A born fighter

14 Feb 2020 / 09:32 H.

LONG before it was fashionable to cast an Asian actor in a role meant for a white actress, Maggie Q broke the rules by playing the title role in TV series Nikita (2010-2013) and starred in a wide range of movies such as Mission: Impossible III, Live Free or Die Hard, Priest and the Divergent film series.

She continues in that vein with a complex role in Fantasy Island, which follows a group of guests at an island resort where they can live out their fantasies – for a price.

Based on the hit series from the 1970s, this film adaptation is produced by Blumhouse Productions, best known for its horror movies.

In a tele-conference interview, Maggie, who plays a character named Elena in the film, said: “I am familiar with the television show, and I admit when the concept of the movie first came to me, I wasn’t quite convinced that it was something good or that it was going to work.

“There was a process of me reading the script and being impressed by their take on the series, the darker version of what it means to have a fantasy fulfilled.”

The role of the resort host Mr Roarke (played by the suave Ricardo Montalban in the TV series) is iconic, and the filmmakers made the unlikely choice of casting Michael Pena, who is best known for his comedic roles.

Maggie said: “Michael Pena is an actor I respect and admire, I love his work. I loved how when [Blumhouse] cast people, they weren’t so commercially motivated. They brought the right actors for the film.”

Maggie also sat down with director Jeff Wadlow, who also co-wrote the script, and was impressed by his passion and motivation to make this movie.

“I think this is better than the standard fare that comes out of Blumhouse. I took a little time to consider it. I really wanted to make the right choice, and I am so glad that I did it.”

Her character Elena has many layers to her. She starts out as a passive woman who thinks she has let love pass her, before realising the root cause of her problems.

“We start the movie thinking she had one regret, giving up intimacy or love. The we find out the reason she gave it up and why she did not feel worthy of love. So what is the root of her pain, and how to overcome that is what I wanted to explore with her.”

Describing how this character resonates with her, Maggie said: “People look at women as emotional beings. We are all that, but we are also incredibly strong. The ‘flaw’ for a woman is that we take a lot on, and that is incredibly unhealthy because we are not designed to carry so much grief and trauma. To deal with that, you have to share, you have to get it out.

“With Elena one of the concepts I was interested in was the concept of survivor’s guilt. The director and I did a study of what it is like to survive trauma and to live with that.

“If you were in a plane crash or car accident where you were driving and you were the only one who survived, survivors feel that their lives were taken away. They are never the same. One reason is because they think it is their fault, and the other is ‘why wasn’t it me’. Survivors guilt psychology is devastating.”

When asked if the industry is more accepting of actors of colour now, Maggie said: “The short answer to that is yes. It is definitely getting more diverse.

“Do I think the reason that it is diverse is because people feel that diversity is fair and more representative of what the world looks like? Not totally.

“I think there is global pressure and economics that makes sense for [there to be] a more diverse cast.”

She added: “I think everything takes time. I think for whatever reason it is happening now, it is a positive thing. You know, I live it everyday, and I am very [aware] that as a minority I have [to battle] every single day. There are always battles, and I don’t want to be cast because people want to fill an ethnic quota.

“I think we need to be open about casting the best actors, and I have always [throughout] my career fought to be in rooms they never wanted to see me in.

“If it was an Asian role that they wanted to give to an Asian person, I would tell them to ‘give it to whomever you want’. I want to go into a room where you aren’t even considering an Asian for the role, and I want to fight for that.”

Asked to describe her own personal fantasies, she said: “My first one is to change the people in power who are making decisions about our environment, and the second fantasy is that [if there are] no consequences [I] would liberate animals from suffering. I would release them from zoos, circuses and animal testing facilities and let them all out.”

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