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Jackie Chan’s real-life pupil on the martial arts legend and her new film ‘The Protégé’

In the new movie “The Protégé,” Margaret Quigley, known professionally as Maggie Q, plays an assassin who travels the world with the man who raised her as they complete high-profile kills. 

Quigley’s character, Anna, is taken in by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson) as a child in Vietnam. From there, she learns the ropes of his business and becomes one of the world’s sharpest assassins. Years later, after Moody is murdered, she returns to Vietnam to track down his killer — but is also forced to confront her past. 

Quigley, who has starred in “Mission: Impossible III,” “Live Free or Die Hard,” the “Divergent” series and the TV show “Nikita,” where she also played a spy and assassin, said one of the things that drew her to “The Protégé,” which will be released Friday, was the nuance in Anna’s character, something she said is rare in the action genre.

Everyone working on the film understood that “the most important part of an action movie is the character development, and that doesn’t happen often,” she told NBC Asian America. “Certainly not in this genre. Relationships and character arcs are always rushed through and then we get to the action, and I feel like we did the opposite with this film.”

Samuel L. Jackson as Moody and Maggie Q as Anna in “The Protégé.”Simon Varsano / Lionsgate

Being a protégé isn’t a role she’s unfamiliar with. In real life, Quigley was somewhat of a protégé to Jackie Chan, a relationship she said has inspired her own acting career.

Quigley, who is Vietnamese American, said the martial artist and actor saw her as a potential action star early on in her career, when she was living in Hong Kong, and that it was his team who introduced her to the genre. Quigley was later cast in minor roles in several of Chan’s movies, including “Rush Hour 2” and “Around the World in 80 Days.”

“Observing him and the way he earned not only his career, but his place at the table in Hollywood, was very inspiring because he’s such a unique individual,” she said. “There’s no one like him, and I don’t know that there ever will be. Obviously, he has unique skills. But in addition to that, he’s the hardest-working man I know. For him, it’s never really enough. He’s always striving for excellence.” 

Working with other world-renowned action directors from Hong Kong also impacted her career, she said.

“The bar was so high in the Hong Kong film industry because that’s what they’re known for,” Quigley said. “They’re like the Hollywood of Asia in their heyday.” 

“I think the key thing I got from that time in my life was the work ethic, and skills, but I also learned what it took to have a unique place that you carve out for yourself when you strive for that,” she went on. “[Chan] did, and it’s really admirable.” 

It was his determination and the intensive training she received that left a lasting impact on her professional career. For the past 20 years, Quigley has performed most of her own stunts in shows and movies and did so for “The Protégé,” despite having major spinal surgery a few months prior to filming. 

Starring in films with complex, nonstereotypical Asian roles is something Quigley has built her career on, but she said as Hollywood continues to reckon with representation, Asian American actors should also be more selective in the roles they’re willing to take.

“It’s as important what you don’t take as it is what you do,” she said. “We can be responsible for perpetuating our own stereotypes if we give in to those things, so we have to make good choices and better choices.” 

“We just have to go into these rooms and show people what we have to offer, and that really truly becomes undeniable,” she said. “We have to start saying no to things that we don’t feel represent us properly, but go for things that they’re not even considering us for, and that’s where I’ve lived for the last 20 years.”

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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