Maggie Q sits in a cushioned chair with her legs leisurely folded under her slender frame, a subtle affirmation of her physical flexibility and prowess as a celebrated action star on TV and in movies.
Her new film “The Protégé” (opening Friday) casts her as a well-read international assassin who runs a vintage bookstore on the side while verbally jousting with a mysterious stranger, played by Michael Keaton.
At 42, the Hawaiian-born performer (original name Margaret Quigley) continues to draw fans for her fictional characters and her real-life political stands.
Recently, in Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel, Q appeared as comfortable as a cat while discussing “The Protégé,” Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and being a role model for women.
Q: Let me get this straight — you had surgery on your spine shortly before “The Protégé” and went into action rehearsals way earlier than you were supposed to?
A: Way earlier than I was supposed to. I told the producers, but they didn’t share that with anyone. So, I had to tell the people I was working with, so they were aware of it. I told my coordinator the first day as we were walking through a fight scene that we had to change some movements to avoid my neck. This (movie) required a different approach because I had to be so careful.
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Q: You were an accomplished model until Jackie Chan became convinced you’d be a terrific action star. How did that work out?
A: It was actually Jackie Chan’s management company that reached out to me and said they wanted to put me in films. I didn’t understand why they were looking for me. I wasn’t an actor. They said, “Yeah, we know, but we want to turn you into one!” This didn’t make any sense to me, and initially I said no. Instead of jumping in blindly, and delusionally, thinking hey, maybe I can do this, I wanted to know that I had an actual skillset. They saw something in me, I guess.
Q: What’s your biggest take-away from watching Jackie Chan movies?
A: No one moves like Jackie, and that’s why he’s a classic. There’s a smoothness to what Jackie does. A slickness to what he does that I think is very inspiring. I always liked the idea of moving like an insect. You move efficiently, but very light on the feet. When you’re a woman like me, very slim and small, I was inspired by that. Jackie is very strong and broad, but he moves like a dancer. He was that perfect mix of grace and strength.
Q: A lot of martial arts movie fans became disappointed that Jackie Chan seemed more interested in channeling Buster Keaton than the late Bruce Lee. Where do you stand on that?
A: Here’s the thing: Even the iconic action guys today are still jealous of his skills. When you’re a legend, you’re a legend. There’s no one like Bruce Lee and there will never be anyone like Bruce Lee. Period. Doesn’t matter what other people are doing. They can be original the way they do it, but not like how Bruce Lee was original.
Q: Most show-business people avoid controversy and politics to protect their careers. You go the opposite way by supporting personal causes, mostly PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and promoting a vegan lifestyle. Where does this come from?
A: Ever since I was a little girl, I really hated injustice. We come into the world with that or we don’t, you know? You can learn it to a degree, but it was something that lived in me. If I saw someone or something being mistreated, I took it really seriously. It really bothered me. And I thought making things right was really important.
Q: You share a bizarre and strange, yet captivating, charisma with your “Protégé” co-star Michael Keaton. How was it working with him?
A: I give kudos to (director) Martin Campbell for everything, but I want to give him special credit for the casting of Michael Keaton. Most assassin characters are so one-note. Most actors who play assassins don’t want to show their cards. He (Keaton) has this line, “I find you interesting.” That, to me, says everything. And no one but Michael Keaton could say it like that and actually affect people that way.
Q: When women send you fan mail, what do they share with you?
A: A lot of the women I hear from, it’s all about strength. And looking at me and feeling strong because of the positions I take. People have told me that when they see me, they feel strong and feel good. They say, “I may not be able to do it, but at least I feel that I can try when I watch you.” I would never, ever have expected that when you go into show business, you could affect people that way.
Q: What’s the best thing about being Maggie Q?
A: I think the best part of my life is being outside the business. I have really great friends. I have a lot of animals. I have a lot of peace when I am not working. That to me is so important. I have a lot of things I love and I fight for. Outside of the business, I feel I have an incredibly fulfilling life.
Q: Do you have a life goal?
A: I think that just showing up in life is half the battle. If you don’t show up, you don’t get anything done. I want to show up in this life.