When she's not saving the country as a kick-ass spy on The CW's "Nikita" (Fridays at 8 p.m. EST) Maggie Q supporting many charities that promote conservation, healthy living and the protection of animals. The actress has once again partnered with PETA for a campaign that encourages people to be aware of the impact their diets can have on the environment.
The Huffington Post spoke to Q about the campaign, how people can make the switch to vegetarianism and what's coming up for her titular character on "Nikita" -- both personally and professionally -- as Season 3 progresses.
You and Shane [West] have been doing such intense, emotional work on "Nikita" this season. How is their relationship going to evolve as Michael continues to struggle with the loss of his hand?
It’s so funny because we like to call them "adult problems" that we create for the two of them. So it’s never like “Someone cheated on someone,” or stupid stuff that normally happens on TV. In their world, little things like that don’t happen; in their world, these things happen. Their lives are heightened so their problems are going to be heightened as well.
“Can their love survive?” [is] what people say when it comes to relationships. But sometimes it’s like, "Yes, can their love survive, but can their will as people, can they survive what their circumstances are?" As people, if they can't survive, how are they even going to be in a relationship? I think the way that they are as individuals is going to affect their relationship, which is what’s happening to Michael right now.
We've seen that Michael is pulling away from Nikita and internalizing all of his feelings about that loss right now, but how is Nikita feeling about all of it? She's been trying to get through to him, but right now it's like she's hitting a wall.
She’s really devastated, very broken inside. What do you do when you turn to someone you love and you want to help them, and they won't let you? Last we saw them, there was a little bit of -– he doesn't blame her, but the truth is that ... she kind of did this to him. Obviously the alternative was not a choice. But we don’t know how he’s going to deal with his resentment ... I think this is going to be a test of his character and whether his character can take it or not. I think for her, it’s just this complete and utter feeling of uselessness. There are all these things that she does in her world that work for her. Then in her own personal world, she can't do anything with her relationship. There’s no fix for it. In the second season, [Michael having a child with another woman] was not something you could solve. It wasn’t like, “Can you make that go away?” It doesn't happen. Adult problems. [Laughs.]
At the end of last week's episode, Birkhoff [Aaron Stanford] gave Nikita a little ray of hope that, even if there's not a fix for Michael's hand, there could be an improvement. I'd imagine she's very focused on tracking down Heidecker and doing whatever she can to make Michael's life a little bit easier.
Yeah, she wants to help him without him knowing –- not because he couldn’t handle the news, but because the circumstances are such that she actually doesn't get to tell him the news because something kind of surprising happens to him. So she keeps it to herself for two reasons: for that reason, and the other reason is that she’s a little bit afraid of having a lead on something that’s promising and then it not turning out to be what it could be -- getting someone’s hopes up for no reason.
But I think that her biggest fear is that he’s going to handle it on his own and gain all his strength on his own and not need her, or not include her in the process. Relationships –- the whole reason we become who we become together is because we spend time together, and there’s a bond that’s grown through sharing [those experiences]. Without that, your bond becomes weaker. Now that’s sort of what’s happening. He’s decided that he’s going to internalize everything and not include her. That’s going to cause a weakness in their bond.
Alex [Lyndsy Fonseca] and Nikita's relationship has always been an integral part of the show, but since Alex's relapse with drugs, the two haven't had much opportunity to talk recently, what with everything going on with Michael's hand and Amanda's [Melinda Clarke] vendetta against the team. Can you talk a little bit about their dynamic in the episodes coming up?
I think her bigger demon and the thing that more concerns her is she wants to be in there and she wants to know what’s going on. She wants to be fighting. She wants to be part of everything. That’s going to come to a head for her, not just because of the relapse, but also because of the fact that if you’re an unstable agent, you can't be out in the field. That’s going to be a real struggle, and it may cause her problems to worsen.
Speaking of Amanda, can you preview anything about what her latest nefarious scheme might be?
Put it this way: You won't expect what it is that she’s done or going to do with these people. You would think in watching the show or in episodes past that she’s going to go after them and try to hurt them. But she’s not doing any of those things, actually. She’s going to do stuff we’ve never seen, and things that are a lot worse, that really will rock the foundations in a way that may not be able to be saved.
Owen [Devon Sawa] is now Nikita's partner in the field, and he obviously cares about her as a friend, whether or not there's also a romantic element to it. Can you say anything about how their relationship develops as the season goes on?
I think one of the interesting things to play with when it comes to people who keep turning away and shutting you out ... eventually you’re like, “What do you do?” The reason I really like Nikita and Owen’s relationship and the reason why I like the dynamics that we built in the show is kind of about the adult problems. We don’t like cheesy problems; we don’t like soap opera problems; we don’t like weak problems. It cheapens the characters and the things that they've built. Nikita and Owen truly do –- before anything else -– have a friendship. They care about each other. They were on the road together when Nikita was still on her own and still rogue. There was a test at that time for Nikita and Owen, and if that’s what she felt like doing, it would've happened.
