Divergent’s Maggie Q is sort of a secret weapon: while not a huge movie star in the traditional sense, she has amassed a pile of credits that speak not just to her acting ability but her action abilities as well. At a time when younger actresses like Divergent star Shailene Woodley and Jennifer Lawrence are proving that women can lead action-oriented franchises, Maggie Q has been quietly paving the way with turns in Mission: Impossible III, Priest and the TV series Nikita.
In Divergent, Maggie plays Tori, a senior member of the Dauntless faction who acts as reluctant protector and mentor to Woodley’s Tris. It is Tori who gives Tris the psychological test to determine which faction she is best suited for and discovers that Tris is “divergent” and suited for more than one faction. This stirs up past memories for Tori that are too terrible to contemplate and lead her to hide Tris’ secret despite the danger in doing so (she also plays a crucial role in the sequel, Insurgent).
Maggie (who will next be seen in a new detective drama from The Following creator Kevin Williamson) sat down with Den Of Geek to talk about playing Tori, mixing it up with director Neil Burger and the new wave of female action stars.
Den Of Geek: Knowing yourself, what faction do you think you would be?
Maggie Q: I definitely, I mean I think the casting was pretty bang on. I think that I’m definitely rooted in Dauntless in terms of the bravery and the skill and the physicality and all that. I mean it’s definitely a part of who I am. But I wouldn’t say that any of the factions are all encompassing, you know. Mekhi Phifer and I have been on a tour together and we’ve been talking about when people ask, well what would you really be. I’m like, “Well I think I’d be divergent.” Because aren’t we all in some sense? So I think that would be me more than anything. I don’t think defining yourself in one category is healthy, which is the analogy that we’re trying to make in this movie.
What appealed to you about Tori? Was it the fact that she’s got this toughness to her?
Well, I like the fact that her toughness — you know, a lot of times I think what people don’t really realize about people who are “tough” is that it is normally born out of circumstance, you know. It’s not because they want or are choosing to be, it’s because they have to be. They’ve been put in a situation where that toughness or that wall or that, you know, leathery outside has been built because of things they’ve experienced, been through or had to survive. That’s definitely where it roots from in Tori, you know. She’s got a lot of pain behind why she doesn’t want anything to do with this girl. Yes, she doesn’t want this girl in her periphery and she doesn’t want her problems being put on her plate. But at the same time I think even facing a divergent again in her life is a real and true source of pain for her because of what actually happened to her brother when his divergence came out. And it’s not something that she wants to see again. It’s not something she wants to be involved in. But more than that it’s not something she wants to relive. And I think those reasons are genuine when understanding her coldness towards this girl. It’s not just one level. It’s not just one layer of coldness. It’s not just sort of like, “well I don’t like you so I don’t want you in my sight.” So it was interesting trying to find that path with her.
You definitely get the sense that Tori has a history.
How much of that did you get out of the script? Did you maybe talk to Veronica or go back to the book to learn more?
You know, I wasn’t one of the actors that talked to Veronica during this actually. I know a lot of the actors, she was there on set and they were able to reference their back stories with her on any given day and she would give them a little more about what she thought. I sort of created my own origin story in my head. That’s something I do with a character study too. So there’s that. I think for this character in particular the adaptation was pretty close to the book which was good.
And how did you and Neil work together?
Neil was a real source of challenge for me and I mean that in a positive way on the film because, you know, as an actor or any creative person, you have an idea of where you want to go or an idea of how you see things. And the reason there’s directors and writers and other actors is because we all see things very differently. So I try not to get married to things in my head but there’s things that I want to express in a certain way that Neil saw very differently. So we had good head butting in that I really respected the fact that he didn’t come at all from where I was coming from and he wanted something very different. And so then the compromise begins. Compromise sounds like a negative word but actually for us it was very positive because you have to compromise. I mean that’s how a successful relationship actually ends up working. So we did have a lot of back and forth about what his ideas were and what mine were. The movie turned out so well that I actually now, in seeing the film, can really in a different way appreciate where Neil was coming from and how, in some circumstances, I do feel creatively I was justified. And in others I feel that he was.
Can you give me an example of something you differed on?
