Hawaii-born Maggie Q moved to Asia, where she was discovered by Jackie Chan, to find fame in martial arts movies. Now she is kicking butt on The CW's new series, "Nikita," and she talks to ET about the stunning tattoo she has on her hip, how she got started in action films and more.
ET: Before we talk about the show, I have to ask: What is your tattoo and when did you get it and why?
MAGGIE Q: The big one?
ET: Yes. Do you have more?
MAGGIE Q: I've got two more. It's a phoenix. And when I moved to Asia, it was a sort of … "Whaa," but it was tough. It was 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. 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. 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, "the" bird of strength.
ET: Your roles tend to be on the physical side. Have you amped it up significantly for this?
MAGGIE Q: We sort of have to. Because Shane [West, her co-star] and I were talking the other day about he had to do this fight, and he had to learn it really quickly, and he was really sore, and we were talking about it. And I thought about it, and I said to him, "You know, I've done action movies." He does action movies. He's done TV. I have never done TV, but we've never done an action-television show, which is a whole other deal. So really your level never goes down. You have to be on your game all the time. 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."
ET: So do you find yourself kind of slinking home at night and just kind of crawling into bed?
MAGGIE Q: 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.
ET: Do they space out the action sequences for you with an episode that you don't have to do so many things closer together so you can take a breath while you're shooting?
MAGGIE Q: I feel like I have breath. You know, 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 of 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."
ET: Tell us how you first picked up martial arts because it looks like you've been doing it forever.
MAGGIE Q: 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, not starring in, but producing. So his team of guys trained me when I was very young in different disciplines. They broke me in and 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've 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.
ET: Which worries you more? Knowing that you have a day where you're going to have to shoot a big action scene or a big emotional scene with a lot of dialogue? Secondly, with all those action films you've done, any major injuries along the way?
MAGGIE Q: 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.
And then the second question is: Did I get injured? Everything. The wrist. I've cracked my shins. I mean, it's ridiculous. No, actually, I lied. I haven't broken anything, but I've cracked and fractured a lot of different body parts.
ET: On the days when you get to play dress-up, where you get to wear the really elegant gowns and stuff like that because Nikita is into something like that, are those fun for you to do that, to play dress-up, or is it just an annoyance because you've got to take so much time to do it?
MAGGIE Q: You know, I've gotten to that point where I'm so used to being sort of sweaty and, you know, wearing pants and sitting like a guy in boots and the whole thing that when I'm dressed up and people are touching me up and doing the whole thing, I'm less comfortable doing that. I like to wear less makeup and be tougher. And the primp stuff is — I think it's exciting for people, but it's less exciting for me. I mean, it's definitely fun, but I kind of like low maintenance. I do. It's about the acting. It's about the story. So it's not really about blush.
"Nikita" airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. on The CW.