airdate May 6, 2008
Known for her role as a Bond Girl in GoldenEye and her turns in Rounders and the X-Men franchise, Famke Janssen also had a memorable recurring role in FX's hit Nip/Tuck. Before pursuing acting, Janssen was a successful model in her native Holland and in the U.S. and studied at Columbia University. She recently took acting honors for her performance in Turn the River and has several more films on tap. The multilingual actress also provides the Dutch-language narration for the Disney parks' Studio Tram Tour.
Full Interview. (10:04)
Tavis: Famke Janssen is a talented actress whose main notable films include the "X-Men" series, "Rounders," and "Golden Eye." Her latest project is called "Turn the River," in which she plays a pool hustler in New York City. The film opens in select cities this weekend. Here now, a scene from "Turn the River."
Tavis: So a scene with you and your son in Central Park, and that scene is about, now, what?
Famke Janssen: Right, good spot noticing.
Tavis: Yeah, it's in Central Park, yeah. Know that park anywhere.
Tavis: That scene is?
Janssen: That scene is from the movie. The film is about I play a mother of a 10-year-old son who - and I've lost custody of the kid a long time ago, and without anybody knowing we write each other letters and we see each other occasionally. When I -
Tavis: Even though you're not supposed to.
Janssen: We're not supposed to at all.
Tavis: Yeah, so you were sneaking in the park.
Janssen: Sneaking in the parks, yeah. Letter sneaking and seeing each other, whatever. And then I find out his arm is broken and my ex-husband is probably behind it, so I frantically try to hustle enough money in pool games to get passports to get him out of the country, and myself. And that's how she makes her living, Kailey; she's a professional pool hustler. And yes, I had to learn to play pool for it.
Tavis: I was about to ask you. So you did all these stunts yourself?
Tavis: So you could take me right now?
Janssen: Yes, I probably could. (Laughter) There was no faking it, I played everything myself. I did every shot. And you see it.
Tavis: I see that, yeah. I saw this last night, and every time I see a movie about being hustled - I will tell the story one day in detail later - the first person who ever hustled me in pool was a guy named Michael Jordan.
Janssen: Oh. (Laughs)
Tavis: I had no idea he could play.
Janssen: You should have known better.
Tavis: And he took all my money. I know better now, yeah. Had you played pool before?
Janssen: No, I had to learn specifically for the movie, I was -
Tavis: Did you like the game, or?
Janssen: I love the game. There was a lot of pressure on me to make sure that I was believable in the part and not just -
Tavis: At the end of this movie, they -
Janssen: You're going to give it away? Don't give it away.
Tavis: No, I don't give it away, but the shot you make is pretty amazing.
Janssen: Yes, that's what I thought to.
Tavis: No, I'm not going to say what it is.
Janssen: Can I tell you what's more amazing?
Janssen: Guess how many takes it took.
Tavis: Okay, let me guess. You're going to lie and tell me you did it - you're going to lie and say, "I did it in one take."
Janssen: I did it in the first take. (Laughter) And there were bets going on all against me. Nobody wanted to take one, because nobody believed I was ever going to make that shot. They were thinking we're going to spend the rest of the day here with her standing, like. She's going to do it. First take, I got it. I couldn't believe it, but at least I stayed in character. Nobody else did - I stayed in character.
Tavis: I was about to ask, so when you're on a set and you have this impossible shot to make and you nail it on the first take, the director says what?
Janssen: He screamed. I think you can hear him on the sound. Yeah, on the soundtrack, screaming.
Tavis: So does he make you do this again?
Janssen: Yes, four times. Now, I remember making it two out of four. My pool instructor said I made it three out of four, so I'll take that. Fine, I'll take it - great.
Tavis: Yeah, wow. (Laughs) When you saw this - I'm trying to - when you saw this script, what was it about it that made you want to do this because you knew you had to do this pool thing?
Janssen: Well, yeah, but that was - there's actually sort of a back story. Chris Eigerman, who wrote and directed it, he's an actor, and we worked together on a movie called "The Treatment" a couple of years ago, about three, four years ago, with Ian Holm, and we became friends. And he then ended up writing this basically for me, never telling me he was doing that.
And one night we're having dinner and he presents this script to me and he goes here, for you. And so I started reading it, thinking maybe he'll - there's, like, a little bit part as a waitress somewhere or something, but no, the lead in the film, and nothing at all what I've played or who I really am or anything like that. So it was an extreme challenge as an actor, which is what you're always looking for to play.
Tavis: You weren't just the lead in it. I was stumbling trying to get that question out because what I wanted to get at was that you're, like, in every scene.
Janssen: I'm in every scene, practically, of this film, yeah.
Tavis: You're, like, in every scene, yeah. So that's a lot to carry.
Janssen: It's a lot to carry, yeah. And especially with a rug on your head, because that's - (laughter). Took it off. That's what I have. I swear, I do, because we tried - I tried to make myself look as terrible as I could in the film, because she is a woman who lives out of a pickup truck, basically, hustling pool games.
So my hair was really long still, and then I just found this hairpiece to put on top of it, and that's what I have. The rug is what I called it, the rug. That was - are we going to look (unintelligible)?
Tavis: Over here, Jonathan. We all feel so bad for Famke; she just couldn't make herself look bad on camera. Just couldn't do it, could she?
Janssen: I did not mean it like that.
Tavis: Couldn't make yourself look bad on camera. Your background, you're from where?
Tavis: From Holland, yeah. How does one from Holland -
Janssen: We take the boat. (Laughter) Back in those days we took the boat and we made it to New York.
