Famke Janssen is an actor we’ve followed for years after making her mark on the Bond and X-Men franchises. We were fortunate enough to speak with her some years back at the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival where she screened her directorial debut, Bringing Up Bobby (click these links to check out our written and video interviews). Janssen’s original passion has and continues to be writing, but she’s kept very busy with acting. These days, there’s no sign of things slowing down.
This year, she stars alongside Ron Perlman in the Michael Caton-Jones-directed crime drama, Asher. The film tells the story of an aging hitman whose last job goes sideways, forcing him to redeem himself. Janssen plays Sophie, a ballet instructor, who gets him out of his routine. We caught up with the Dutch-born actress to discuss the staggering level of emotion she brought to the role which, as we suspected, came from very personal experiences. Enjoy our time with Famke!
GoSeeTalk: The story of an aging hitman notwithstanding, the themes of this story were very universal. What was the toughest on your character – and probably the audience – was dealing with the fact that someday we’ll have to take care of an ailing parent. But what you brought to the screen was on a level beyond acting; it was so raw and real. Tell us about that.
Famke Janssen: Recently, I lost my acing coach whom I had worked with for 30 years. I had a very close relationship with him after all that time. He had dementia, and so I got a very close, first-hand look at what this disease does to people. So this character was very easy for me to get into. Well, not easy, but relatable. We lost him about two months after we finished filming. But that aspect is actually what really brought me to this part, and made me really want to play it.
For both you and Asher, your chance meeting really gets you both out of your routines and your comfort zones. Is there a special experience in your career that you look back to that helped you turn a corner, changed you for the better and really helped you grow?
Those experiences come and go at different times, and I’ve been fortunate to have a great number of them, so I can’t really point back to once instance. Well, I guess Goldeneye would one big one, for sure. Talk about being a shy character and then having to play a character like Xenia Onatopp! That was really very challenging for me, but once you do something like that, and get into it, it’s so freeing. There have been so many over the years and over 40 films that it’s hard to remember. But it’s the profound experiences that stay with you.
You had a funny little line in a dinner scene with Ron Perlman where you say that “I get rude when I’m nervous.” I thought it was such a revealing line, especially when you’re really getting to know Asher for the first time. I wonder, is there any truth to that in how you brought more of yourself into this role?
Hmm. Interesting question. I think that sometimes people may have said in the past that I seem cold when it really came from being shy. I think that is something you deal with when you’re younger, and so, for me, thankfully, [laughs] I’d like to think that I have grown past that inability to hide my shyness.
In the film, Perlman’s character, Asher, is having a discussion with
Peter Facinelli about that the fact that there’s no retirement home for hitmen. So do you think there’s home for retired Bond girls? Xenia, of course, would not be there.
[Laughs] No, she definitely wouldn’t be there. I think there is a very big retirement home for Bond girls, and the only reason I’m saying that is, not to be disrespectful toward other women who have played in Bond movies, but when I was cast in Goldeneye, people would ask, “aren’t you afraid to take a part in a Bond movie? Look at all the other women who played one before you.” And they wouldn’t even say “women,” they would say “Bond girls” in a derogatory way.
But I would say “I can’t compare myself to other women and I don’t know what their experiences were like. Maybe they weren’t even interested in pursuing a career. I don’t know. All I can focus on is what I want to get out of what I’m doing.”
Clearly there must be a very big home judging by how people talk about taking that kind of role is a very “end of the line” kind of thing to do to your career, but Xenia Onatopp and I are very different and here we are today talking, still, about acting. Well, me at least. She’s probably still stuck in that tree. [Laughs]
Hey, hey, hey. Spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet!
Let’s talk globally about how you approach and commit to a role. In a later scene with Ron Perlman, you’re talking about offing someone, and discussing different methods to do so. It almost comes across as ad-libbed. Do you like to take roles where you can inform your character, and go off-script, of do you like to do exactly what’s on the page?
It really depends on what director you work with to know if anyone is OK with ad-libbing. That scene you reference, and the movie as a whole, was not one where that was encouraged. We did run-throughs and rehearsals to see how the flow of the material worked between us, but we had to stick pretty close to the script.
When we last spoke, you talked about writing being your true passion. Creatively, writing and directing Bringing Up Bobby was a tremendous step forward for you. How have things progressed since then? The film industry is becoming increasingly woman-forward, so is it getting easier to make things happen now?
Not really. I’ve tried so hard for the last five years to get projects off the ground, but I feel like I’m this one-woman show with no support. Still, I’m really thrilled that the world, in the meanwhile, has caught up with, and is talking about opportunities for women being there and not being there, and what we have to do collectively to change that. So the dialog is there, and things are changing, and hopefully I can focus on that now.
For this last one, let’s go out on a fun question.
Yes! Let’s do it!
Ok…who would win in a fight: Jean Grey or Hellboy?
Hmm…well, are we talking about Jean Grey or Phoenix? Does it have to be Jean Grey?
It can be whoever you want.
Then it would be Phoenix. And against Hellboy, there’s no question, she would win. No doubt in my mind.
Considering the devastation she/you laid in X-Men: The Last Stand, I tend to agree with you. But Hellboy would put up a fight. I mean, he is born of fire, so he’s go that going for him.
Yeah, it’s still going to be Phoenix. [Laughs]
Thanks to Famke Janssen for her time. Momentum Pictures released the action film Asher in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on December 7, 2018. The film stars Ron Perlman, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Facinelli, Jacqueline Bisset and was directed by Michael Caton-Jones from a script written by Jay Zaretsky.
Asher (Ron Perlman) is a former Mossad agent turned gun for hire, living an austere life in an ever-changing Brooklyn. Approaching the end of his career, he breaks the oath he took as a young man when he meets Sophie (Famke Janssen) on a hit gone wrong. In order to have love in his life before it’s too late, he must kill the man he was, for a chance at becoming the man he wants to be.