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Famke Janssen    

on making DEEP RISING and other films

   interview by Douglas Eby

In DEEP RISING she plays one of the few survivors left on board a luxury liner after it is attacked by a swarm of deadly deep-sea creatures, and Famke Janssen (CITY OF INDUSTRY; LORD OF ILLUSIONS) agrees with director Steve Sommers about her character being "feminine, sexy, tough and as smart and strong as any of the guys."

Janssen finds her to be one of the kind of characters that are "nice to play, and even if they weren't written like that, I would always try to bring some of those elements to the character. But that's definitely what we we're going after, because there's a lot of guys in the movie; it's all guys and me. So it was very important that I wasn't going to be like the 'poor pathetic female' running around after all of them, needing to be protected by them.

"But also, I don't like when in movies you have these females that all of a sudden become these super-humans. I just wanted to make sure there was a good balance. You still want to keep the characters you play feminine, but at the same time you want to give them strength and intelligence."

But, Janssen notes, Trillian is unlike her famed role in the latest James Bond adventure: "She's nothing like that. Trillian is softer. And Xenia in GOLDENEYE wasn't a real character, so there's a lot of qualities I didn't have to give her, because it was sort of a fantasy part, a cartoon character.

"But this one is realistic, so that's why at times I had to make her scared, when a normal human being would have been scared. And of course, Xenia didn't really have those fears. Actually, it was really fun to play Xenia just because once you get into that realm of fantasy, there's no limitations of what you can do as an actor. No place that is too far to go.

"Of course, when you start playing the realistic characters, all of a sudden you have restrictions you have to work within. I like freedom, personally."

Director Steve Sommers found her to be a "like the 'girl next door'; she's klutzy and fun, and really sweet" and Janssen laughs at the description, especially thinking of GOLDENEYE: "I'm nothing like the girl next door in that, am I? But in my everyday life, I am klutzy; I'm bruised from just walking around. Getting out of bed, I bang into things. So those were the qualities I brought to Trillian. I thought that would be fun, and I hadn't done it. But that's very much part of me. I'm not as sophisticated and suave as Xenia was."

Janssen wants to expand her range as an actor, and has a dream of playing Anna Karenina, and other deep, complex characters, such as found in the work of Tolstoy: "That is definitely a drive. I think there's a real lack of good female characters in film today. You do the best with what you have, and you try to bring certain qualities to the different characters that you play, but at some point I really want to play a very complicated character, that I haven't been able to play.

"The character, Katie O'Connor, I just played in a movie Ted Demme directed that I just finished (it's untitled; it was called NOOSE before) is another really interesting character. We shot it in Boston, and they're supposed to be from this part of Boston called Charlestown that's really poor.

"They're all Irish-Americans, and there's a lot of violence, petty theft, car stealing going on and all that, and my character in it is very torn. I think because she's born into this world, and there's no way out, she tries to numb herself with a lot of alcohol and drugs and things. They're in a lot of pain, you can tell, but she's very fun too. And a little more of a crazy character, which I like." She also recently finished working on the film GINGERBREAD MAN, and Janssen notes "I played this Southern drunk woman. I like to play characters that are not as simple."

Asked about her take on the popularity of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, Janssen says she's never seen the show, but assumes "she's the kind of woman who takes charge, and that's probably what women like about her."

She feels that she's still at the point in her career where "I play characters that weren't completely defined when they were written, and I'm trying to make the best out of them. But I hope to get to a point where I get to play this character that is already so well-written, and then on top of that, I can add to it. But it's difficult, because still the majority of writers are males, and when it comes to female characters they're always at a loss a little bit."

For DEEP RISING and the role of Trillian, she and writer-director Sommers "worked really hard on making sure that this was not just an action hero who happens to be female," Janssen says. "We've seen it in movies before, and we wanted to make her much more human, and more feminine, and have vulnerable qualities as well as being strong when it was time to be strong. And the best thing that Steve did, I think, for the movie was he brought a sense of humor to it, and allowed everybody else to. And you have to do that in those kinds of movies. They're sort of unrealistic in themselves; how many times do you encounter a gigantic octopus in life?"

In DEEP RISING, Janssen and other actors had to imagine the creatures they were battling, that were to be added later. It was an experience she'd had on LORD OF ILLUSIONS: "You just have to rely on your director to say what you do, or 'go bigger' because the thing's really scary. And it's hard, because you always think, 'Wait a minute. The audience needs to respond, not me. If I respond that much, there's nothing left for the audience to do. So that's always a struggle, and you never know whether you succeeded or not until it's on the screen, and you see the whole thing put together." Asked if she was satisfied with her work in LORD OF ILLUSIONS, Janssen admits "I'm rarely satisfied with anything I do. I have problems with that movie, and with my character in the movie."

Her character, the jewel thief Trillian, in DEEP RISING gave her a chance to try some different things, Janssen says: "I always try something new for every character I play, and Trillian I did make a little more klutzy and 'girl next door' type of thing, and it's not the way I've been seen before, so that was kind of a challenge.

"Nobody thought I had that quality, other than the people in my private life. And there's the challenge of the creature that you can't see, and trying to make it realistic when it isn't realistic. And all the other challenges that come with everyday filmmaking." The part was also physically demanding, requiring her to be wet, even under water, much of the time, and she rides on a jet-ski.

Her characters, such as Xenia Onatopp in GOLDENEYE, have used weapons, but Janssen points out that "in this particular part, Trillian wasn't as good with all the weapons as Xenia. For Xenia, I really trained, and took a fake AK-47 home with me, and practiced loading it and all that kind of stuff, so I was really familiar with it.

"And in this case, I didn't do anything, so that by the time I was on screen with this thing, I was as scared of it as I was supposed to be. I don't like guns. I think they're extremely dangerous. I don't think they should be around, because something can go wrong so easily. I wonder sometimes, if you get too familiar with them, if that's not even more dangerous."

Born in Holland, and with an ability to speak four languages, Janssen is still concentrating on making films in the U.S. for now, though she recently did an English production, but still didn't use another language: "I just used different dialects in it. I'd love to shoot films in Europe, actually. I've just been pursuing my American acting career for the last couple of years.

"Still everyday I wake up and I can't believe the last two years of my life, because I've been able to play a woman from the South, a woman from Charlestown in Boston, an L.A. local in CITY OF INDUSTRY, I mean all these parts. Especially me; I'm European, and I think every actress in America is dying to play these different characters with different dialects, that are very American people."

A few years ago she wrote a script, but hasn't done anything with yet, and has directed a short film, but as far as pursuing those interests more, Janssen says "I want to do that in the future, it's just that at the moment I'm so busy acting, it's difficult to combine anything, and I kind of want to focus on one thing right now."

Trillian, Janssen declares, is "probably the most light-hearted character I've ever played. All my other characters I've made deeper, more complicated, and I think it was really nice for me, for my own personal life, because I'm not that light-hearted.

"I think you learn something from every single character, and I kind of learned that from her. Sometimes it's just important to have fun, and not worry about everything too much. That's a lesson we all know, it's just harder to apply to your own life sometimes."

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 [originally published in Cinefantastique magazine]

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   related Talent Development Resources pages:

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more interviews       |    resumé of Douglas Eby

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