Tavis: So you knew I was going to ask - you've been asked that before, obviously.
Janssen: No, no, no, no, I just made that up.
Tavis: But acting, how does the acting bite you in Holland?
Janssen: Oh, the acting thing?
Janssen: No, actually, the acting thing didn't start till I came to the States. That's when I got the bug. When I lived in Holland, my dreams were this big. When I came to the States, I was, like, oh, wow, everybody dreams big here - me too. (Laughter) And so I just started dreaming big. But that never occurred to me when I was in Holland.
Tavis: When did you know that you, like, were turned on by the acting thing and all that?
Janssen: 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. So that kind of made me really worried about it. And I thought I'll go about it a little bit differently than most of them.
I went back to school, I went to Columbia University in New York and I studied, thinking that that separation, those four years that I was out, people would forget what I'd done. And of course, my first audition, I walk in, they're like oh, yeah, you're a model, right? Okay, there goes four years of Columbia. (Laughter)
Tavis: Was there a moment when, or has that moment not yet even arrived, where you knew or you know that you've gotten over that hurdle, that you are being taken seriously as an actor and not as -
Janssen: You know what? I don't know if it's - for me, personally, it'll probably never go away, because I always feel that - and some of the stigmas that - I came with a model-turned-actress stigma, and then I added another one because I came out in a Bond movie shortly thereafter.
Then I tried to do all these other parts in movies, I worked with Woody Allen, Robert Altman and all these people, thinking now I'll be taken seriously, after this model and Bond thing. Then I come out in the "X-Men" movies, and not one - three of them. So every single time I'm getting somewhere, it goes way down again.
And so I just keep trying, I keep working, and I do as many different types of roles as I can, and maybe somebody will notice, or they don't. But in the end, I'm selfish - I do it for myself, I don't do it for other people. And it's fun.
Tavis: Judi Dench was just here a week or two ago, sitting in this very chair for a delightful - I'd never met her before, it was a delightful conversation. Your Bond experience was like what? Everybody wants that experience.
Janssen: Well, for me it was really crazy, because I had barely done anything and all of a sudden I was catapulted into this big franchise and the limelight and all of this stuff that came with it. And I played a crazy Russian woman who killed men between her thighs, so it was just this really weird experience where (laughter) the first week of shooting, they invite 400 people of the press and they go, yeah, here, why don't you explain what your character does?
And we're shooting in London, and the British tabloids are the worst. So they just right away glued onto me, going "What do you mean you kill men between your thighs? Oh, how fun is this?" So yeah, that was interesting.
Tavis: So you have this stunning look, you're in a Bond film and anything else you want to be, anything else you want to do where good looks are required. What's the -
Janssen: But no, I want to put a rug on my head instead, you mean? Why?
Tavis: No, no, what's the challenge to getting over that, though? The challenge to walking into a room and being taken seriously, having been a supermodel and someone who is gorgeous to look at who doesn't want to or have to play roles where she's gorgeous all the time?
Janssen: Yeah, I think in the end I went about it in my own special way, which was a much longer and quieter way. I haven't gone out and done a lot of publicity. I basically work with the people I like to work with, I try to create characters that are very different from who I am or the ones that I've played prior to that.
And then hopefully somebody will notice, or they don't. But it's not - I'm not making a big thing out of it. I'm not trying to get attention. I'm just doing it in my own way, you know? And that's the only way I can do it. It's my way.
Tavis: So you come to the States from Holland and if my facts are right you and two of your sisters end up in the business.
Janssen: Yes, but they live in Holland.
Tavis: They live in Holland still, all right.
Janssen: I know, that was sort of a coincidence.
Tavis: There's a film industry or Holland?
Janssen: Believe it or not, but yes.
Tavis: And what do they do? What do they make movies about? Not shoes.
Janssen: They make movies about cows.
Tavis: About cows.
Janssen: And tulips and cheese. (Laughter) Yeah. It's a really big film industry. You should watch the movies. (Laughter) No, I'm just kidding. There's a lot of stuff, it's great.
Tavis: So are they going to cast - is your sister going to direct you or cast you in a -
Janssen: As a cow? Is she going to cast me as a cow? What are you trying to tell me?
Tavis: No, as anything in a Holland movie?
Janssen: Maybe, yeah. We're all looking to work together at some point (unintelligible).
Tavis: Yeah, so one's a director and the other is?
Janssen: Well, the other one was an actress, but she sort of gave it up and is now a sort of school teacher who's come up with programs for underprivileged children and fantastic stuff, and she writes. And the other one directs.
Tavis: Tell me right quick, the movie, "Turn the River," great movie. What's the title mean? What'd you (unintelligible)?
Janssen: Turn the river was actually something that Chris Eigerman, the director, came up with, which is a combination of two different terms. One is a poker term, and the other one is from when he used to work in Colorado where the guys would say, "You can't turn a river; water does whatever it does, or water goes wherever it goes."
And it's sort of a fated thing, so it's about fate, and in this case, Kailey is kind of fated and every decision that she makes is sort of a terrible one, but you go along in this journey with her because she's - I like her, personally. I felt for her.
Tavis: It's a good movie. It's a very good movie.
Janssen: Thank you.
Tavis: It's called "Turn the River," stars Famke Janssen in just about every scene. So if you want Famke, you got a whole lot of Famke for the whole movie. (Laughter) Nice to have you here.
Janssen: Thank you for having me.
Tavis: All the best to you. It's my pleasure.