A former model, Dutch-born actress Famke Janssen had her screen breakthrough as Xenia Onatopp, James Bond’s (literally) man-crushing foe in GoldenEye (1995). Born in Holland on January 1, 1964, Janssen launched her lucrative modelling career at an early age. Moving to New York when she was barely out of her teens, she soon tired of the vacuous nature of modelling and enrolled at Columbia University, where she studied literature and creative writing. Janssen made her screen debut in the 1992 drama Fathers and Sons.
Following the success of GoldenEye, the actress began finding steady screen work, appearing in such films as Robert Altman’s The Gingerbread Man (1998), in which she played Kenneth Branagh’s ex-wife; Woody Allen’s Celebrity (1998), which cast her as Branagh’s girlfriend; and Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty. After closing the century with another excursion into the supernatural in the remake of The House on Haunted Hill (1999), Janssen began this century on a somewhat more heroic note, playing one of the titular group of superheroes in Bryan Singer’s adaptation of the popular comic book X-Men. Mire recently, Janssen co-starred in the quirky ensemble comedy Eulogy, and will next be seen opposite Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning in the thriller Hide and Seek. With her little dog in toe, Janssen talked exclusively to Garth Franklin.
Question: Okay. When you were growing up in the Netherlands, was acting always something that was interesting or you -?
Answer: Yes. It never even occurred to me. I didn’t do a lot of creative things as a kid – it wasn’t really encouraged as much, so I just was focusing on doing well at school and studied economics for a year at the University of Amsterdam and it wasn’t until I got discovered as a model that it took me out of my – you know – way that I’d been raised and whatever, and I got to travel the world and it wasn’t really – you know only, like years into that, that I even considered acting.
Question: Is acting a natural transition from …
Answer: No. From modelling? No absolutely not. No, no. What I did was I decided during the course of my modelling career that I would want give acting a chance but I wanted to be smart about it and not let anybody else know about it, and thought what’s the point of doing the model turned actress thing – I just need to take this thing seriously, so I retired from modelling, overnight virtually, and went to Columbia University to study writing and literature just to get a degree and …
Question: Why the States?
Answer: Oh I already lived in New York at that point. And just because I traveled all over Europe and then I figured I just want to – I want to go to New York and see how that is and then once I was there I decided to quit the modelling and then became – I mean – during my time at Columbia I started taking acting classes, on the side, and that’s when I had my first audition – for a movie.
Question: I mean it’s a tough profession for a woman.
Answer: It is.
Question: Yes and if you’re young and beautiful and those kinds of things, you know, presumably, it’s even tougher to put yourself outside of those parameters. What did you have to try and prove at the beginning – ?
Answer: I think in the beginning I had to prove that I could act. I think everybody just automatically assumed I couldn’t. And I thought that I would at least have a better chance by having taken a distance from, you know, my modelling career, so that I didn’t have to deal with that stigma so much. But, of course, you know years after I retired the first comment that I heard on my first audition was oh weren’t you a model, or you know, just because of the way I looked probably, and whatever, based on that alone. But it’s just, you know, everybody has obstacles when they start and everything that is something they use against you in the beginning, like you’re too tall, you’re too awkward, you’re too strange, too funny or whatever. Those are the things that eventually people start liking about you hopefully and I’ve never been one to just be –
Question: What was your biggest problem, your height?
Answer: I don’t know which one was bigger – both. Height is a big problem. There’s not a lot of tall men and they don’t want to admit their actual height and stuff.
Question: Find dating difficult too, I guess.
Answer: Well yes. But I don’t have a problem dating someone who is, you know, shorter, as long as he’s not too much shorter.
Question: What would you say was the film that – the project – that really fueled or continued to fuel your desire to continue a serious career? What was the project that you worked on?
Answer: Honestly it was just the first time I was ever went on camera – for a tiny little movie called Fathers and Sons and I thought this is it. This feels great. I want to do this with my future and it wasn’t even a big part and it wasn’t anything, you know, special, but it was just a feeling that I never had before where I thought this is really cool. I
Question: You’ve done a lot of physically challenging films and I know you said that you tried to turn down a lot of action movies.
Question: I suppose Hide and Seek was an action film. You had done it in a Bond movie. Is it hard for you to find something that does not require that and that’s why you say no to a lot movies?
Answer: Yes. It’s very difficult – you know. And every single time you do something like – I mean I did Love and Sex and it was a romantic comedy and there is not one physical aspect in it – oh except making out with people – but you know or sports, or some kind of, you know, activity, action-packed whatever, but you know, in the end it’s a business and it’s about making money and the movies that make money – the movies that I’ve been in that have made money, were more action-packed type of movies, so those are the types of roles generally that I’ll be asked for to do. And it’s much harder for me so I always turn to the independents for the more challenging parts …someone who might take a risk with me.
Question: You said yes to a film like Hide and Seek, which is kind of – I wouldn’t expect you to say yes to this type of film. Now if it had been anybody else other than De Niro – had it been a relatively unknown in the role of – that De Niro played – would you be more reticent to take it on do you think?
Answer: If it hadn’t been De Niro and it had just been whatever – a generic actor, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but having De Niro, you know –
Question: Do you say to yourself oh De Niro’s doing this then it must be something -?
