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Maggie Q, star of new action film ‘The Protégé,’ on learning the ropes from Jackie Chan

“Observing him and the way he earned not only his career, but his place at the table in Hollywood, was very inspiring,” she said of the martial arts legend.
Maggie Q stars as Anna in the new film, "The Protégé."
Maggie Q stars as Anna in the new film, "The Protégé."Simon Varsano / Lionsgate

In the new movie “The Protégé,” Margaret Quigley, known professionally as Maggie Q, plays an assassin who travels the world with the man who raised her as they complete high-profile kills. 

Quigley’s character, Anna, is taken in by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) as a child in Vietnam. From there, she learns the ropes of his business and becomes one of the world’s sharpest assassins. Years later, after Moody is murdered, she returns to Vietnam to track down his killer — but is also forced to confront her past. 

Quigley, who has starred in “Mission: Impossible III,” “Live Free or Die Hard,” the “Divergent” series and the TV show “Nikita,” where she also played a spy and assassin, said one of the things that drew her to “The Protégé,” which will be released Friday, was the nuance in Anna’s character, something she said is rare in the action genre.

Everyone working on the film understood that “the most important part of an action movie is the character development, and that doesn’t happen often,” she told NBC Asian America. “Certainly not in this genre. Relationships and character arcs are always rushed through and then we get to the action, and I feel like we did the opposite with this film.”

Samuel L. Jackson as Moody and Maggie Q as Anna in "The Protégé."Simon Varsano / Lionsgate

Being a protégé isn’t a role she’s unfamiliar with. In real life, Quigley was somewhat of a protégé to Jackie Chan, a relationship she said has inspired her own acting career.

Quigley, who is Vietnamese American, said the martial artist and actor saw her as a potential action star early on in her career, when she was living in Hong Kong, and that it was his team who introduced her to the genre. Quigley was later cast in minor roles in several of Chan’s movies, including “Rush Hour 2” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”

“Observing him and the way he earned not only his career, but his place at the table in Hollywood, was very inspiring because he’s such a unique individual,” she said. “There’s no one like him, and I don’t know that there ever will be. Obviously, he has unique skills. But in addition to that, he’s the hardest-working man I know. For him, it’s never really enough. He’s always striving for excellence.” 

Working with other world-renowned action directors from Hong Kong also impacted her career, she said.

“The bar was so high in the Hong Kong film industry because that’s what they’re known for,” Quigley said. “They’re like the Hollywood of Asia in their heyday.” 

“I think the key thing I got from that time in my life was the work ethic, and skills, but I also learned what it took to have a unique place that you carve out for yourself when you strive for that,” she went on. “[Chan] did, and it’s really admirable.” 

It was his determination and the intensive training she received that left a lasting impact on her professional career. For the past 20 years, Quigley has performed most of her own stunts in shows and movies and did so for “The Protégé,” despite having major spinal surgery a few months prior to filming. 

Starring in films with complex, nonstereotypical Asian roles is something Quigley has built her career on, but she said as Hollywood continues to reckon with representation, Asian American actors should also be more selective in the roles they’re willing to take.

“It’s as important what you don’t take as it is what you do,” she said. “We can be responsible for perpetuating our own stereotypes if we give in to those things, so we have to make good choices and better choices.” 

“We just have to go into these rooms and show people what we have to offer, and that really truly becomes undeniable,” she said. “We have to start saying no to things that we don’t feel represent us properly, but go for things that they’re not even considering us for, and that’s where I’ve lived for the last 20 years.”