Most 42-year-old actresses wouldn’t jump at the chance to spend ample time on screen sans makeup, clean hair and other usual signifiers of feminine attractiveness. But when you’re the statuesque Famke Janssen and more often cast as femme fatales, it’s a rare opportunity.
“The main goal I had going into it was looking as horrible as I possibly could,” sums up Janssen of her role as Kailey in “Turn the River,” opening May 9. “When you’re me, people have some sort of idea of what I would be like and I think the first thing that springs to mind is glamorous.”
Written and directed by Chris Eigeman (Janssen’s co-star in 2006’s “The Treatment”), the film follows Kailey, a hard-living pool shark who is desperate to retrieve her son from her alcoholic ex-husband and escape to Canada. As she spends much of the film hustling games to win cash for their escape, without sleep or showering, a certain level of realism was necessary.
“It was extremely important to make myself look like a woman who could live out of a pick-up truck and wouldn’t have been hit on by guys. It’s weird because it’s not something I’ve been asked to play a lot,” says Janssen unabashedly, who learned how to shoot pool for the film. “You realize how dependent you are on comments from other people. Like, ‘Oh your hair looks cute’ or ‘You look great today,’ and when you don’t have that you just have to bring it from within. It’s definitely not something I’m used to.”
Indeed Janssen, who was born in Holland, first came to America at age 20 as a model. She soon decided to abandon her career as a mannequin, despite its lucrative appeal.
“In the fashion world I was heavily pursued. I never had to go and beg for jobs,” she explains over tea at her favorite SoHo coffee spot, Local. “That was completely the opposite once I started to become an actress.”
Cautious of the stigma attached to models-turned-thespians, Janssen decided to take a detour by earning a literature degree from Columbia University. An early — and memorable — role as the sex-crazed Bond girl Xenia Zirgavna Onatopp in 1995’s “Golden Eye” made typecasting a concern for Janssen. And so she turned to more quirky projects like “Love & Sex” with John Favreau, an extended guest appearance as a transsexual career coach on “Nip/Tuck” and the forthcoming “Kiddie Ride” opposite James Gandolfini. Nonetheless, she is perhaps best recognized by American audiences as Jean Grey in the “X-Men” trilogy.
“I’ve worked in over 20 films and the majority of them are independent,” says Janssen, who is currently penning a screenplay in which she has contemplated starring. “I’ve worked with Woody Allen and Robert Altman, different directors doing different types of characters, so hopefully nobody will typecast me.”
And if all of that diversity means Janssen isn’t luring big budget lead roles, it is a decision with which she is at ease.
“I think in a way it probably has restricted me, but for my own personal journey, in my own opinion, it’s been a successful ride,” she says.