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Friday, September 17, 2010

Jason Ritter: Like father, like son

The late, great John Ritter and his son Jason have more than talent, good humor and all-American appeal in common. In these clips, almost exactly 25 years apart, they both talk about Jason's appearance in Three's Company's opening credits! John (seen here in 1985 with Johnny Carson) is no doubt looking down and smiling big today--on (what would've been) his 62nd birthday. Jason's new series, The Event, premieres Monday on NBC.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"I didn’t pop out of my mom’s womb and land in a karate school": Maggie Q, TV's reimagined "Nikita," talks "Asianness," ass-kicking and exhaustion in these Los Angeles Times interview outtakes

 Ben Mark Holzberg/The CW

CW's re-imagined Nikita just kicked some serious ass--in the Nielsen ratings. The premiere last Thursday drew about 3.6 million viewers--around 200,000 more lookie-loos than caught its hit lead-in, The Vampire Diaries. Nikita also attracted enough 18-34-year-old women to rival the young network's all-time record in that demo for original programming in its primetime Thursday slot.

Maggie Q is also drawing raves for her take-no-prisoners portrayal of the sexy assassin first seen in the 1990 French film La Femme Nikita and, most recently, the 1997-2001 USA Network series of the same name. In this Craig Silverstein reimagining, Q's killer spy goes rogue to seek revenge against the covert government agency that trained her to murder.

I recently interviewed the funny and engaging Q for a "Tough Chicks" story appearing in the Sept. 19 Fall Preview Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times. In these outtakes from that Q&A, Q talks again kicking A, tackling Nikita's emotional issues and verbally decimating "silly" Asian stereotypes with her quick-witted humor.

So, is all of Nikita's ass kicking more invigorating or exhausting?
Absolutely exhausting. There’s really no other way to say it. It’s kind of like a nice fatigue. I sort of feel like I’ve been doing this for years—not in this capacity. And now that the workload is such I feel ready. But at the same time I’ve been learning very slowly—we’re about to start episode five on Friday—how to pace myself. I’m a person who if I’m going to do something I’m going to give everything.

Aside from the thrill of watching a woman kick male butt, how else do you think this show will resonate with viewers?
As much as it is a physical series, it’s also incredibly dramatic and emotional. There are so many relationships and stories intertwined in this. We tell a lot of the story in flashback. You’re gonna see where she’s coming from, why she’s there and why this revenge means so much to her.

We learn a lot of her back story in the terrific pilot scene where she beats up her abusive foster father then lets him have it verbally.
I’m only telling him all of this because I want to make sure he’s dead. Because the more he knows, the more they’re gonna shoot him in the head. You will never find out later that Nikita has done something gratuitously. There’s always a reason she has a conversation, a fight—whatever it is. There’s always a reason. And it’s very well-thought out. 

She's on her game.
Oh, she's on it. She's been ready for this. She's like, "Listen, you taught me everything I know, and now with this freedom you're really gonna see what I'm gonna do with it." And that becomes very scary for them.

What will we learn about her back story? Will her "daddy issues" be explored in this reboot?
Definitely. In terms of her past there is an homage to the original film (Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita). She did not come from a good family. She was adopted. She was in a relationship that was very abusive at the time. Which drives her to the streets and kinds of different addictions. Because of that she gets in a lot of trouble. And when she does that’s when the Division finds her. Then they scoop her up and whip her into this world she did not ask for and didn’t want. She's a product of her circumstances in the sense that it’s all against her will. The reason this incarnation or reimagining is different is that this is the future of Nikita. This is about, what are the secrets? What bound her to them? What binds them to her?

And here she is now free and seeking revenge.
Right. Which is not free. She’s really put herself back into her own little prison. Whether she knows better or not, we don’t know yet. It’s gonna take years for Nikita … Whatever we run away from we run into. And that’s why she’s actually not free from them. Because she feels she needs forgiveness, she needs redemption. She needs forgiveness in her own life. She needs to make things right. She needs to bring down the people that she feels are hurting not only her but their country, really.

Nikita’s now a woman who can kick ass and take names—even those of the baddest of the Division bad guys.
I think there’s a parallel in spirit that I think women like and relate to. I think there’s a group of men that really like that as well. It’s fun to see a woman not have a problem with any of that. (But) a lot of the problems that Nikita’s gonna run into in the series are (issues of) conscience, forgiveness—all those things that are internal problems for her.

One of my favorite lines in the pilot is when Division “mother” Amanda tells Alex, “Sometimes vulnerability can be our greatest weapon.” How is vulnerability important in Nikita getting what she wants? She not only has physical strength but can also manipulate and be vulnerable when she needs to be.
It’s really smart that you say that. I think it’s the reason why women make great spies and women make great assets in this field. There are so many levels that women can perform on that men can’t do. You’re going to see Nikita get into situations and go undercover and play roles that would never be believable for men. I don’t really know why we haven’t (thoroughly) done it till now—they did it in Alias and did it in Salt just recently—where women can sort of get closer to men. Because there’s so many more roles to play.

