Maggie Q on 'Death of Me' and the "Machine" of 'Mission: Impossible'
After a February trip to Fantasy Island, Maggie Q is back for another twisted island getaway in Saban Films’ Death of Me. Having shot in freezing conditions throughout her career, Q certainly welcomed her recent run of gorgeous locations, including Fantasy Island’s Fiji and Death of Me’s Thailand. In the latter, Q plays Christine who, along with her husband, Neil (Luke Hemsworth), have no recollection of their last night in Thailand. Then, after a futile attempt to leave their remote Thai island, the discovery of a graphic video forces them to stick around and solve a deadly mystery.
Since much of the film involves Christine retracing her steps from the night before, Q feels that there are advantages to not over-preparing for the next shooting day’s worth of scripted material. That way, she could experience each twist and turn that her character encountered in real time, and create a performance that channeled such surprise.
Heat Vision breakdown
“Every section of the film is a reveal to her. So, yes, I had to read the script in its entirety… but I never looked at what the next day really was,” Q tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We tried to shoot in sequence for the most part, and I just went with it. Then, every morning, I’d review because I’m a very quick study. It’s not Shakespeare, so it’s not like I had to do a ton of dialogue prep. I couldn’t unlearn the script, but I definitely did take it day by day.”
Since Mission: Impossible III’s release in 2006, Q has been asked about her experience with Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams and Philip Seymour Hoffman in just about every interview she’s given. She was even asked to return in the franchise’s fourth and fifth films, Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation, only her production schedule prevented her from doing so. Regardless, Q considers the endless curiosity to be a testament to M:i III’s gifted cast and crew.
“It’s the machine that is Tom and Mission: Impossible. J.J. (Abrams), Tom and Phil (Seymour Hoffman) — when he was still with us — were quite the combination,” Q explains. “I think [Mission: Impossible III] was really one of the standouts just because it had incredibly special talent attached to it that we will never have again at the same time. So there’s a lot of staying power in that.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Q also reflects on shooting on location in Thailand, as well as one of her most cherished roles in The Warrior and the Wolf.
So I last saw you in Fantasy Island, which was shot in Fiji. Your new movie, Death of Me, was also shot in Thailand. While I’m sure it’s not the only factor in your decision making, is it hard to say no to a beautiful location?
Oh, I don’t know! (Laughs.) It might’ve been the only factor. No, I think that I’m being rewarded for many years of “Let’s shoot in Canada during the winter!” I never got good locations; I just never did. I actually shot this movie before Fantasy Island, so I got two good locations back to back. And you know what? I deserve it. (Laughs.) I have frozen my ass off for one too many projects.
What’d you think of Thailand overall?
Well, I’d been there before. A million years ago, I actually did a small little role for Jackie (Chan) in a movie called Around the World in 80 Days, and that was the first time I had shot there. First of all, it’s a place you’d go to for vacation, so you want to be there anyway. It’s just one of those places. And when you’re working there, you’re just like, “It’s warm and everyone’s lovely.” So it couldn’t have been better. It was really great, and the same with Fiji. Both were a nice little break from being in the city.
I know you typically have to read the entire script before committing to a project, but since this is a movie where your character is disoriented, missing time and figuring things out as she goes, would it be ideal to only receive each day’s pages so that you don’t know more than your character knows?
First of all, thank you for just being an intelligent and engaging human, who does his job well and thinks about things like that. It’s funny that you say that because every section of the film is a reveal to her. So, yes, I had to read the script in its entirety, and then we had to make some structural changes here and there based on location and things like that. It was a very day-by-day process in terms of what I did, but my version of that was that I never looked at what the next day really was. We tried to shoot in sequence for the most part, and I just went with it. Then, every morning, I’d review because I’m a very quick study. It’s not Shakespeare, so it’s not like I had to do a ton of dialogue prep. So it was more on the day, and my process was a little more scattered. It was very purposed in that sense. So, yeah, I couldn’t go back and forget what I already knew. I couldn’t unlearn the script, but I definitely did take it day by day.
It’s an approach that is probably more viable on the set of a TV show. For instance, Bryan Cranston avoided any information about Walter White’s long-term arc on Breaking Bad.
Oh, I love that.
He only wanted to know what the character would know in present time. Have you tried this approach on TV?
No, I never have actually. I think the nature of Breaking Bad was such that the writing was so good, and because the writing was so good, there was a shock value in that show that was really satisfying. You really never knew where you were going to be one second to the next, sort of like the audience. I think that it was a real opportunity for [Cranston] to kind of capitalize off what that show was and the nature of that show. Whereas for me, there was a long game that happened in shows that I was doing. There were big arcs that had to be discussed and I was an active participant in creating them, so there was no way. With the creator of Breaking Bad and the writers, at that level, I think someone like Bryan Cranston can have the trust that he had with saying, “Hey, when you give it to me, I’m going to love it, I’m going to be surprised by it and I’m going to run with it.” You don’t always have trust at that level.
This is quite the understatement, but Death of Me is an example of travel gone very, very wrong. Do you have your own example of a trip or vacation where nothing seemed to go right?
(Laughs.) I weirdly don’t — besides weather. There’s always a weather thing, right? There’s always like a weather surprise.
