Female assassin Nikita, is one character that just won't die. But Maggie Q brings her back with a few differences, writes Des Sampson.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then French auteur Luc Besson must feel pretty pleased with himself. That's because Nikita, the tale of a drug-addled criminal who's forced to work for French intelligence, which he wrote, directed and released in 1990, has prompted a rash of copycat films and spin-off television series.
Most notable was The Assassin - also known as Point of No Return - a big-budget Hollywood remake of his thrilling tale of subterfuge and espionage, starring Bridget Fonda in the title role. His vision also inspired Black Cat, an action-packed, Hong Kong film which faithfully followed the original storyline and two acclaimed television spin-offs, La Femme Nikita - which ran for five years and starred Australian actress Peta Wilson - and the current Nikita, a sexy, sassy show with Hawaiian actress Maggie Q in the title role.
"Yeah, Nikita has had quite a history, with the films and television series," acknowledges Maggie Q, nodding her head animatedly. "But, to be honest, I never saw the previous show, so I don't know what it was like. I do know that it was successful though, because it ran for five seasons, and that some of its diehard fans still don't agree with us remaking Nikita. I totally get that, because they love the original Nikita and don't see the need for a remake," she shrugs. "But I also know that, since the show's come out, most of those fans haven't been so critical, which is great. Hopefully, it means we're doing something right."
Part of the fans' concern stems from the striking differences between the current remake of Nikita and its predecessor, La Femme Nikita - namely Maggie Q being Asian rather than a blonde, blue-eyed, all-American girl and also the introduction of a second female protagonist, Alex Udinov, Nikita's partner-in-crime protege, played by Lyndsy Fonseca.
"There must be a real pressure for Maggie playing Nikita, because her portrayal is so different from the original character," suggests Fonseca. "But I think she's done an incredible job to re-envision her character. As for me, I don't feel any pressure because my character wasn't even in the original film, or previous television show. If anything, I'm just excited that our creators have a distinct vision and didn't want us to do something exactly the way it was before."
Having Maggie Q starring as Nikita has also meant she's been able to use her position to challenge stereotypes and break down barriers in Hollywood, acting as a role model for other aspiring Asian actors.
"It's hard enough penetrating Hollywood at the best of times, because 90 per cent of scripts are written for white girls," she sighs. "So, when you're a minority it's even harder - especially when you're battling stereotypes, prejudice and parameters that have been set up for you by the industry.
"You've got to stand up and make decisions that will possibly change the course of your career, like turning down parts that will perpetuate the stereotype," suggests Maggie Q. "That's why I'm just pleased that I'm actually getting to play and immerse myself in characters, like this, that aren't ethnic specific or pigeonholed in any way."
Her determination not to conform to stereotypes has helped Maggie Q land the pivotal part of a priestess in the supernatural thriller, Priest, alongside Paul Bettany and Kiwi actor, Karl Urban. Similarly, Fonseca has capitalised on her burgeoning profile to land starring parts in the comic-book capers Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass II: Balls to the Wall.
Part of their cross-over appeal is their ability - and willingness - to do their own spectacular stunts and martial art fight scenes, especially Maggie Q, who was mentored by Jackie Chan.
"It was great that Jackie took me on and taught me a whole bunch of martial arts," she smiles. "So, now I prefer to do all my own stunts - unless it's something really dangerous and the studio stops me from doing it!"
"Yeah, Maggie and I like to do a lot of our stunts ourselves," confirms Fonseca. "It means we have to train a lot, to be in good shape for them. Partly that's so the stunt looks more realistic but also because the more in-shape you are the less possibility there is of getting hurt."
But their commitment comes at a price, with injury, exhaustion and an impossibly crazy schedule just part and parcel of starring in a successful, action-packed adventure, like Nikita.
"I'm more tired than I've ever been," admits Maggie Q. "There are days where you're completely exhausted and just feel like a robot, because you're trying to get it all done. But that's what it's like with this show: you have to always be there, be on it, be in shape, be strong and be energised. It's tough.
"Sometimes I'll finish a day's shooting and I'll have a big fight scene the next day but I haven't even learnt it yet because I've been working the whole day," she explains. "I remember once where I finished work at three in the morning and the fight was first up the next day, so I told the stunt team to stay and we were rehearsing it until four o'clock, then I went home, slept a couple of hours and came back to shoot it!"
"Sometimes it gets too much," she says. "There have been times when I've been so stressed, like when I've had to learn Russian or Arabic. That's like murder, because they're just so hard.
"I remember telling Shane West, who plays Michael, about how I felt and he just said; 'the only reason they keep writing all this impossibly difficult stuff is because you keep pulling it off, so what you should do is stop being good at stuff, because then they'll stop giving it to you.'
" I was like; 'Wow, that's a really good idea!' Maybe that's what I should do."
Let's hope she doesn't - and that both Maggie Q and Fonseca continue battling together as a deadly duo for the foreseeable future - because it makes for explosive, action-packed, absorbing, stylish television.
Who: Maggie Q and Lyndsy Fonseca
What: Nikita, the latest screen incarnation of the French assassin franchise which started back in 1990
When: TV2 Fridays, 9.30pm
Also: Priest starring Maggie Q opens at cinemas on August 11