he said, “You’re a phoenix because you’ve come from nothing and you’re building something.” I certainly was not there yet. I don’t even think I’m there now. But, I was on my way to building something that meant something to me, and so I wanted it to be the bird of strength.
How many others do you have?
Maggie: I’ve got two more.
What caused you to move to Asia in the first place and then start a film career? And, why was it so hard for you there?
Maggie: I was basically a broke student, and I moved to Asia and was making some money to go back to school. One thing led to another, and I was supposed to stay two months, but it ended up being eight years. It was the best mistake I ever made. But, I didn’t know a soul and I didn’t speak the language. I’d left Hawaii twice in my life, so I’d been on an island my whole life. I had no clue. I didn’t know how to live in a city, and I didn’t know the industry, for sure, and then I was around veterans in the industry who expected a lot out of me, from the get-go. It was a lot of pressure and it was a lot of confusion, at the time.
Were you acting phonetically?
Maggie: I started like that. I did films in English and I did films in Chinese. At first, I had to create my own phonetic alphabet for Cantonese, and then I went from there. I went back to China a couple years ago and did a movie in Mandarin, and I don’t speak Mandarin, so I learned it phonetically. Now, when I’m on set and somebody gives me English lines, I’m like, “Are you kidding? What’s happening? This is amazing!”
Are you still looking to balance this with a film career?
Maggie: Yes. There are so many passion projects that I have, that I’ve had written, and that I really care about. So, it’s actually fun to be able to do something like this, where I’m busy most of the year, and then, when I’m off, I can jump into something that I’ve planned during that year. I love film, very, very much, and I always want to go back to it. We’ll see. Obviously, you have to be lucky enough for people to want you to be in films, but that is the plan, definitely.
Are there any female action stars that you admire?
Maggie: I think Angelina Jolie in Salt is a perfect example because it’s a recent example. I remember seeing promotions for Salt and getting really excited and hoping that it did really well. It’s just good for females right now, in the industry, to be able to headline and carry something that traditionally men carry. What I like that’s happening right now in the action genre, which didn’t happen before, is that they’re using incredibly credible actors now in these big action roles. You see Angelina Jolie in a movie like Salt, and she’s very believable, but not because she’s super tough or has more muscles than the next girl. She’s an incredible actress, and that toughness comes from a place that’s very internal, which is the reason why she’s so good at what she does. That’s a great example of a really quality actress in a role where she’s doing both, and you have to be. I look at people like Angelina and Michelle Yo, early on, when I was living in Asia, and people like that, and I admired them because it was the combination of things that they brought to the screen that really worked. Now that I’m in that position, I know how hard it is, and my admiration has just been heightened.
NIKITA premieres on The CW on September 9th