The actress discusses the biggest role she's ever had, how she was cast in the film and how she lost her last name

Former top model and popular Hong Kong film actress Maggie Q seemingly came out of nowhere to land to the role of Zhen in the Mission: Impossible franchise. After appearing in a bunch of films overseas, the actress was tapped for the role in Mission: Impossible III as a background operative for Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) team. Director J.J. Abrams wanted an actress that could easily come into this group and be on the same level as the established characters (and stars) in the film.

She may not be the most well known actress right now but it is clear that upon the release of Mission: Impossible III everyone will know who this fast rising star is. During our interview she discussed working with such a seasoned cast, how she got the part and how she went from being Maggie Quigley to Maggie Q.

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How did you get cast in the role of Zhen?

Maggie Q: They found me in Hong Kong, actually. I've been living and working in Hong Kong for about eight years doing Asian films. I got the call, I went over to LA, I met with J.J. and Paula Wagner and I auditioned for them, really, really ill, and somehow was offered the role right there.

Could you tell us about your interesting background?

Maggie Q: Well, I was born and raised in Hawaii. I am American. I left Hawaii when I was about seventeen, eighteen after school when I moved to Asia. Traveled around Asia, I was in Japan and Taiwan and ended up in Hong Kong for eight years; getting into the film industry in Hong Kong. So I've been doing Asian films until that time and this is my first American movie.

You come from a mixed background, correct?

Maggie Q: Correct. My father is American. Irish and Polish. My mother is Vietnamese.

Why did you shorten your last name to the one letter Q?

Maggie Q: I didn't actually. (Laughs) I'm not really... I know there are people out there who actually think about giving themselves a name, I'm not one of those people. What happened was when I'd been living and working in Hong Kong one of the biggest newspapers there, when they first started writing about me around seven, eight years ago, they couldn't pronounce my last name. I think to them it was just like, "Ohhhh, ahhhhh...." And so they printed "Q", "Maggie Q." And because they were the biggest everyone followed them. Then I would show up to events and everyone would be like, "Maggie Q!" And I was like, "Oh, okay." (Laughs) I guess that's my name.

What was it like being the only woman on this all male team?

Maggie Q: It was interesting because by the time we were three quarters of the way done, I would tease Tom and Ving and Johnny and tell them after this movie I was gonna do a chick flick, because there's just all this maleness. It was interesting because you would think that I would feel kind of out of place and that I was the only girl so people would treat me a certain way. The funny and the great thing is that being the only girl they all took care of me really well. Which is funny because I think they were trying to compensate. They realized that I might feel a little bit... not really substantial. So they sort of really, really, really watched out for me. That was great.

What was it like working J.J. Abrams?

Maggie Q: Incredible. J.J. is a director with no ego. He is a director who has a very consistent attitude when he's at work. He's funny, he's brilliant, he's a combination of all these really great things. When you work with him... I always on this film had this sense of we're doing something special here, when it comes to J.J., because J.J. is the kind of person who sees the bigger picture before anybody else does. It sounds simple but not all directors do that.

Given now that you're part of the IMF team, what sort of research did you need to do?

Maggie Q: I did and I didn't because J.J. wanted... he sort of wanted to go back to the series and kind of emulate what Mission: Impossible was about from the early days. That's sort of what he wanted but then at the same time, he wanted a very modern rendition of what they used to do. Something that would appeal, obviously we're not living in the 60s anymore, our audiences are getting younger and he wanted this version to be a version of that, but yet something modern enough to where young people go and see it and they get it. Young people who weren't alive at the time the series was happening.

What does a

Mission: Impossible film provide you as an actress?

Maggie Q: As an actress? Well, normally you would think that on an action film it wouldn't provide you with much as an actress. But because it was this film, and because this film has such wonderful non-action actors in it, the challenge on this film was unbelievable. Just to be acting with Phil, or Laurence, or Tom or any of these wonderful actors, was really an actor's dream; to collaborate with any of these people was a dream.

Did you do some martial arts training for your role? Are you a big Jackie Chan fan?

Maggie Q: Jackie's actually my boss in Hong Kong. I worked under him for years. Was trained by his stunt guys and whatnot. So yeah, am I am fan of Jackie's? Totally. I don't know anyone who works harder than Jackie, or anyone who deserves what they have more than Jackie. But because I've worked in Hong Kong and under his team, I was prepared for the kind of training we had in this film. Obviously the level of training was different, every time you work with different stunt coordinators it's going to be an entirely different experience, even though it's all fighting.

I trained for weeks and weeks before this film started. Then I trained throughout the duration of the film. In total, it was about six months. I mean nonstop because with action you can't just train and then stop and expect your level to be at the level that they need. You kinda have to keep soldiering on throughout the whole film.

Given J.J.'s ability to discover great women actors, did he tell you specifically what he saw in you? Or, what he wanted from you?

Maggie Q: That's so funny... a lot of people ask me why I was cast in the role and honestly, I don't know. One thing I do remember is when I came into the casting, in LA, I was really, really ill and J.J. sat me down and he said, "Look, I know it's hard for you to concentrate but this is what I'm looking for before we begin." So I sat there and I'm listening to him and he says, "I've casted loads of people, I know what I want and I haven't found it yet because the woman that I want for this role is strong enough to be at Tom's level, at Ving's level, at Johnny's level; a woman who is present within this group."

Obviously a group like that, it's a pretty intimidating group of men. You have this very imposing black guy, wonderful actor, imposing figure. You have Tom, you have Johnny, a very strong team. So he said, "I can't have a woman in this role who gets lost by these men. I can't have a woman in this role who speaks with Tom Cruise and people don't believe that she's at his level." That's what he told me during the casting.

What was it like wearing all the glamorous gowns in the film?

Maggie Q: I just loved that there's this duality of this woman who can kind of be on the front lines with TC, going and storming this building, get what they need and get out. But also a woman who can dress appropriately and really, essentially, be a spy as well.

Working on a movie with such big stars did you allow yourself a moment to be starstruck a little?

Maggie Q: You know, you would think that that would happen but the funny thing is if you do that, you sort of get eaten alive by your own lack of confidence. I kind of never really allowed myself those moments to just go, "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!" Because I felt like if I did that, I would really not be drawing from the confidence that I was trying to find in the first place; to be acting with such wonderful actors.

Another thing, as far as that goes, is my co-stars in this film from Tom, to Laurence, to Phil, to all of them, there was never a moment when I was filming that they ever allowed me to be starstruck because they're such human beings. All the time. I know that sounds strange but actors are not like that. (Laughs). All actors are not like that, especially actors at this level. If they act like such great, tangible human beings it allows you to be more relaxed around them and it allows you to feel more at ease and at home.

How does a movie of this scale impact your acting? Is it different?

Maggie Q: No. The scale of the film no because I think that as an actress or an actor your process is essentially the same no matter what size of film you're walking on to. Or not. I think for this film it's just basically, acting at this level, with such people, that was really the challenge. I could be working on a million dollar independent film with Phil Hoffman and be just as afraid and wonder if I was good enough. It's the same deal because we had the film cast with such wonderful, non-action actors.

Mission: Impossible III opens in theaters nationwide Friday May 5th, 2006.