Maggie Q on how ‘The Protégé’ truly brings action stars to life

Simon Varsano

An action film typically has a list of ingredients that compels audiences to tune in—hard-hitting sequences, global destinations and a killer instinct for some characters. But with Martin Campbell’s latest delve into the action world, ‘The Protégé,’ audiences will get far more than they ordered.

Maggie Q stars in the film as Anna, a girl who was rescued and raised by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) and taught everything she knows. What audiences get a peek into is how that platonic father/daughter relationship is formed and strengthened all while Anna tries to deal with her past that was traumatizing but also fuels her. It’s the relationships that keep the action going—and there is plenty of action—and also what sets this film apart. It’s that notion that also pulled the actors in, especially Maggie Q.

Maggie Q sat down to chat more about this dynamic and long time coming role in terms of representation and what drove her to push through a recent surgery to bring the bada** character of Anna to life.

What was it about this role that made you want to sign on?

It was the script. Initially, when I read the script, I couldn’t believe that in this genre there were these fully realized characters with great arcs within the film—relationships that were written well and chemistry that was already on the page that you could bring to life in a much easier way. Sometimes you read things and you think, I’ve got a lot of work to do. But, with this, there were relationships that were very clear. Richard (Wenk) had a great handle on who these characters were, and it really came through on the page. After that, it was really getting on the phone with Martin Campbell and seeing if we were two people who wanted to make the same film—because that’s always a big question mark.

Simon Varsano

How would you describe your character?

She really is like a lotus. She’s in the mud and has flowered to this exceptionally talented and motivated person in one aspect of her life and in this other aspect of her life, she’s living this bifurcated existence because she lives a dichotomy that people don’t really have in their lives. They don’t have to plan how to move in the world and learn how to live this really heightened existence. I think [it’s] painful for her. It’s really all about how to confront your past and what it means to live and breathe and move in the world when you still have something that you haven’t confronted.

This character is unique in the action genre because she has such a deep backstory. What do you think that adds to the role?

You’re so right, because when I spoke to Martin Campbell, there were two things that we talked about with what wanted to do, but most importantly what we didn’t want to do. We had a laundry list of movies in this genre that we did not like where we felt like there was no character development and funnily enough, Martin is known for his action he’s a very legendary director, but yet with this movie, he was centrally focused on the characters. Dialogue, their relationships… I don’t think I once heard him say well this action scene is important. They were more important to me than they were to him, I was pushing [for them.] I was pushing Martin Campbell to shoot more of the action that I wanted to do. But our focus on this film was the characters and I’m really happy because all of that effort shows in the final product.

What would you tell fans to expect for Anna’s arc and journey throughout the film?

I would tell them to expect the unexpected to be honest. You come into this expecting one thing and I do think that Richard with the script did such a great job [with] the turns—and what I don’t like about [some] films is that they have twists just to have twists and they don’t always make a lot of sense, or they exist to have shock factor…we didn’t do that in this movie.

There are twists and turns where that’s life and things don’t always work out, things are surprising, things are heartbreaking and we wanted that to be organic to the journey and not make you feel like we were going to pull off some cheap stunt to make you “feel something.” Or have a really gripping ending but a really boring entirety of the film which can also happen and that goes on when you’re trying to fix a film that you didn’t make properly.

We wanted to make something from beginning to end that was fully realized. It’s the work that went into the logistics that we were doing with the characters’ relationships that would matter to people—where you say I care if these two people are together, I care about this father/daughter, I care about if she should face her past or I want this person to heal. If you don’t care about those people then you don’t have a movie in my opinion.

What relationship was the most exciting for you to explore? 

For me, we so rarely explore that parental father/daughter platonic love that’s deep. With Sam and I one of the things that was most important to us about portraying this relationship—these are two people who have always allowed [themselves] to be who they are. He raised her a certain way and you see a mutual respect in the way they move together.

It’s important what they say to each other, but we found it was more important about what they didn’t say to each other. You find these important silences between the two of them or moments where Anna will change the subject because she can’t handle what he’s presenting to her, and he never pushes her, and she never pushes him. He says in the film: “It’s a real gift when there’s someone in your life who knows exactly when not to help you.” That’s the two of them. You see it throughout the film when this relationship is weaved beautifully because they know not to overstep. That doesn’t stem from fear, it stems from respect and to have that at that level, you have to have a deep love for one another.

Simon Varsano

How was it performing most of your stunts after having major surgery?

I had to weirdly compartmentalize a lot of what I was feeling going into this. I’m not a worrier by nature, which is good, but I think with this film, I had enough people around me that were worried about my safety and if I would go too far that they had to actually stop me. I always feel that I owe my audience a full and complete experience, so I’m going to give them what I believe they deserve. But you always have boundaries when you have a health condition or coming out of something.

You’re representing a female action star, but also an action star culturally we don’t always see in Hollywood. How does that feel for you? 

It’s exciting because I think it’s a long time coming. I think that not having diverse representation in film and television for as long as we haven’t had it in Hollywood—it’s such a ridiculous concept. We live in such a diverse country that I’m very proud to live in and we do live seamlessly and there’s so much love in this country that I’ve experienced certainly and I don’t understand why that wasn’t portrayed. I guess that doesn’t really matter now, what’s sort of done is done, but why not represent reality and what this country really looks like?

I feel like what’s happening is great and it’s happening for different reasons, but I do feel that when you get the opportunity you take it and you have to show people what you have to represent well so it creates more opportunity.

‘The Protégé’ releases in theaters Aug. 20.

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