‘Divergent': Maggie Q talks Tori, tough heroines, action films as art

March 16, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
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Ben Lloyd Hughes, Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Ben Lamb, Zoe Kravitz and Jai Courtney in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn and Ansel Elgort in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Theo James, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller and Ben Lloyd Hughes in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, author Veronica Roth and director Neil Burger on the set of "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Theo James, left, and Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, left, and Theo James in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Director Neil Burger, left, Jai Courtney and Theo James on the set of "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

“Divergent” is opening in theaters in less than a week, bringing the first installment of Veronica Roth’s dystopian adventure story to the big screen.

The film, directed by Neil Burger and based on Roth’s bestselling book trilogy, is set in a future society where teenagers are tested and strictly divided into factions based on their personalities. Young heroine Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovers she is divergent, meaning she doesn’t fit neatly into any single faction. It’s a quality that could get her killed, and she decides to hide it at the urging of Tori, the woman who administers Tris’ personality test.

Maggie Q in "Nikita." (Sven Frenzel / The CW)

Maggie Q in “Nikita.” (Sven Frenzel / CW)

Tori, portrayed in the film by Maggie Q, is a member of Dauntless, the faction based on bravery. Though bold and confident, she is reticent about her past and about her understanding of divergence.

Maggie Q is the star of the CW’s Emmy-nominated spy drama “Nikita” and is known for her prolific work in the action genre, with roles in “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Mission: Impossible III,” “Priest” and more.

Hero Complex sat down with the actress to talk about her role in “Divergent” and about the proliferation and massive popularity of action films.

Hero Complex: Had you read the books before you started filming?

Maggie Q: I didn’t know about the book before I got the script. I read the script, and then I read the book, and I was actually really pleased that the adaptation was quite close to the book. I haven’t read all three. I’ve read most of the second one. I do things a little backwards, in terms of I do like to get the screenplay, because I don’t want to fall in love with something that’s in the book that’s not actually going to be in the film. I don’t want to get married to that and then be disappointed that it’s actually not in the screenplay. So what I do is I read the screenplay, and then I go back to the book to allow me the foundations in which they chose to express in the screenplay.

HC: Your character Tori has so much going on beneath the surface. She has this history that she doesn’t necessarily talk about, but that readers can feel. You did a great job sort of showing that subtext. How did you go about it?

MQ: Thank you! We worked so hard on that! You want to feel it. You want to know that she’s hiding something, but it’s not selfish or self-involved. It’s bigger and more painful than you might think.

Maggie Q and Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

Maggie Q and Shailene Woodley in “Divergent.” (Summit Entertainment)

HC: You’ve said that you wanted Tori’s words and decisions and even what she wears to be very deliberate. What did you mean by that?

MQ: It’s interesting, because Tori is the only female Dauntless member that you meet, that you actually get to know, who’s been Dauntless for a while, and you want to get the sense that when you see her — and it was very important for me and Neil and hair and makeup to decide that — you know that this is a woman who knows exactly who she is. She’s been Dauntless for a while. It’s something that she chose, and she chose it for a reason, because it is truly, organically a part of who she is. It wasn’t about her looking tough, It was just about her looking purposed. When I’m in a restaurant or on the street or whatever, and I see a woman, it’s enough to have great style, but when she rocks something and you know that she means it, there’s something that draws you to that. You’ll look at someone and go, “She looks great!” or “He looks great.” And when you see that, there’s always that question about whether that person has a real sense of self, and you definitely feel that. That’s what I wanted with Tori in the Dauntless world.

HC: What was it like working with this big cast full of young actors?

MQ: The kids? I call them the kids. I love the kids. The kids were amazing. I’ve never done a film that’s skewed younger. I mean, this film’s sort of everything, it’s across the board, but I’ve never done a film with such a large group of young people. I’ve barely done films with young people. I’ve done kids, like actual children, not 20-year-olds. So I was so excited to go into this experience and just feed off of their vibrant young energy and their emerging talent. That was very interesting to me. But we’re so lucky. There’s a big group of us. It’s not five people. There’s a bunch of us. And we got on so well, and we had the best time. We also didn’t just hang out together, we’d go out with extras, glorified extras, the ones who are in the background more than other ones. We actually developed relationships with a lot of people who were on set. But I deeply, deeply love [Shailene Woodley], because she’s so grounded and rooted in something that’s very real. Shai knows who she is, she knows where she wants to go.

Maggie Q in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

Maggie Q in “Divergent.” (Summit Entertainment)

HC: As the more experienced person on an action set, do you find yourself mentoring?

MQ: I do! I worry about people. I want them to do well. I will jump in anytime if something’s not right, and I don’t mind going toe to toe with any action director and saying, “That’s not right.” Or being able to give people tips as a performer that perhaps a choreographer doesn’t understand. Like, I have tricks about memorizing, and I can watch someone and know why something’s not working. And I go to them and say, “Listen, drop this in your head, only focus on this, and the rest of that is just gonna come together.” And they’re like, “Really?” And they do it, and it works. And I only know that because I’ve messed up, and done well, and done badly, and done well and done badly. So the only way you can know that is to actually have done it, and I have done it, so I feel like if I have that area of expertise, I need to share it and make people better, otherwise what’s the point?

HC: It seems like you’ve spent a significant portion of your career as the only girl in the all-boys action-movie club. What’s it like seeing the recent proliferation of characters like Tris and Katniss Everdeen, and more and more women in action movies?

MQ: It’s so true. It’s very interesting that you say that, because I remember when I started in action, journalists would say to me, “Yeah, cool, you did this action movie. When are you going to do a real movie?” It wasn’t actually cool to be involved in this genre. It was sort of like the anti-acting. And now you’ve got [Robert] Downey Jr. playing Iron Man, You’ve got all these really A-list people moving into this genre that I’ve been having fun in for years, and that I’ve always had a blast doing and felt was truly an art. I was in San Francisco, and this guy said to me, “Oh, your show, you did ‘Nikita,’ and it was all fun and good. So are you thinking of moving into an acting role soon?” And I was like, “Bro. That was a drama. There was some action in it.” He didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was just one of those things where people used to view, if you had any physicality in your career, that that wasn’t as much of an acting role as some little indie that went to Sundance, which is so not true, because you’re balancing all those things in an action film.

Maggie Q, right, and Justin Long in "Live Free or Die Hard." (20th Century Fox)

Maggie Q, right, and Justin Long in “Live Free or Die Hard.” (20th Century Fox)

Now people get it. I’ve been having fun for a really long time. And now, they do action movies, and you see these interviews with these big stars, and they’re like, “I had the best time on this movie! It was fun!” And part of it is you want to have fun in a movie. That’s why Kate Winslet does a movie like this. Why would any of these people cross over to a different genre? They are incredibly talented people who have already explored that whole arena and range of drama that they’re like, “OK, I want to have a little fun now. I want to do something that’s a little lighter and fun.” So it’s very interesting to me going back 15, 16 years when people thought I wasn’t acting being in an action movie, to now seeing every A-lister in Hollywood wanting to do action movies. It’s a trip.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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