It’s always sunniest on the day you leave.
Exactly! I was once in Turks and Caicos for New Year’s and they were like, “This never happens. We have sun 360 days of the year except for these five days…” And cry me a river, right? (Laughs.) But things like that are just champagne problems. You read those stories of people who’ve had drugs planted on them in other countries, and they’ve been arrested with no clue what’s happening. I can’t even imagine being in a place without protections, where something happens and you just can’t get out. But what’s weird about Death of Me is that it’s happening so subtly and so slowly. I mean, everyone’s gaslighting her, right? She has no clue that it’s going to break down as badly as it does. She’s sort of like, “Well, that’s weird, and that’s weird.” Then, that snowballs into, “Where the fuck is my husband and what’s going on? I gotta get out of here.” But she just can’t.
I promise there’s a point to this question, but do you remember the awkward feeling of hearing your own voice on an answering machine?
Oh, I remember, yes. 100 percent. I always thought I sounded like a dude. (Laughs.)
Basically, I was wondering if there’s an on-screen equivalent to that. To the audience, you look really cool when you’re driving a Lamborghini on-screen or boating across the Tiber River, but are you able to buy into your level of cool like we do?
No, not even remotely. (Laughs.) The one thing I can do is I can separate myself from what I’m seeing. So if I weren’t able to do that and I was just sort of viewing in a personal way, where I’m like, “Oh, I’m just going to judge everything I’m doing, how I look, how I’m approaching things,” I wouldn’t watch anything. But the fact that I can do that helps me. When I was doing the show Nikita, I was meticulous about watching every episode because I needed to see what we were doing wrong, what we could do better, where we could improve and how to approach that. It was my show and I had to put that type of effort into where we could go with the show. But when I was watching it, like with most things I see, I’m very objective. Whenever I talk about my character, I would say “her” and I’m always talking about it like I’m removed from it. I approach it like I’m watching a person who’s not me, and then I can be completely objective and say, “Well, she needs to go on this journey and this is where she can be better.” That’s also how I would talk to the writers’ room and the producers about it. I don’t know if that’s a traumatic response. (Laughs.) I don’t know what that’s about, but I think it’s just being able to step away so that I can have that objective view of what can be done better. It’s in the striving that you are able to produce a better product. If you take things and look at things very personally, you’re not as removed from it, and you’re less objective in that way.
Are you surprised by the fact that you’re still asked about Mission: Impossible III in just about every interview you give?
Not really. It’s the machine that is Tom and Mission: Impossible. J.J. (Abrams), Tom and Phil (Seymour Hoffman) — when he was still with us — were quite the combination. I think [Mission: Impossible III] was really one of the standouts just because it had incredibly special talent attached to it that we will never have again at the same time. So there’s a lot of staying power in that.
Do you daydream about your past characters from time to time including Zhen? Is she on a beach in Fiji right now?
(Laughs.) You know, no, I’ve never done that. That’s very funny.
Since everybody asks you about your Mission character, is there a character that you love but wish you were asked about more often?
I did this really little indie, The Warrior and the Wolf, in China with a director called Tian Zhuangzhuang. He’s a Cannes award-winning director who was terribly punished by the government for making a film that the government said criticized their ways. They even took away his directing privileges for about a decade; he just wasn’t able to make anything. When he came back from that time, he adapted this Japanese book into a script. It’s a tale about two lovers who meet during the war before China was united, when it was still a tribal country. My character is a widow when the army suddenly moves in during a particularly crazy storm. I think this happened everywhere, but at the time, when the armies would move through towns, people would have to vacate their homes and allow soldiers to live in their houses until they moved on; this was sort of a normal thing. But, because this woman was so connected to her grief and her husband that she lost, she wouldn’t leave her home. So she dug out an area below the floor where she would stay, and she hid below the floors while this soldier was living in her home. So, as she observed him, his movements and his voice, she started falling in love with this person who was literally above her. And then, one day, he found her. Keep in mind, it’s illegal to be in the same home with a man that you’re not married to at that time, and when he found her, he was furious that he would be in trouble for being in the same house as her. So he ended up hiding her and having this intense relationship. It was also very loving, very erotic and very forbidden. The way that the Japanese tale goes is that there’s legend in the town that says that when they die, they incarnate as wolves. They’ve even lived other lives as wolves, and come back in this one life as people. So it was one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever made, but with these tiny little films, you don’t know that anybody’s ever going to see them. My co-star, Joe Odagiri, was Japanese, and it was just a very special time to work with a director at that level. He was so deep and so centered on this story, and to make this multilingual piece about historical wartime was very special.
Have you ever taken a role because you and the character were both dealing with something similar, and you knew you’d have to work it out in the process?
Yeah, I think I always do. Literally, I think every role has an element of exactly what you’re saying, and it’s almost like a therapy of sorts. I’m not saying that’s something every actor does, but it’s no mistake that energetically, you’re drawn to something and people are drawn to you for it. Obviously, if you get something, both of those things have to be at play at the same time. So, yeah, I’ve never had anyone ask me that, but if I really broke it down, probably everything I’ve ever taken was that or is that.
Death of Me is now available on VOD and Digital.
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