What I really love about her is that you’re always very clear about how she feels and what her intentions are. As a character, she’s incredibly loyal to a fault. I think that had Owen had the chance to [be more than friends], I’m sure he’d love that because he cares in that way. But to scare an audience is one thing -- I like that, but I think if she were the kind of person where, at the drop of a hat, she's like, “You’re ignoring me, so I’m going to find someone else" ... No. That’s not who she is. I do like ... Owen defending her a lot and [him being] upset at the way Michael’s treating her. I think if anything is going to take her away from Michael in time, it would have to be something that’s rooted in a lot of care and friendship. It would be a long time coming, I think, before she could just jump the gun and move away from him.
Right -- she knows what Michael's going through and how hard it must be for him, so for her to just throw that relationship away while he's struggling would kind of be character assassination; it wouldn't be sympathetic behavior for the audience.
Right, there’s no way she’s going to say, “You have to let me in, and I don’t understand why you’re not.” She’s more saying, “I know you’re not, and it’s not fair to me. Please think about how we could do this together. I want to support you.” Nikita and Owen obviously work together more, and their friendship is going to become even deeper. Then, as we get further into the season, there’s some big, really nice character development for Owen. We’re going to see something about Owen’s past -– who knows if anybody could ever be with Owen, after we find out who Owen is and what he's done?
How much is the Presidential threat against Division going to play into the second half of the season?
It’s definitely going get bigger and it’s going to get a lot more scary. The [people] at the top, because of risk, could wipe the place out. On the president’s side ... people around her are manipulating her into a place where they can get what they want done, their agenda done. And that is against Division as well. It’s very complicated.
A lot of the remaining Division agents seem suspicious about Ryan [Noah Bean] and Nikita's promises that they'll actually receive a pardon once they've captured the Dirty 30. Is dissent among the ranks going to be an ongoing issue?
Absolutely. It’s actually going to be part of the culmination of those two things, to be honest. Once we come towards Episode 17 and on, it’s really going to be about what people have, will, or will no longer accept about what they've been promised.
Is there anything you can reveal about what you're filming this week?
We’re doing a really big stunt today, which is really fun. This episode that we’re doing right now is a game-changer episode. In this one, Episode 16, I would say that not only is it a game-changer, and not only is it an audience shocker, but I would say it’s one of the best episodes that we have done this season.
Let's talk about your latest PETA campaign. The image tagline is “Fight climate change with diet change.” Can you talk about how going vegetarian can positively impact the environment?
I like PETA as a group for many reasons, but one of the reasons that I admire them is that they say and do the things that other groups won't do. People criticize them. To be fair to them, you have to get people talking about certain issues -- the only way to do that is to get out there in a bigger way. We make people famous for putting out sex tapes, but someone gets flour thrown on them, it’s like, “How could you! You’re a horrible group!” It’s a little stupid, getting mad at a group like PETA, yet people do have a lot of judgment about [them], because they get out there and say the things that nobody wants to hear, which I admire a lot.
[For this campaign], I said, "I don’t want to tell people how they’re living is wrong." If you give people the facts, then you allow them their own informed choice. I said, "I want an image that is profound. Then I want a statement that is a call for action," or to just draw the line from one point to the other that people haven’t tracked yet. [The first statement they sent] said, “Save the planet,” and I’m really bored of "save the planet." The truth is, I don’t know what's going to happen to the planet. I, Maggie, personally cannot tell you that you’re going to save the planet. But what I do know is that we can draw a line to an issue that can conserve what we already have and what’s left in a way that we can actually breathe the air, drink the water, actually grow things in soil -- that matters in a real, practical way.
I said, "I want something that will allow people to have a thought that maybe they haven’t researched or thought about before." There are a lot of environmental documentaries out there. I think they’re invaluable, but they have not explored this issue ... It’s very disappointing because we don’t want to upset big, corporate, multinational America. We don’t want to upset the dairy industry; we don’t want to upset the meat industry; we don’t want to upset Tyson chicken. We don’t want to upset those people because there’s too much money going into the lobby to tell people that these things are good for them, and these things don’t harm the environment. But the truth is, when you’re raising over 60 billion animals a year for food, those animals have to be sheltered and fed and watered. Some of them are 20, 40, 50 times the size of a human being. Their waste has to go somewhere. So ... every year we’re raising and killing animals –- where do we think all those resources are coming from? There are 6.5 billion of us now. Think about 60 billion other mouths to feed, other bodies that wastes are flowing out of, that need water and shelter. Once they’re killed, they need refrigeration and transporting.
