Maggie Q has thrilled audiences for more than 20 years with ass-kicking roles in Mission: Impossible III, Live Free or Die Hard and the Divergent series. Enemies hiding out on the small screen fare no better, as her career also includes lead roles in TV’s Nikita and Designated Survivor. Rich Heimlich sat down with her during a press trip to Philadelphia to talk about her latest film, The Protégé, and more.
/comment: Maggie, thanks so much for spending a few minutes with us.
Maggie Q: Thanks for coming.
/c: For starters, tell us how you ended up in the film.
MQ: I got a call from my agent who, you know, said “Hey, listen, we know you’re not looking for action right now, but we’ve got this great script and [director] Martin Campbell is attached and Martin was ready to get on the phone with him. That’s really how it all began, you know. It was my love affair with Martin Campbell and what he wanted to do with this film. I mean, that’s really what sold me.
/c: In The Protégé, you play a character with a dark childhood history in Vietnam. Did you spend any time there?
MQ: Yeah, you know, we — the actors — we didn’t end up being able to go, unfortunately.
/c: At all?
MQ: No, not at all. Our crew did go, and they did shoot a lot of stuff.
/c: Vietnam is listed as a location in the credits.
MQ: Yeah, no, they did. They went there. Martin went there. The crew went there, and they shot a bunch of stuff there, but because of the pandemic — at the height of it — especially in March in Asia, we weren’t allowed to go because it was too risky for us. Yeah.
/c: It’s not as if you haven’t played deadly characters in the past. Did you do anything differently to prepare for this role, or was it all the same as before?
MQ: Yeah, I did something very different. I had no time to prepare for this movie (laughs deeply). Normally, I have a good lead-up to prepare, but I was just coming out of a recovery period after a surgery, and I had to jump into this movie, so there was really no time, like, for any of it, so I just had to pull from the skill sets I’ve acquired in the last 20 years.
/c: So you winged it?
MQ: Yeah, -ish. Yeah, yeah.
/c: In the film, you spend a lot of time interacting with two screen heavyweights: Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton. Did the title of the film extend not only to your character, but to you personally in any way?
MQ: (laughing) I guess so. I mean, you know, I honestly, like you said, sort of film with legends. You feel like you’re on the set with them that you, you know, have a lot to learn and, you know, pick up on all those things, but they brought so much knowledge and experience and joy to the set that we had a really good time making it.
/c: How does working with that caliber of actor impact your work?
MQ: Oh, hugely. I mean, part of acting is reacting, right? When you have someone who is just so skilled, who is a great collaborator, which they both were — which is not always the case. You can have a ton of talent, but if somebody is not willing to collaborate, you’re not going to get the product that I think we got on this.
/c: You said in the past that you like doing your own stunts. Who gets to make the final decision on films like this regarding your doing them or not, and is your stunt double pretty much bored the whole time?
MQ: Bored to tears (laughs). On some levels she is, and the answer to the first question is, it’s usually, well, myself and the director and sometimes the insurance company. (laughs heartily) It’s the three of us.
/c: I’m wondering if they (the insurance company) make most of the calls.
MQ: They don’t make most of them, but if it’s really something they do feel is way too dangerous where I wouldn’t be able to finish the rest of the film with something happening, then they’ll yank it.
/c: What do you feel with that? Is it sort of, “No I really prepared for that?”
MQ: Oh, I’ve definitely had those battles for sure, but it’s part of the process. Yeah.
/c: On the lighter side, do you have any funny stories to share about the shoot whatsoever?
MQ: Oh, well, (laughing) we were filming in eastern Europe in the dead of winter, so that in itself was a laugh/cry situation, but you know, some of the locations, you know, we had to double for Asia ’cause we couldn’t go there because of the pandemic, so you know, we had this enormous Vietnam set, and it would start snowing (laughs). So there were a lot of changes because of weather.
/c: This is most assuredly an action-forward film. What would you say is one of your favorite action films, and why?
MQ: One of my favorite action films? (looks off contemplatively) Hmm…
/c: That you’re not in…
MQ: That I’m not in… Oh, god. They’re all my favorite ones that I’m not in. Well, I love Casino [Royale] a lot. That opening sequence is probably one of my favorite sequences of all time. I think some of the Lethal Weapons have some really great sequences as well.
/c: They’ve actually not aged that badly.
MQ: They look grrr-eat. I know! It’s really unbelievable, but these old-school action sequences that are really long, which I thought that Martin really threw back to when he did Casino [Royale] because it was just, um, it was just jaw-dropping sequences. Just so creative and, technically, you know, as a film person, are so hard to pull off that you’re watching it with just an amount of respect that you can’t even believe what you’re watching.