Okay. One of the biggest was how unwilling a mentor Tori was. In the beginning he wanted a real hardness that was, I think — I didn’t want the hardness to be off-putting from the get-go. I wanted you to know that this person was tough. I wanted you to know that she had her reasons or suspect that she had he reasons. But I didn’t want it to just read cold. I was just like, “Neil, dude, I mean I realize that you think that that is going to read more than one note but I don’t think it is.” And he’s like, “No, it is because we’re going to be moving into this space.” So we kind of went back and forth with how far to go in her expression. What makes a more stoic character interesting is you being able to watch them and understand that there is a push and a pull between what you know their feeling and what you know they’re not totally expressing. I think that gives you a hunger for the person, because you’re like, “I know there’s more to offer here and I know there’s something that you’re not saying to us. And I can feel that you want to express that but it’s not coming out and you have your reasons.” But we want to know why.
Is that a function of maybe not showing all the cards for a character because she’s going to be in the next movie as well?
No, no. It’s not even a logistical thing like that. It’s more of — If I met you right away and we sat down and you said, “Hi, I’m so and so.” And I said, “I’m Maggie,” and I start rattling off about everything that’s happened to me in my life and how hard it was…there might be some legitimacy issues in your mind where you’re like wow, I just met you. I don’t really need to know all of that. I feel like the time in which it takes you to open up and the strength with which it takes you to open up is the way in which you’ve dealt and seen and done things in your life. You think about war vets and you think about people who’ve seen things or been through tragic events or loss or whatever it may be. They’re very hard to talk about, you know, they’re extremely difficult to express because the pain is real. And I think when the pain is very real it should take time and there has to be a trust built before you actually reveal a little bit. That’s why you don’t see Tori actually talking to Tris about what happened to her brother until sort of the end. And then she basically goes through the facts. She’s still business. She’s still, “Listen, this is what went down.” She doesn’t even get into the emotion of it. That’s going to happen in the second one.
So have you read ahead?
I know what happens in the second one. But with the adaptations, you know, we take an artistic license with them depending on what works or doesn’t work on the screen. They’ll pump things up or bring things down or whatever. However best they can tell a story on screen is the way they’re going to adapt the book. It doesn’t have to be exact. So I don’t like to get married to the book because if you do and you get very attached to it and then you get the screenplay and each point that you wished was expressed in the way that you wanted them expressed is not there, you get a little disappointed. So I like to do things backwards. I like to read the screenplay first, know what they’re focusing on and then root back into the book and really find what it is that I can carry over into the screenplay.
You’ve got a rep as an action star.
I do. Bad rep (laughs).
And now we’ve got this film with a female lead. There’s The Hunger Games, of course, and there’s a new 300 movie out with two strong female parts. Do you feel any sense of change happening in the industry as far as that goes?
It’s interesting because the real birth of the strong female was in the 1970s. I mean that’s really when we kind of went “Whoa.” At that time it was a lot more fantasy-based but it was still strong. I think unfortunately that sort of was our way in and the strong women ranged from Linda Carter to Emma Peel. What happened in the 1990s with Sigourney and Linda Hamilton and all these people is we started to become rooted in reality and that these women in reality could actually be physically strong, intellectually strong, spiritually strong and all this sort of stuff. So we kind of moved into more reality-based heroes which I thought was really cool and I thought that those women were leaders at that time in actually getting that done on film. So now we’re really, really moving into more opportunity in that space that we built off from the 1990s — we’re moving to a space that’s undeniable.
So now when they’re casting, they’re doing things in film that they weren’t doing before. It’s just like ethnically diverse casting now. Women in power positions, more ethnically diverse…all that stuff’s happening because without it we’re not being realistic. So I think it’s a really good opportunity for women now. I like this character in particular and what I love about what Shailene did and what they did with this script which is not like any other young adult book thing that’s come out yet is that I see her strength in this film when she’s most vulnerable. When she’s admitting, “I don’t know if this is me…I don’t know if this is the right decision.” I think that takes more strength than it does to kick someone’s ass or shoot a gun or do any of that stuff. It’s a strong female example that I’m really proud of and I’m really excited about Shailene representing that.