MAGGIE Q wasn't supposed to play the brief but memorable role of Tina in Swiss director Marcel Langenegger's debut feature, "Deception."
The Hawaiian native auditioned for the starring role -- the femme fatale who leads lonely, innocent Ewan McGregor down a decadent, double-crossing path, littered with deceit and strewed with murder. It's a steamy part, worthy of a Hitchcock heroine.
But that role went to Michelle Williams.
"It came down to the Oscar-nominated actress, or me," Maggie says, "which I thought was hilarious."
The "Deception" director and producers should be relieved Maggie knows how to take a beating with such equanimity and grace. She is, after all, one of the few American actresses with the power to karate chop the casting couch in two. Or skewer a suit to the wall with her stiletto, having gotten her start in Asia -- where her last name was shortened from Quigley to Q by a Chinese newspaper -- kicking, punching and brawling her way through low-budget action movies.
"In the end, I took 'Live Free or Die Hard' and I was going to have nothing to do with 'Deception,' but then Marcel called my agent and said, 'Maggie has to be in this film.' And I was honored." She told them she'd love to contribute to their movie and embraced the smaller part offered.
In "Deception," Maggie plays a successful investment banker who harbors an addiction to a charismatic lawyer played by Hugh Jackman. She works such long hours she doesn't have the time or inclination for romance or a relationship. Still, she's human. She fills her needs by participating in an anonymous sex club with like-minded corporate titans in the city that never sleeps. With respect to the sex, the attitude here is, "Get it done and go back to work," Maggie says.
Besides getting in touch with her inner workaholic, another challenge was performing the whole scene in a see-through . . . well, what was she wearing? The garment, what little there is of it, is sheer naughtiness. The black silk equivalent of hot breath on a windowpane.
Maggie admits she felt exposed. "I normally don't walk across the set in my underwear. Ewan was very conscious about the fact that I was in a vulnerable state, especially with what I was wearing. He went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable."
Two days after completing night shoots on "Deception," Maggie flew to the set of "Live Free or Die Hard." In one scene, Maggie's character was supposed to swing through the window of a truck to fight Bruce Willis, but he got clocked in the forehead with a stiletto. The heel punctured his brow and required stitches. As director Len Wiseman remarks on the DVD commentary, "It was all bloody . . . and [Willis] pulled the skin back and asked me, 'How bad is it?' and I saw the bone."
But it wasn't Maggie's foot. "Thank God it wasn't me! My career would have been done that week," she says. It was her stuntwoman, Ming Qiu, who Maggie says is one of the best, most experienced, top martial artists in the world. "We thought the world was gonna end! But Bruce was really cool about it," she says. "It just shows you how intense our job is. You're on wires, you're climbing, you're a half-inch off, guess what? You're head's gonna get bashed."
Which is why, to her, balance is key. "I can't imagine living a life that is all about work. I try not to be completely consumed by it. What I do doesn't define who I am. It's really about unattachment," she says. "I know that's a Buddhist thing to say, but it's true. It really is just that. Not allow yourself to get too attached to any one thing. Or it'll eat you alive."
Next up, Maggie stars with Ethan Hawke in French director Yvan Attal's segment of "New York, I Love You." She won't say who she plays, because it's a reveal, but suffice it to say, she gets to play that man for a fool. "I don't want the stereotypical Asian action girl career," she says. "I want a career that people don't expect."
Where you've seen her Maggie Q's big break came in 1998 when she landed a role on a Beijing TV series called "House of the Dragon." It aired on 1,400 stations in Asia, forced her to learn Mandarin and turned her into a star. She is also known for playing seductive, stiletto-kicking, professional killers in a number of Hong Kong action movies, such as "Naked Weapon." Small roles in Jackie Chan's "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Rush Hour 2" led to her blowing up a car (a Lamborghini, no less) with Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible III" and busting Bruce Willis' chops in "Live Free or Die Hard."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times