Model, Actress, Screenwriter, Director, Animal Rights Activist, UN Ambassador. These are all titles belonging to my pick for Spotlight of the week, the lovely and wildly undervalued and underused, Famke Janssen. Now that How To Get Away With Murder has finally aired the premiere episode for its highly anticipated sophomore season, of which Famke Janssen was a prominent guest star, week three of my Spotlight Series for Moviepilot.com will showcase the bold and idiosyncratic career of this former Bond Girl turned Mutant Super Hero.
Born Famke Beumer Janssen on November 4, 1964 (presumed) in Amstelveen, Netherlands, this model turned actress can only be described in her extensive career as one who really does march to the beat of her own drum. Moving to the United States when she was 19, Janssen signed with Elite Model Management and worked for some impressive companies such as Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, and Victoria's Secret.
In 1988, she filmed a commercial for Exclamation Perfume by Coty. In the early nineties, she would retire from her illustrious career as a model to seek out a new challenge: Becoming a Hollywood Star.
From The Catwalk to the Small Screen
Her mainstream exposure came during her many guest-starring roles on popular TV shows of the 1990's. Like many who rule the Hollywood scene today, she appeared on the cult classic series, the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation, with Patrick Stewart, who she would later co-star with, in 20th Century FOX's popular X-Men film franchise. In the series, she memorably portrayed an empathetic Metamorph named Kamala, with a strong desire to achieve peace and prosperity for her people, often thinking only of others, even when her own desires pulled her elsewhere. Due to how well she was received by audiences in the show, she was offered to reprise her role as Kamala for the next entry in the popular galactic franchise, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She turned it down, citing her interest to focus more on her film career.
Janssen's first major film was in a supporting role opposite Jeff Goldblum in the 1992 crime-drama, Fathers and Sons. Three years later, American film audiences would really start to pay attention to her with Pierce Brosnan's first outing as British Secret Service Agent, James Bond in Goldeneye.
The Pleasure is All Yours, Mr. Bond.
Famke Janssen's portrayal of femme fatale, Xenia Onatopp, will go down in history as one of the greatest movie villains of all time. She has consistently appeared on numerous lists featuring the best of the Bond Girls. Her character's "interesting" attribute of achieving orgasm when taking the life of another will follow her throughout the remainder of what I'm sure will be a long career in Hollywood. This role, like that of Michelle Pfeiffer's take on Catwoman for Batman Returns, will be the one, even when the eventual recasting takes place in the future of the Bond franchise, that people will look back on and say, "I liked this one, but Famke Janssen owned this role."
That she did.
The 1990's were a time of exploration for Famke Janssen, seeking out more intriguing roles that deterred her from the stereotypical casting she knew she would face following the success of Goldeneye. She appeared in many films during this time, often taking on roles that were in no way similar to one she had portrayed before. She starred opposite Scott Bakula in Lord Of Illusions, fought against typecasting with roles in City of Industry, Woody Allen's Celebrity, The Gingerbread Man, and Ted Damme's Monument Ave. opposite Denis Leary. Leary would later go on to compliment her acting skills during filming, saying he didn't even recognize her his first time on set because she was already deep in character.
She took on many horror film roles in the late nineties, taking part in movies like The Faculty, Deep Rising, and a remake of Vincent Price's House on Haunted Hill. During this time, she would also take a small supporting role in the cult classic poker film, Rounders, opposite Matt Damon.
We're Mutants, Jean. We Are Like You.
2000 witnessed the beginning of the trend for comic book adaptations with Bryan Singer's X-Men. Famke Janssen was cast as telepathic, voice of reason, Dr. Jean Grey. A role she was initially met with criticism for, with some fans of the franchise believing she didn't look enough like the red-headed superhero. Upon the release of the film, all those doubts (at least many of them) were cast aside. She returned to the role in 2003's X2: X-Men United, where she was presumed dead at the end of the film but returned from the ashes as the villainous Phoenix in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand.
And although The Phoenix was killed at the end of the third X-Men film, Janssen would reprise her role two more times in 2013's The Wolverine as a hallucination (or ghost?) caused by the suffering and guilt Wolverine has faced following her death.
