Sunday, August 27, 2000
Los Angeles Famke Janssen has been a lusty Bond villainess who crushes a man to death with her thighs. She's played a wallflowerish teacher transformed into a sultry vamp by an alien parasite. Most recently, she was a mutant who could hurl objects with her mind.
Yet Janssen doesn't think much of that whole sci-fi-fantasy-action species of film.
"I don't even like that genre," said Janssen, who plays the telekinetic mutant Jean Grey in "X-men" and stars in the bawdy romance "Love & Sex." "It's a weird thing. For whatever reason, that's what I get asked to do."
Janssen's carnal performance as Xenia Onatopp in the James Bond movie "GoldenEye" undoubtedly explains some of the action-adventure offers. The former model's striking dark looks don't hurt, either. And her stately frame -- an inch under 6 feet -- may earn points with action filmmakers looking for imposing characters.
Her other sci-fi and fantasy credits include last year's "House on Haunted Hill," "Deep Rising" and "Lord of Illusions," plus an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" opposite "X-men" co-star Patrick Stewart.
Janssen, 34, a Netherlands native who has lived in the United States since the mid-1980s, doesn't bemoan the typecasting that has landed her such roles. She figures the higher profile of those movies, particularly "GoldenEye," gives her clout to pick up juicier parts in smaller films, including a spurned lover who exacted cruel revenge in Woody Allen's "Celebrity."
She was already committed to "GoldenEye" by the time Janssen saw the script and discovered what a lascivious, frenzied character she had signed on to play.
"But I had no choice," she said in an interview over breakfast at a Los Angeles cafe. "I mean, my career was nowhere at that point. It wasn't like, 'Oh, my God, I have so much to lose, I really can't do this.' I figured I have nothing to lose. In the worst case, I go down in history as another Bond girl who's never gone anywhere."
Shades of Julia and Sandra
Janssen worked hard to inject Xenia Onatopp with verve and character. The effort paid off. Xenia got Janssen noticed, and more film offers came in.
"I had some choices for the first time in my life. Not a lot, but some," Janssen said. "But every single thing that came my way I turned down because it was all things that would have taken me into that B-movie genre, where they put you on a billboard with a gun, and they make some money, and the movie probably would go straight to video.
"I didn't want that. I've always wanted longevity in this business. I always wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted to get a career that was varied."
Janssen mixed things up between smaller features and big-budget films. After "GoldenEye," she did the gritty drama "City of Industry." Along with more commercial features, she had roles in "Rounders," "Monument Ave." and Robert Altman's "The Gingerbread Man."
Janssen's roles in "GoldenEye" and "Celebrity" caught the eye of "Love & Sex" writer-director Valerie Breiman.
"She was so good as this funny, nasty character in 'GoldenEye,"' Breiman said. "I'd never seen her in anything else until 'Celebrity.' That was it. I decided she was going to be Kate, no matter what."
Based on Breiman's love life, the movie traces the messy amorous entanglements of Kate Wells (Janssen), who tries to stay best friends with ex-lover Adam (Jon Favreau).
Janssen said she had a similar best-friend relationship for 11 years with her husband. The marriage broke up last year, but they remain close friends, she said.
Kate is a gangly, klutzy beauty with a ribald romantic history that includes losing her virginity to her high-school French teacher and having loud sex in a restaurant men's room.
"I loved how unapologetic this woman was about her sex life, love life, messy life in general," Janssen said. "It was very refreshing. She had a great sense of humor. She's a goofball. She's a lot of things that I really am in life. But it's not the way people have seen me before."
Breiman tailored the script to Janssen and Favreau's attributes, with Kate mocking Adam for his "abnormally large head" and Adam kidding Kate over her size-11 feet.
Janssen delivers a fiery, flaky performance, handling the movie's comic moments and dramatic turns with endearing relish.
"Famke has been unfairly typecast in other kinds of movies," Breiman said. "But every scene in 'Love & Sex,' the proof is there. ... It's just a matter of people being smart enough to put her in these kinds of movies. I think she's Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock and more."
A hit with the audience at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Love & Sex" was picked up by Lions Gate Films.
Looking to write
Janssen and her co-star quickly teamed up again for "Made," written and directed by Favreau, which is due out next year. She plays a single mother who works as a stripper.
Other than a likely "X-men" sequel, Janssen has not signed for other movies, looking forward to some time off. She has been promoting "X-men" and "Love & Sex" in the United States, Japan and Europe, including a trip home to Amsterdam for an "X-men" premiere in September.
Janssen, who studied writing at Columbia University, is also trying to option rights to a book for which she hopes to write the screenplay.
While she would like to stick with smaller films, she knows she has to mix in bigger ones.
"If you don't do that, first of all, you make no money and you can't afford your own rent," Janssen said. "Second of all, this business is not that forgiving. Unless you appear in a movie once in a while that is a box-office hit, you're out of the picture. And you don't even get the parts you want anymore in the smaller films."