‘Nikita’ Star Learning American Action

“I’ve done action movies,” Maggie Q, the striking star of “Nikita” says. “I have never done TV, but we’ve never done an action-television show, which is a whole other deal.”

Q, who does her own stunts, says in doing “Nikita,” which opened to some of the strongest ratings in CW history, “really your level never goes down. You have to be on your game all the time.”

Speaking at the TV Critics Association summer press tour, she says, “We have action in every episode, and, you know, there’s no time to sort of go, ‘Well, I’m going to let myself go for a second, and then now I’m going to bring the level back.’ ”

Of course, the Hawaiian-born Hong Kong action star says, “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 sometime in two weeks and six weeks, and so I actually realize now that I’m very used to this pace, and I kind enjoy focusing, getting over with it, getting it out of the way, and saying, ‘Let’s move on. Let’s do something cool again. Let’s get going.’

“It totally has molded me into the person I am in terms of work ethic and in terms of just learning things on the fly, whether it be languages, whether it be action, whether it be fatigue, learning how to fight fatigue. We don’t have unions in Asia, so I — when I got to America and they said, ‘You’re going to work 12-hour days,’ I almost fainted. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never worked a 12-hour day. I worked 16- to 18-hour days every day, door to door. And it didn’t matter whether it was a big movie or small movie.”

Action doesn’t necessarily come easily to her because she’s half Asian, Q says. “I was an athlete when I was a kid, but it’s such a challenge, all this action stuff. It really, really is, and 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.”

To learn the formula she can thank the star who discovered her back in Asia.

“I was basically a broke student, and I moved to Asia, and I was basically making some money to go back to school. And one thing led to another, and I ended up — I was supposed to stay two months in Asia, and it ended up being eight years. But best mistake I ever made. But the reasons — I mean, I didn’t know a soul. 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. I didn’t know the industry, for sure. And then I was around veterans in the industry who expected sort of a lot of me from the get-go. And it was just a lot of — it was a lot of pressure, and it was a lot of confusion at the time.”

But the one person who helped her was Jackie Chan.

“When I was living and working in Asia, at the time Jackie was looking for these new young people to star in movies that he was producing, not starring in, but producing. So his team of guys trained me when I was very young in different disciplines. They sort of — they broke me basically and sort of molded me. They gave me my introduction. I wouldn’t say they taught me everything at all because I have to tell you, once I got to Hollywood, I feel like that’s when I really, really got into the action genre because I felt like the people here — we really got the time to focus on things when we’re booked for a project. They were very serious. They’re 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 can’t. You either know it, or you don’t.”

So far, she’s been lucky to be injury free. “I haven’t broken anything, but I’ve cracked and fractured a lot of different body parts,” she says.

But mostly the marks on her skin are tattoos: Her own. “They’re real. They’re all real. And what’s cool is that I don’t have to cover them,” she says. “I usually always have to cover them, but Nikita is — you know, it’s kind of in keeping with who she is.”

The most prominent is the giant thing on her hip, prominently displayed in ads for the show.

“It’s a phoenix,” she says. “And when I moved to Asia, it was a sort of tough for me. It was a struggle to be a woman in the business. And I was incredibly poor and inexperienced and all the things that you can be when you’re insecure. And I would go — I didn’t go and see fortune tellers, but I had friends who did, and I would tag along because I thought it was so fascinating. And they would always look at me at the end of the session and go, ‘You’re a bird.’ They would always tell me that I was a bird. And I didn’t get it. And 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?’ And I said, ‘No.’  And he said, ‘You’re a phoenix because you’ve come from nothing, and you’re building something.’  I mean, I was certainly 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.”

It was Asia that made her change her last name from Quigley as well. “they couldn’t pronounce it in Asia,” she says. “So they shortened it.”

“Nikita” plays Thursdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.

That poster; that tattoo.

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