There’s no way to look at the meat industry today and say, “There’s no environmental impact.” Animals grown for food pollute our air, our soil, our water, our streams, our oceans. And these are United Nations statistics; these are not statistics from PETA or animal rights groups. The United Nations four or five years ago put out a study that said the meat industry, meat-eating, growing meat for food is the No. 1 killer of our planet –- not No. 2 or No. 3: No 1. You know what’s No. 2? Transportation. Everyone thinks that No. 1 is transportation, and goes out and buys a hybrid car. Screw the hybrid cars. Don’t eat hamburgers. If you don’t eat a hamburger, your carbon footprint is so much less than driving a hybrid car, I can't even tell you.
Somewhere from 15 to 25 percent of transportation emissions are from animal transport –- getting animals to slaughter houses, getting all that meat from California to New York, or from Buenos Aires to Mississippi. All this stuff has to go somewhere. It’s not grown in America ... we’re doing it in third-world countries, buying up all their land, growing our meat there, slaughtering them, and shipping it all back here. These days, there’s too much information available for us to pretend that this is not an issue. So for me, the image, with the world painted on my body ... the literal interpretation is that the future of conservation and what we want to conserve for us or our kids is on us. It literally is on us in reality. Our choices are going to determine the future for our children, our children’s children, and their children. I take that responsibility very seriously.
I am definitely a hippie, but I’m a very modern hippie -- I’m the most informed hippie you will ever meet. I don't just walk around and say, “I love this town. I love these people.” You know what? A lot of people don’t give a shit about cows or chickens or sheep. But those people that don't love animals, maybe they have a friend or a daughter or three daughters. There’s one issue that’s going to affect them -– environmental, social, animal. There’s every single issue you can think of tied to this industry.
You don’t have to give up everything. Meat used to be a luxury ... something that they had at Christmas or a feast. Now, people eat meat 10 times a day. They eat it literally every single meal. Now we’re also dealing with heart disease and diabetes. Obesity is so chronic and out of control that we go bankrupt to help fix this stuff. There are so many preventative measures that we can do now that are good for our health and our healthcare system and the country that we live in. Some people -- let’s say they don’t have kids, they don’t care about the environment, they don’t care about animals because they don’t have kids, and they don’t see a future. Maybe you care about other people.
The meat industry is one of the No. 1 employers of illegal workers in the United States. Have you ever met anyone who worked in a slaughter house? I don’t know anyone who works in a slaughter house. The reason why we don’t know these people is because these people are not our friends, they’re not our neighbors, they’re not people we know, they’re not people we went to school with. These people are mainly illegal because it’s the worst, most horrifying job on the planet. You’re basically working in a warehouse with no windows because ... if [there were windows on slaughterhouses], as Paul McCartney said, everyone would be vegetarian. No one can see what’s going on, and they have all these problems with animal rights groups getting all this footage of animal cruelty on these farms. So they box them up and they use very little lighting because they want the animals to stay in this subdued state, so that they’re always in the dark. It’s always nighttime. These animals live in filth. They stand in their own feces and their own urine. They don’t move. There’s no exercise. There’s no air or light.
If something lives in that way, how healthy do you think that thing would be? If you and I and your family and my family and 17 other families were in my trailer right now, and this is where we stayed; we never walked out; we never used the bathroom; we ate where we stood, and we never moved, we’d be sick. Imagine us taking that sick animal and chopping it up, and you’re eating it. These animals are so sick, they get up to 17 injections a day of hormones and steroids and antibiotics just to stay alive ... They’re living in these horrible conditions in the dark, no air, no nothing, no movement. And the people who work in these places, this is the highest risk of injury of any job in the United States. They’re operating massive machinery to cut these animals, slaughter them, kill them, transport them in these warehouses in low lighting, no windows. They’re up to their knees in blood and guts and urine and everything else that comes with the job. People’s limbs get cut off, their arms, their heads, their feet, their toes, their fingers.
Do you know what we do to them when they get injured on the job? They’re illegal. No one even knows they’re here. We just toss them back across the border. No one gives a shit. We just throw them back over their border with their injuries, with no compensation. Before that, they got paid pennies anyway because who gives a shit, right?
There’s a magazine called VegNews. Even if you’re not vegetarian and just want to eat healthier, it's the most amazing magazine. I don't know what issue it was in, but it was an interview with workers from places like Tyson chicken factory. These were people that were illegal, who were in the United States and working in the factory. They spoke openly about the conditions and what they do on the job every day. It’s so disgusting. Everybody works 12 to 16 hours a day. They don't get lunch breaks. They don't get bathroom breaks. Once they get there in the morning, the machinery starts. They don’t pause the machinery because the output is too quick ... These people are like ... they’re all pissing on these chickens. They’re shitting in their pants. They don’t get to eat. You don’t understand how bad this is. People get sick. They don’t send them home. They’re vomiting. These are people who are processing food. That’s what’s going on in these factories. People try to go in and get undercover footage, but [the company] is very aware of that fact. They won't let somebody in to show how food gets to the table, it’s too disgusting.