Answer: I mean there’s just a few things I set out to do in my life and one of them was as much as possible to work with good directors and good actors so when an opportunity like this comes up where you get to work with De Niro, it’s probably my only chance that I will.
Question: Right. De Niro was already attached when you were offered this?
Answer: Oh yes.
Question: And how seriously you take a film that requires a certain semblance of belief – where you are sort of attacking – where you are involved in some quite crazy things. Do you approach it very differently to when you do something that is very character based? Do you just have a laugh about it and plunge in?
Answer: No, I mean, I don’t want to say laugh about it because then I feel like – I think the moment you comment on anything that you’re in or what you’re doing – it shows in your work and that’s not good, so you’re going to have to approach it like it’s a real moment.
Question: But as an actor do you approach it directly, do you approach it objectively, or do you just decide you’ll work within whatever are the demands of the script are or whatever the character is supposed to be doing?
Answer: I approach it the way I approach all my – my characters – in that moment how does she feel, what’s happening, what are the – you know – and you make it as real as possible.
Question: Are you a fan of these kinds of movies yourself? Do you watch -?
Answer: A love a good thriller – I love a good scary movie.
Question: Any favorites?
Answer: The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby, those type of movies.
Question: Now much talk has been given about the whole X-Men thing. Do get you tired of talking about that – are you sort of – over about being asked about that, or how do you – ?
Answer: No it’s really fine; as long as people are coming from a good place it’s okay. It’s just when people come from a weird place …
Question: Like what?
Answer: … in terms of, you know, I think sometimes people don’t understand when they talk to actors about the movies they’ve seen, that they were in, that they didn’t like or whatever, you know, negative comments people make, it’s like you know it’s our job and we put a lot of our life into our jobs and, you know, every job good or bad requires us to, you know, spend a good couple of months on it and you know you have to take risks and like I said before you have to pay your rent or a mortgage or whatever, so it’s really easy to jump to conclusions and to judge people and it’s much harder to take a moment and think about the other side of things.
Question: Do you get used to the whole – I mean when you’re working on those kinds of films, there’s a very neat fan base. How do you cope with that?
Answer: I’m not exposed to it that much. I’m okay. I mean everyone would be going to comic book conventions and that type of stuff – I’m like – I’m like, ohh you now bugged out, or maybe get a better understanding of what it’s really like, I really have no idea.
Question: Are you involved in the next one?
Answer: Don’t know quite yet, but probably. I’ve heard things and they’re developing the script right now, and Phoenix is part of that script.
Question: . Would you miss Singer.
Answer: Oh I would, yes. I think he made those movies, both so memorable.
Question: Would the choice of director for a third film have a bearing on cast and whether returned. Or are you pretty much committed irrespective of who the director is?
Answer: Some people are irrespectively because of signed contracts, and some people can renegotiate. So I’m sure it has to do with a lot of different things. . .
Question: So let me ask you about Eulogy which came and went here. So what was it like – the experience of doing those and if you could do that kind of ensemble film is that something you’re trying to find a bit more of?
Answer: I’ve done a whole bunch of them. I mean they’re really fun to do and at the same time when – it doesn’t work out it’s frustrating, but I like them because, you know, you get to experiment, you get to take a lot more risks. They’re a very short shoot so it’s not like you spent six months of your life, you know, on something, like a month or a month or two or whatever, you know, it was a fun, weird ensemble cast about a crazy little character and it was fun.
Question: How would you describe that character?
Answer: That character is like – I liked her – I hadn’t really played that character before and you know, it was sort of surreal – it was like trying to – going to your girlfriend’s house – family, whatever, function and just stumbling across the most insane bunch of people and try to make sense of it all.
Question: Were you disappointed that the movie was – I mean that’s another one those films that people have never seen and that’s another one nobody every saw – about a week I think. Do you get used to it, or do you accept that when you’re doing a tiny film like that, that is the likely outcome?
Answer: I accept every choice that I make, none of my choices generally have been based on, you know, I’m going to make this move because I really want to be in a hit or something like that ..
Answer: … so my choices have to do with what I feel I want to play at that moment, or the characters I want to be surrounded by, or the director I really want to work with, so then it’s really irrelevant whether the movie works or not. I mean it’s a bonus if it does – it’s great – more people get to see it. But in the end my – you know – I get fulfilled by the experience of doing the job.
Question: Was it fun being dangerously sexy in Nip Tuck?
Answer: It was really fun. That character was insane.
Question: Those kinds of TV things are rare. Do you think that without cable there would be less and less of these kinds of risk-taking …
Answer: Yeah. I think it’s great that – you know – in the past I wouldn’t have turned to TV because I’m not a TV watcher and I wasn’t aware what was going on, but over the years, I was made aware by various people. No with TV don’t turn your nose up because there’s some really interesting stuff going on and they’ve been doing great stuff on television.
Question: You come back in – ?
Answer: Brian really wants me to come back for a couple of episodes and – you know – it all depends how it fits in with what I’m doing this year. You know, it depends on a bunch of stuff. I was just a little hesitant only because I felt that where else do you take the character after that reveal? What’s left to do – it would only be anticlimactic.