In an action-movie era defined by close combat, pure physicality, and tightly choreographed gunplay à la John Wick, logic would dictate that Maggie Q get her own stunt spectacle. The Nikita star has been one of Hollywood’s go-to female action players for nearly 20 years; after breaking in with 2001’s Rush Hour 2, she’s appeared in everything from giant Hollywood blockbusters (Mission: Impossible 3, Live Free or Die Hard) to Chinese action dramas.
Luckily, director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) made it happen: In The Protégé, which hits theaters on Friday, Aug. 20, Q stars as Anna, an assassin caught in a game of cat and mouse with a charismatic killer, played by Michael Keaton. The movie puts the actor front and center to flex every muscle. Maggie Q is the movie.
“It is really exciting to have a vehicle that you can put your heart and soul into,” Q says over email. “I can’t think of one aspect of this movie that wasn’t a huge challenge for me. I will say the support and challenge were equal.”
For Campbell, Q was the rare multifaceted performer who could keep up with Keaton, and quickly develop a meaningful relationship with Samuel L. Jackson’s mentor character, but meld the characterization straight into the fight choreography.
“She has that wonderful combination of her skills as an actress and her skill at being able to do action,” Campbell writes over email. “The bit where she jumps over the balcony and drops 3 or 4 floors she did herself. She was trained by Jackie Chan, so that’s a huge advantage. She’s extremely good at action and timing and was hardly doubled at all in the movie. We were very lucky to have her [...] she did it all.”
Campbell says his team went to great lengths to execute The Protégé’s set pieces as practically as possible. Visual effects were used to enhance the environments and remove cables here or there, but knowing that his lead was fully capable of performing in any scenario gave the director freedom to orchestrate bigger on-set stunts.
“They’re all the real thing and a lot of times it’s the actors doing it themselves, which is what I like,” Campbell says. “The truth is I like real action and not visual effects action, which I think in a lot of cases takes you out of the movie. The action is all possible in this movie.”
“Every action role is different for sure, especially because no matter what kind of experience you have had in the past, you are generally always working with a different action team,” Q says. “It’s really about taking the knowledge that I have built in all these experiences and hoping that I will have chemistry with the action coordinator/fight coordinator so we can produce quality with trust. If I don’t trust them it’s already game over on what we can achieve together. I have had that happen but very rarely, on this one I was lucky to work with people I really respected.”
For Q, the “biggest mountain” to climb on The Protégé was going toe to toe with Keaton. “He’s so incredible, an actor of a different caliber. Our chemistry mattered a lot, and I wanted to be able to create something unexpected with it,” she says. “[Anna] is surrounded by older men in this movie who have unique experiences under their belt. Certainly her mentor is the person who taught her everything she knows. It feels like she’s an amalgamation of her teachers and challenges — which are male influenced. She then becomes a unique product of her surroundings, keeping everything she is as her closest asset. The story stems from deep loss which I think is a great equalizer in many ways. No one is immune to it.”
In the end, all of Q’s choices — from the intimate to the action-driven — worked for Campbell. “She’s so good, which means that my job as a director was much easier. She’s actually the only female action character I’ve ever worked with, and she makes life very easy.”
The Protégé is in theaters now.