Nikita will be able to extract what it is she really needs by using what it is that women have—which is the power of vulnerability. It’s what makes women great actresses. It’s what makes women very lovable. It’s something that men don’t have, or it’s not okay for them to express—even though I think it is. But in general in society it isn’t. And with women it’s accepted.

On top of mastering all of Nikita’s emotional stuff, do you do all of your own stunts?
I do it all. The producers and creators sort of worry—like, “Maggie, don’t kill yourself, please.” … It’s like doing one really, really long action film. And that’s so tough. There’s not an ounce of physical, mental or emotional energy that we could possibly give to the show. If it doesn’t do well, then we really suck. (Laughs.)

We are giving everything to this show. So that’s sort of my learning curve right now. (Each week) I say, “Okay, Maggie, you’ve got to do what you normally do (and) give everything. But you’ve also really got to understand how long this is going to be happening and how much preseveration you need to think about.”

Can you give us a little preview of what’s coming up ass-kicking-wise?
(See my Los Angeles Times Fall Preview story on Sept. 19 for specifics!)
We’ve been so smart in designing things that are very different and exciting for the audience. …. A lot of times Nikita has the upper hand and a lot of times she doesn’t. We’ve got so much great stuff coming up. If you liked the pilot, you’re gonna love it! You’re going, “Oh, my God” before you even know what’s happening.

The reason why I like the action on this show is Nikita is a trained operative. She’s not a martial artist. It’s never something where we have action just to have action. It has to make sense for the story. Because these writers are really on top of that … I couldn’t be more pleased with what they’re writing.

If only TV journalists were more tuned in to the whole “she’s not a martial artist” thing. You had a great comeback at the Television Critics Association this summer when a critic asked you a question that assumed as a half-Asian gal you must've been doing martial arts since infancy.
(Laughs.) What’s funny is … I’m mixed. My mother’s Vietnamese from Saigon and my father’s from New York. So I’m Irish-Polish Vietnamese. Because I started my career in Asia and that’s where I was known first and I got brought over to the states by JJ Abrams to do Mission Impossible III … I’ve been here five-six years. I’m not even full Asian, so I can’t even imagine what people who are full Asian go through. With me being only half Asian there’s this whole sort of weird stereotype of, “Well, you’re Asian, so you fight.”

I remember somebody at TCA saying something like, “Well, this is what you do.” And I’m like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Because you’re Asian, right?” I’m like, “Great. That means we brush our teeth, do kung fu, then have our eggs.” That is absolutely not at all what I do. I have never been a martial artist. I didn’t pop out of my mom’s womb and land in a karate school.

Some people think that’s what all Asians go through. I love the stereotype and I love the questions because I love to be able to answer them in a way where people can finally go, “Oh, well, that was stupid that I said that.”

It’s a silly stereotype. I’ve worked with Jackie (Chan)’s people … I’ve worked with so many other people in Asia. And when I got to America, a lot of people who gave me my best skills in this genre were not Asian. They were westerners who’d studied martial arts … They were the ones who really brought me to the next level. So it’s ironic that they think I’m Asian and I’ve learned all of my Asianness from being Asian. The reality is I’ve learned a lot of my fighting skills from white people. 

It’s really funny and really ironic. “It’s what you guys do.” “Us guys? You mean us Irish-Vietnamese people?” I genuinely think it’s funny.

How would you describe Nikita’s physical arsenal? She does just about everything, doesn’t she?
Yes, she really does. With TV there’s not a lot of time for prep. I trained for three weeks before I got here for the second episode just to get up to a level where I was with my reflexes.

Ben Mark Holzberg/The CW

We get eight days an episode and I work seven out of eight days. I have a huge, massive fight in episode five with a new character they’re introducing. But I have not had one day to learn it. So I’ll go in after work sort of exhausted from the whole day and try to learn a fight for the next morning. … Sometimes I learn it 15 minutes before I jump in. That’s why I’m so adamant about doing everything myself—I feel like I owe my audience that. Everybody has bated breath to see if I’ll get it in time. And we’re always pulling it off every episode. Hopefully we can maintain that.

The other day, like I said, we had a fight that you’re going to flip out over. Nikita speaks many different languages. The same day I had to come in—I’ve got a guy around the neck with a gun to his head, or whatever—and I’ve got a monologue in a different language. Then I push the guy down, I kick him in the head, I tell everyone to run out, then I run out into the crowd and I’m attacked by five guys.

I’m so stressed out. And when I get stressed out I just get quiet. People are like, “Are you okay?” And I’m like (in rapid-fire nervousness), “It’s fine. Tomorrow I get to do a monologue in a different language and then fight five guys and remember every move. It’s fine. Hahaha.”

There are days like that when I’m like, “Wow.” People freak out over the physical aspect of the show—and so do I—but at the same time they forget that we also have lines to learn, and different languages, and there’s a lot of emotion and drama in this series. It’s a lot.

Thank goodness you’re half Asian and can therefore handle all of this.
Thank God. (Laughs.) Part of me I’ll shut off and it’ll just happen, you know?