LOS ANGELES — "Nikita" star Maggie Q is justifiably proud of headlining a TV series and being among the rare Asian-American actors to do so.
But the energetic, impossibly lithe actress has even bigger ambitions, and we're not just talking career: She's an ardent animal rights supporter – with three dogs at home, down from eight – and eager to encourage those impressed by her fitness to follow her vegetarian example.
"I've never felt better in my life, ever. In terms of consciousness, what benefits our body and benefits animal welfare also benefits the planet. It's all connected," said Maggie Q, who's active with animal protection groups.
The Hawaii native of Irish and Vietnamese ancestry clearly is a fighter both on the screen (her action films include "Mission: Impossible III") and off, but she was initially unaware she was advancing colorblind casting with "Nikita."
Her role in the CW freshman drama (9 p.m. EDT Thursday) is inspired by the 1990 French film "La Femme Nikita," in which the title character was white, as was the case with a 1997 TV series. In the CW version, Nikita, trained as a spy and assassin by a secret U.S. agency, goes renegade to destroy the operation after she's betrayed.
Maggie Q learned that her hiring was unusual when she read it in a trade paper. That unleashed a flood of emotions, she says, including gratitude tempered by surprise that "the United States of America, the biggest melting pot in the world," shouldn't routinely show its diversity on TV.
She's pleased that aspiring Asian-American performers can point to her and say, "`When I get there, it's going to be easier for me.'"
The actress credits open-minded studios with bringing her into "Nikita" and the summer movie "Priest," which provided another opportunity to move out of the constraints of ethnic-specific roles.
The 31-year-old Maggie Q was born Maggie Quigley, abbreviating her name when she launched her acting career in Asia. Her training for on-screen martial arts came courtesy of Jackie Chan, and her lengthy credits in the action-film genre include 2007's "Live Free or Die Hard" with Bruce Willis.
The production pace in TV is grueling, she said, but her experience with Chan ("one of the hardest-working people on the planet") prepared her for "Nikita."
"It just feels right to be here," she said.