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Famke Janssen

November 4th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Famke Beumer was born November 5, 1965 in Amstelveen, part of metropolitan Amsterdam in North Holland. Both her sisters – one older, one younger – are blonde haired and blue eyed, and as a hazel eyed brunette who would grow to 5’11” in height, Beumer had little aspiration to enter the performing arts. As a teenager, she was enrolled in the University of Amsterdam majoring in economics, an experience she later referred to as “the stupidest idea I ever had.” Beumer was approached on the street by a man who introduced himself as a talent scout for a modeling agency. Realizing economics was not her passion and that the modeling agency was actually legit, Beumer dropped out of school and spent the next year traveling Europe on photo shoots.

Settling in New York at age 19 – and changing her name to Famke Janssen – she began thinking about a career in acting. “I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I was a model before, and I knew a lot of models had tried it and they all had this big stigma, like oh, the model turned actress, and they can’t do it … And I thought I’ll go about it a little bit differently than most of them.” Janssen quit modeling in 1988 and spent four years at Columbia University, completing a fine arts degree in creative writing and literature, and studying acting in a workshop instructed by Harold Guskin. Janssen recalls, “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 modeling career, so that I didn’t have to deal with that stigma so much.”

Moving to Los Angeles, Janssen’s screen debut came in 1992 with a part in the virtually unseen thriller Fathers & Sons starring Jeff Goldblum. She made a memorable appearance that year on Star Trek: The Next Generation playing an otherworldly “metamorph” encouraged to choose between servitude and her own free will. Guest spots on The Untouchables and Melrose Place followed, as did a starring role in the Fox TV movie Model By Day, in which Janssen played a super acrobatic vigilante named Lady X by night … and a model by day. Winning the female lead in a feature film – Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions – positioned Janssen for the break of her career: the role of Russian assassin Xenia Onatopp in the 1995 relaunch of the James Bond franchise, Goldeneye. Onatopp’s villainous feature was crushing men between her thighs.

Janssen recalls, “I had no idea if that was going to be the last thing I ever did, and I would have gone down in history as the Bond girl that never went anywhere, like everyone else. I was very much reminded by every single press person that that was going to happen to me. But I went with it, I went with it all the way. And it actually made everything possible for me. All these doors opened that would never have been opened.” Resisting job offers that catered to her physical skills, Janssen took a year off and appeared opposite Harvey Keitel in the gritty crime thriller City of Industry. 1998 then saw eight films featuring Janssen hit screens. She played an alcoholic Southern wife for director Robert Altman in The Gingerbread Man, a Gotham poker ace in Rounders, a blue collared Bostonian in Monument Avenue and a Manhattan publicist in Woody Allen’s Celebrity.

Janssen spent 21 days starring with Jon Favreau in the indie romantic comedy Love & Sex before transitioning into six months of work as telepathic mutant Jean Grey in X-Men, both of which opened in 2000. Love & Sex remains a favorite of Janssen’s. “I loved how unapologetic this woman was about her sex life, love life, messy life in general. 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.” Returning as Jean Grey for X2 (2003) and X3 (2006), Janssen also joined the cast of Nip/Tuck for nine episodes in 2004, playing a life coach who seduces Julian McMahon’s teenaged son, and is later revealed to be a transsexual. She’s starred in thrillers opposite Michael Douglas (Don’t Say A Word) and Robert DeNiro (Hide and Seek) and was part of the comic ensemble for director David Wain in The Ten.

In 2007, Janssen received the best critical notices of her career, playing a pool hustler who reconciles with her with adolescent son in Turn the River, the directorial debut of actor Chris Eigeman. Research into prostitution and corruption she conducted following her work in Taken – one of three films featuring Janssen set for release in 2008 – led to the United Nations naming her a Goodwill Ambassador for Integrity. Interviewed in 2006 about her tendency to be cast as super women, the actress commented, “I’m in a business where 99 percent of casting is typecasting and people compartmentalize me into a specific area – maybe as a powerful alien, because they don’t know where to put me – but it’s up to me to fight against it. I don’t want to be typecast, that’s my big mission in life and it makes it a harder path in this business for me.”

Tags: United Federation of Character Actors

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 christian // Nov 8, 2008 at 11:16 am

    I sat next to her at an outdoor cafe once as her little dog kept nipping at my feet. She was beautiful and apologetic. No need to be sorry!

  • 2 Daniel // Nov 12, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    As I’m getting excited for Bond this Friday, this is a really great look back on one of the last best Bond villains!

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Nov 12, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Christian: Several writers who interviewed Janssen for stories I read couldn’t help but comment on her dog, which she not only brings with her on location, but sews clothes for. Thanks for letting my readers know that she is not a crazy dog lady, but very down to earth.

    Daniel: We have come so far as a nation where actresses who appear in James Bond movies are no longer relegated to oblivion. Famke Janssen was a pioneer in this department. Personally, it’s always a pleasure to see a super attractive person who can be really funny. Janssen has a loaded toolbox. Thanks for commenting!

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