Janssen did reprise the role one more time in 2014 for Bryan Singer's return to the popular comic book franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Although her scene in the film was incredibly brief, it was one of the most memorable the franchise has offered to date.
The character was recently recast with Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner taking on the teenage version of the character for X-Men: Apocalypse. Turner has stated that she hopes to emulate Janssen's portrayal while also hoping she can bring her own twist to the character.
"She's the Goddamn Hope Diamond of Transsexuals"
In 2004, Janssen joined the second season of the Ryan Murphy FX drama, Nip/Tuck. On the show, she portrayed devious life coach, Ava Moore. Her story arc on the show would include taboo subjects such as incest, sexual abuse, gender reassignment and teen suicide. But even with all her faults, in her own crazy manipulative way, she did change the lives of every person she touched, some even for the better. Janssen reprised her role in the final two episodes of the series, coming full circle to clean up the mess that began with her unhealthy relationship with Matt during season 2. The role also earned her Hollywood Life's Breakthrough Artist of the Year Award.
Mainstream Success to Indie Darling
In 2007, she starred in Turn The River, an Oscar-worthy film that garnered her the Special Recognition Best Actress Award at The Hamptons International Film Festival. She showed off her true abilities as an actress in this film, bringing audiences to tears with her portrayal of a down on her luck mother who would do anything to get her son back.
"I Will Find You and I Will Kill You"
2008 saw her star alongside Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace in the drama/thriller sleeper hit, Taken. She would return for both sequels of the action film in 2013 and 2015, ultimately following her trend of tragically dying in the third installment of major blockbuster franchises.
Her Own Story to Tell
In 2011, Janssen stepped behind the camera to direct her first feature film, Bringing Up Bobby, which she also wrote. The film stars Milla Jovovich as a Ukrainian immigrant supporting her young son, Bobby (played by Spencer List) by taking con jobs, manipulating the kindness of others, and stealing. Janssen shot the film in less than month and even though it did not become a huge success, it did give Janssen the opportunity to show the world another side of herself that she had rarely been able to express.
This is No Ordinary Fairy Tale
During the peak of the fairy tale big screen adaptations, Famke Janssen starred as the main villain, Muriel, in the 2013 horror/comedy Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. In this film, although she broke a rib doing it, Janssen portrayed a murderous witch who is hellbent on becoming invulnerable through the sacrifice and consumption of children. She starred alongside Jeremy Renner and fellow Bond Girl, Gemma Arterton.
Welcome to Hemlock Grove, DrIvE Carefully...
Since 2013, Janssen has starred in the Netflix Original Series, Hemlock Grove. In this horror show, based on the book by Brian McGreevy and produced by gore master, Eli Roth, Janssen portrays the Godfrey family matriarch, Olivia, a woman who has been alive and torturing people for a very, very long time. She's due to appear in the final season of the show when it premieres on Netflix on October 23, 2015.
Olivia Godfrey is certainly a woman to be feared. She uses blackmail, seduction, and even cold-blooded murder, to get what she wants. She may not be what one would typically define as a “good mother” but if you ask her, she’s gone above and beyond for her emotionally crippled children. The character, always meant to showcase the fake side of Hollywood starlets, was initially met with criticism due to the unknown accent Janssen gave her. The accent, to the surprise of many fans, was written out of the show during season 2.
In 2015, Famke Janssen joined the cast of How To Get Away With Murder for its sophomore season. Here she takes on the role of revered defense attorney and old friend of Viola Davis' Annalise Keating, Eve Rothlow. To avoid spoilers (and the fact that only one episode has aired) I won't go into much detail about Janssen’s first episode on the series, but I will strongly encourage you readers, to check it out. It is well worth the watch. Not just this episode, the entire show is truly fantastic.
Throughout her illustrious career, Famke Janssen has fought as hard as she could, against being typecast in unchallenging roles and against the insufferable treatment of female actors in Hollywood. Her determination to constantly seek out new opportunities and break the standards of how actresses of a certain age are treated is why, without a doubt, I know that Famke Janssen will continue to surprise her fans and bring even more joy to the homes and theaters of audiences all over the world.
And that is why Famke Janssen is my pick for Spotlight of the week.