In an era when action movies were defined by close combat, pure physicality, and meticulously choreographed gunplay (think John Wick), Maggie Q should have her own stunt show. For nearly two decades, the Nikita actress has been one of Hollywood’s most sought-after female action stars, having appeared in everything from massive Hollywood blockbusters (Mission: Impossible 3, Live Free or Die Hard) to Chinese action dramas.
Fortunately, director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) was able to pull it off: Q stars as Anna, an assassin caught in a game of cat and mouse with a charismatic killer, played by Michael Keaton, in The Protégé, which opens in theatres on Friday, August 20. The actor is front and centre in the film, allowing him to flex all of his muscles. Maggie Q is the title of the film.
“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 a rare multifaceted performer who could keep up with Keaton, develop a meaningful relationship with Samuel L. Jackson’s mentor character quickly, and then seamlessly integrate the characterization 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 claims that his crew went to great lengths to ensure that The Protégé’s set pieces were as realistic as possible. Visual effects were used to enhance the environments and hide cables here and there, but knowing that his leading man could handle any situation gave the director the freedom to stage larger 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.”