Famke Janssen Turns a Corner
by Paul Fischer
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Beautiful Famke Janssen goes from an X-man to a pool hustler in her latest film, Turn the River. As she revealed to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview, her goal at this stage of her career is to find lead, meaty roles and she’s excited about what the future has in store for her.
PF: Can you tell me first of all, what was the attraction of Turn the River for you?
FJ: Well, actually, the way this came about is that Chris Eigeman, who wrote and directed the film, we met when he was an actor on a film called The Treatment, with Ian Holm. And so we became good friends on the film. And he ended up writing this film, basically, for me, after our experience of working together. And so that’s how—you know, one night at dinner he presented this to me. And I was extremely flattered. So that’s how the whole thing came about.
PF: Did you have input into the development of the character?
FJ: Always. [LAUGHTER] I mean, I think that’s always the part of an actor, when you come in. I mean, it’s written by somebody, and then it’s still—you need to breathe life in it, in order to create this person. Actually become this being.
PF: Do you feel that it’s important for you to identify with a character under those kinds of circumstances? Do you identify with her at all?
FJ: Of course. I identify with every character that I play. It’s really important to me, because it’s me, in the end, on the screen and if I don’t identify, the audience won’t identify. And so as long as I understand the emotional journey of the character, that she goes through, that’s all that’s important. Whether the details are the same as the details were in my life— that’s irrelevant. I mean, nobody else’s life is ever like one’s own life, anyway. So that’s never what it’s about. But that I understand the emotional journey? Absolutely. And in this case, it’s a really great emotional journey to go through, because it’s a woman who has lost custody of her kid a long time ago. And when that happened, when she had to give up her kid, part of her broke inside. A very big part of her broke inside. And so it’s playing this extremely damaged, emotionally damaged person, who has been shut off from the world in many ways. And then sort of creating this—having a new chance of trying to create this relationship with her son. And then all that set against the background of the pool world is kind of fun.
PF: Did you do a lot of research on those elements of the movie? On the pool aspect?
FJ: Oh, are you kidding me? I had to learn to play pool. Not just learn to play pool like a normal person. I had to play pool like a professional pool hustler. So yeah, that was—the majority of my time and research and energy went into playing pool, and learning how to play pool, and doing the specific shots, and all of that.
PF: Are you now a pool aficionado?
FJ: I wouldn’t go that far. But I did every shot in the movie by myself. And you can see it, too, in the film. There’s no trickery.
PF: Have you been watching other movies on pool hustling, like The Hustler, for example, or any of those?
FJ: The Hustler or Color of Money? I watched both of them just to see. But, I mean, this is such a different movie in the end. I think the pool gets portrayed differently. And also, the fact that really, this is not a movie about pool. It’s a movie about a mother-son relationship set against the background of the pool world.
PF: Can you identify with the maternal aspects of this? I mean, could you dig deep into your maternal instincts to play a mother in this movie?
FJ: Yeah of course I could. I don’t think you have to be a mother in order to—you don’t have to be a drug addict in order to know how to play one, or an alcoholic in order to know how to play one. We’re actors. That’s what we do. But maternal instincts—you know, we all have them. Whether or not we have kids, we have maternal instincts. I really believe that. And I have very maternal instincts towards my dog, and towards my nieces. [LAUGHTER] I just never had—why are you laughing?
PF: Because I was once nipped by your dog.
FJ: Right, so you don’t understand my maternal instincts toward my dog? [LAUGHTER] I’m sure other people’s kids have puked on you or something, and they would still say I have maternal instincts toward my kid. [LAUGHTER] And would you laugh then, too?
PF: I don’t know. It depends on the person.
PF: You’ve done big Hollywood movies, and you’ve done these small independent films. What do you find the most challenging for you at this point in your career?
FJ: You mean, between the studio or the independents?
PF: Yeah. I mean, how hard it is for you to find roles that really get your juices flowing?
FJ: You know, I think that I just look at every single opportunity that comes my way. And look at it—you know, how does this fit into what I’ve done so far? Is this challenging on some level to me to do? And studio or independent, that part doesn’t matter so much to me. The only thing that, in my experience, is that I’ve gotten to play the more interesting, challenging parts in actually the independent versus the studio films. But without the studio films, I couldn’t even be in the independents. Because no one would finance a movie in my name if it wasn’t for X-Men or those types of films. But in terms of the roles, it’s tricky to find really good characters. And that’s why it’s extremely flattering when somebody creates one for you, in the case of Turn the River. And I will grab every single opportunity I can now to actually be carrying a film, as opposed to supporting it, which I’ve done for the majority of my career purposefully, to get away from being typecast, and working really hard on creating different types of characters in different types of movies. But right now, I feel I’ve worked so hard, I should be able to be a lead in a film once in a while, too. And so in Turn the River, I’m the lead. In 100 Feet, a movie that’s coming—I don’t know exactly when it’s coming out. I just saw it for the first time .
PF: What is that?
FJ: It’s called 100 Feet. I play a woman named Marnie, who is under house arrest with an ankle bracelet, and she can’t move within 100 feet parameter. That’s why it’s called 100 Feet. And she just came out of jail, and is serving the remaining part of her sentence in her house. She was in jail because she killed her own husband out of self defense. He was a cop. His best friend, a cop, Bobby Cannavale, puts her in the house. And then all hell breaks loose, because the house appears to be haunted by the dead husband. And so that’s another film I carry entirely on my own shoulders. I think there may not have been a frame I wasn’t in that film. It was a lot of pressure, and a lot of hard work. But it was interesting. And those are—not that I’m attracted to those particular types of movies. But I am not going to turn down, at this point in time, an opportunity to be the lead in a film.
PF: Have you signed up for anything else, then?
FJ: No, I have a film that’s coming out in September called Taken with Liam Neeson, where we play ex-husband and wife, and we have a child that’s abducted and taken into a prostitution ring. Then I have a friend called Kiddie Ride with James Gandolfini. That was just finished in January-February, we shot it. And that’s coming out.
PF: Who do you play in that?
FJ: We play—we’re all from Jersey, and it’s a three character piece. The other guy and I have a son together. Gandolfini and I have always had a thing, flirtation with one another, but never—you know, for various reasons—because there’s a big secret between these three characters—nobody could act on it. And that’s sort of what the story is about. But then things change drastically, dramatically throughout the story. It’s a really beautiful character-driven piece.
PF: Do we see you with a Jersey accent in that?
PF: And I take it you weren’t involved or weren’t asked to be a part of the Wolverine movie.
FJ: No, ecause if I would have appeared, or any other X-Men would have appeared in it from the X-Men movie, it would become another X-Men movie. And the whole point was, they wanted to make a Wolverine movie. So, no.
PF: Okay. Well, is there anything else that you have ambitions to do, at this point? Do you—like, for example, like to write or direct, yourself?
FJ: Sure, I would love to. You know, we’ll see. I’ve been extremely busy in the last years, with my acting career. But we’ll see what happens.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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