I remember reading about what goes on in the milk industry, and it's just horrifying.
The first thing I always say to people ... cows don’t lactate unless they’re pregnant. We are taking milk from an animal that is reserving it in a special state for its child. But instead of the cow being able to feed its child, the animal is born, it gets ripped away from its mother, and gets thrown into a veal box so that whatever restaurant can have veal sandwiches, and this poor cow can get her milk taken from her until she’s dry. Then when she’s dry, what do they do? They artificially inseminate her and keep getting her pregnant for seven years. Seven years. Being pregnant for nine months is the biggest nightmare ever, I don’t care what anybody tells you. How can we keep an animal pregnant for seven years? How unnatural. Those animals, basically after seven years of lactating, they collapse from exhaustion. They’re the sickest animals alive. Those are the animals that we slaughter and cut up. That’s ground beef. Those animals are so sick you can't actually get a healthy cut of beef to sell whole, that’s the very low quality meat you see in hamburger meat.
There’s a lovely book by a guy called Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, who writes all these books on the emotional lives of animals ... He wrote this book called, “The Pig Who Thanked the Moon.” It was him basically traveling around the world, visiting all these farms, and asking all these farmers what they really felt about what they’re doing to these animals ... He kept asking these farmers, “When you take that baby from its mother, is that natural?” They're like, “Oh, well it’s just animals ... they’re emotionless, they’re machines, they're here to produce milk.” Every single one of these farmers denied that there was any emotion [in the animals] until this one guy from England ... said, “I don’t know if this counts.” Jeffrey goes, “Just tell me. I’ll tell you if it counts.” The farmer said, “Maybe the screaming ... It used to be, when the mother cows had their calves, we would at least allow them to nurse for two weeks and be with their baby for two weeks, and then we took the baby away. Now, the demand for veal’s gone up, and the demand for dairy is so high that we have to rip the babies away right away.”
And [Jeffrey] was like, “What happens when you do that?” [The farmer] said, “The female cow will make a noise that’s akin to a human screaming. You’ve never heard a cow make this sound because it only happens during this time,” when you're doing this horrible thing of taking this child away from his mother. He said, “How long does the screaming go on?” The guy says, “It goes on until the cow loses its voice indefinitely.” He said that after that period of screaming, the mother never makes another sound for the rest of her life. Then [Jeffrey] goes back and asks all these other farmers, “Have you ever seen this happen? This guy in England told me this happens.” Every single one said, “Oh, yeah. That happens.”
I remember I was on a plane, and I already didn’t [drink milk]. But the fact that it still goes on, I was bawling my eyes out. The thought of being a living, sentient being and carrying a child in your body and having someone come and rip it away from you and never seeing it again -– I don’t care what you say, that’s not natural.
Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to make the switch to vegetarianism or becoming vegan?
I think the first step is to have a really firm foundation in your information. Really be studied enough so you're armed with knowledge. You can't care unless the information matters to you. There’s no issue tied to this industry that someone’s not going to care about. There's going to be something that affects them. And build it comprehensively and look at something and say, “I understand all these issues, I just don’t want to be a part of that.” I think that’s the first thing that you have to do. There’s a book that I love called “Food Matters.” Mark Bittman wrote it. It’s a really easy read. The minute you open the book, he hits you with it: "If you're doing this, this is what you’re doing to the planet." It’s kind of amazing. He makes the reader accountable from the get-go, which I like. He’s not too judgmental. He’s saying, “Here are the facts.” The first step for me was having strong convictions and being well-informed.
And the second thing practically is just that it’s easier now than it’s ever been to eat better. You can eat healthier in a conscious way. There’s a lovely website called Happy Cow, and if you go to Happy Cow and you type in the city you’re in, it lists every single thing you need to know about that city -– where there’s a vegetarian restaurant, where there are places that don't serve this or that. It’s fantastic. Even grocery stores now, the amount of options they have ... And I don’t eat mock meats. I don’t eat tofu ... I eat grains, vegetables, fruits. I think what I’ve really enjoyed about being vegetarian, forgetting all the other issues that matter to me, I have no cholesterol problem. My cholesterol is perfect. My blood pressure is perfect. I think it’s not just about the industry; I think because of the world we live in now, we now need to take a closer look at our health, and we are taking a closer look at our heath. Then we’re taking a closer look at what we put into our bodies.
For more information on how your diet can impact the environment, check out PETA's website.
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.