/c: It’s amazing how many of those films of that era we’re starting to basically reconsider given today’s political environment, and those films we had just recently rewatched — the four of them. I think it’s four, and we were, like, “Hey, they still hold up.”
MQ: They do.
/c: We don’t feel guilty about anything in them.
MQ: One hundred percent, and the action holds up, too, as you say.
/c: I’m very curious to know if you’ve earned enough money yet to get that veterinarian degree?
MQ: (deep laughter) Soon. Soon, we’ll take a break and do anything else but films.
/c: When you retire, that’s your whole plan — retire into veterinary school.
MQ: Retiring with animals, yeah, for sure.
/c: How many dogs do you have at home now, and what’s your favorite dog breed?
MQ: I have a German shepherd, I have a German shepherd mix and I have a terrier. I call him a terrier risk.
/c: Yeah, terriers are always the pain, and he thinks he’s a German shepherd?
MQ: I love a good German shepherd, I have to say. I grew up with pit bulls and sort of mixed shepherds, so those are, like, my two favorite that I have a soft spot for ’cause I’ve known them my whole life.
/c: As a vegan, are you a fan of advancements in plant-based meats like Impossible and Beyond burgers? Not that they’re health foods.
MQ: They’re not. They’re absolutely not. I don’t think anything processed is health food, so for me, it’s sort of, like, I like to eat, sort of, as close to nature as possible. I don’t have a need for junk food on any level, so I don’t care if it’s something I would eat or wouldn’t eat.
/c: I’m jealous. (MQ laughs) I owe you a thank you. I read an article you did an interview for a while ago. I was having some issues with gut biome.
MQ: Oh, there you go! Like most of us.
/c: You had said something like, “Look here,” and I took that to my doctor who said, “Hey,” and it turns out I needed to have my gall bladder out. Antibiotics wiped everything out, and I happened to trip over your piece and thought, “Hey, this is what I’m dealing with.”
MQ: Yeah, yeah. This is sounding like, well, a lot of us are struggling, so it’s nice to have a company where I’m out there helping people, and that makes me happy.
/c: Are you finding anything in Philadelphia, not that you’re here for a long time? Is there anything you like about the city?
MQ: We went to a Phillies game, and that was really fun ’cause I got to see what your fans look like here, which was awesome.
/c: We have a bad reputation.
MQ: (genuinely surprised) Do you have a bad reputation? How come?
/c: We snowballed Santa Claus.
MQ: How come? Was he not a fan of the Phillies?
/c: It’s a long story, but the short of it is that in Philadelphia, long before there was a history, we had the chance to draft O. J. Simpson, and the team was that bad. All they had to do was lose the last game of the season to get that draft pick, and they decided instead to win one of the few games they won, missing that draft pick, so then Santa comes in, and all the fans just grabbed snow and snowballed Santa.
MQ: (laughing) Stop it! They took it out on Santa? Come on, Phillies.
/c: Yeah, they took it out on Santa. That was the Eagles fans, but the same Philadelphia fans.
MQ: Yeah, the Philly crowd.
/c: So have you had any of the food here?
MQ: I had a — don’t be mad. Are you from here?
/c: Yeah, oh, yeah.
MQ: I had a vegan Philly cheesesteak. I know that sounds somewhat illegal.
/c: Oh, no, no, no.
MQ: But is was available, and I had it, and I really enjoyed it.
/c: There’s a place here called Govinda’s that makes a phenomenal one, and in fact, it was picked one year as the best cheesesteak, and it’s vegan.
MQ: (shocked) What?! I don’t think that’s the one I had. What was it called? Govinda’s?
/c: Govinda’s. Just ask anybody around, and they’ll tell you where Govinda’s is. [Interviewer’s note: Sadly, I didn’t know that Govinda’s didn’t survive the pandemic and closed in 2020.] Finishing up, what’s next for you?
MQ: I have a show on Fox. I start in a few weeks. It’s a comedy called Pivoting, which will premiere in January, so we’re going to film a season from September to sort of like the end of November.
/c: I’ve gotta say I’m still mad at the whole Designated Survivor end and how that all happened. My wife and I were hooked.
MQ: Well, here’s the thing. If you die on a show and people are upset, it’s a good thing. If you die on a show and they’re, like, finally, then you’re in trouble, so I’m really glad people were upset.
/c: When they ended your character, we were, like, “Well, there’s no reason to watch the show.” Honestly, there was no reason to keep watching.
MQ: See? That’s what my brother said, but he’s related to me, and he has to say that, so it’s nice to hear that from someone I’m not related to.
/c: No, I didn’t have to. Thanks again for doing this interview.
The Protégé, starring Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and Robert Patrick, opens on August 20th.