Her high-powered weapons are real, and the butt-kicking fights don’t involve a stunt double, but the best way to gauge the action that Maggie Q delivers as the star of the CW’s "Nikita" is to look at her bruises. They’re sore-to-the-touch authentic.
"Welcome to my world," she said. "I get really, really beat up, and I have to thank my body for its incredible healing capabilities. We have to change outfits sometimes. If my arms are exposed in another episode and I’m beat up — you can’t see stuff like that."
Whatever pain the actress has suffered, it hasn’t hurt the show’s ratings. On Friday, the network ordered a full season, meaning the show will shoot 22 episodes. Through its first six episodes, "Nikita" is the network’s second-most watched show and Maggie Q — Hawaii’s Maggie Quigley — is its lethal and charming heroine.
THE MAGGIE Q FILE
Real name: Maggie Denise Quigley
Birth date/place: May 22, 1979, Honolulu
High school: Mililani, Class of 1997
Quigley?: It’s her father’s name. He’s Polish-Irish-American; her mother is Vietnamese.
The "Q": A local newspaper gave her the name when she worked in Hong Kong.
Career highlights: Moved back to the U.S. in 2005 after working as an actress and model in Hong Kong. Her filmography includes "Mission Impossible III" (2006), "Live Free or Die Hard" (2007), "Balls of Fury" (2007) and "Priest" (2011).
On the tube: "Nikita" airs 8 p.m. Thursdays on the CW.
If "Nikita" sounds familiar, there’s good reason. It’s based on a character featured in a 1990 French film ("La Femme Nikita") starring Anne Parillaud, as well as a 1993 U.S. remake ("Point of No Return") with Bridget Fonda and a late-1990s Canadian TV series ("La Femme Nikita") featuring Peta Wilson.
But the CW version navigates a new story line. Its emotionally troubled assassin has gone rogue and vowed to wreak havoc upon the supersecret government agency that spawned her. Every Thursday night since its premiere last month, Nikita hits hard enough to make viewers wince and uses weapons with the crisp professionalism of an elite commando.
"We are making a little-big action movie every week, and that is intense," Maggie Q said by telephone during a break in her shooting schedule in Toronto, where the production is based.
But she loves this genre.
The Mililani High School graduate has spent much of her 13-year career working on action films and TV, first in Hong Kong and for the last five years in the United States. She’s trained with legendary stuntman Jackie Chan and starred opposite Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible III" and Bruce Willis in "Live Free or Die Hard."
All of it has led to "Nikita," which not only was written specifically for Maggie Q, but has allowed her to throw her own punches.
"It’s all me," the 31-year-old actress said. "It’s one of those things that I’ve always been adamant about when it comes to my films and this series."
She owes it to her fans, she said.
"I owe my audience something authentic," the actress said. "I feel if they are tuning in and if they like my work, then they should see something and experience something very real because I want it to be real for them, because it’s definitely real for me."
Her time working in Asia, where productions speed along, has helped Maggie Q to adapt to the pace of a weekly series.
Although she helps choreograph the action and watches stunt doubles try it out, she has had as little as 10 minutes to prepare for the cameras.
But even though "Nikita" boasts a cast of pretty pugilists, including Lyndsy Fonseca and Tiffany Hines, it’s not all action. It’s packed with heavy dialogue and scowling baddies led by Shane West and Xander Berkeley.
They’ve opened a door on a side of Nikita not previously seen. In episodes fueled by the character’s need for vengeance — her former assassin buddies murdered her fiance — Maggie Q has found herself immersed in a frightening life.
"Some of the dark places she has been, I don’t want to go to in my head but I kind of have to for the character," she said. "She is an incredibly layered and dark character and she has a lot that she is atoning for. It’s a series about revenge, but it’s as much about redemption as it is about revenge."
And that’s a very tortured emotional state to occupy 16 hours a day, six days a week when the show is filming.
"It gets sad for me," Maggie Q said. "It gets lonely for me having to immerse myself in that because she is very much alone."
But that kind of depth was a big attraction to the part, which came at the same time CBS wanted to know whether she would join the cast of "Hawaii Five-0," according to the actress.
She won’t say which role on "Five-0" was discussed, only that she saw an opportunity in "Nikita."
"When you look at something, it’s about character development and where can this character go and would it challenge me," she said.
Still, in a series like "Nikita," nothing says action like shiny black handguns and .50-caliber sniper rifles. Even with all her musings, Maggie Q knows that.
And those aren’t plastic weapons on the set of "Nikita," she said. The only thing that’s fake is the ammunition.
"We shoot blanks," she said. "You get the same recoil as you do on a real shot. It’s all very loud and real."