How about an active and modern Siren this time around? First of all, let’s ask ourselves if there is some brave souls working today that can claim to do honor to many of our older guests that were at the top in past decades. Of course, we could name some silicone puppet or any starlet in lousy teen horror flicks, but I’m talking about someone who could become the next Barbara Steele. Ah! The list of nominees is pretty scarce, needless to say, but if I name here Famke Janssen, I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration. She can easily play the victim or the aggressor (with an apparent taste for the latter), with an always welcome bitchy side.
Famke was born on November 5, 1965, in Amsterdam, Holland. Her surname means “little girl”, which is curious for an 5’11” person! She has two sisters, Natalya and Lucy. She began a modeling career while still fairly young, with instant success, for the Elite agency. After coming to her legal age, she moved to New York in 1984 to enroll in Columbia University, where she studied literature and took a writing course. Dramatic arts were also on the menu. It’s in California that she would get her start as an actress.
In 1992, she made her movie debut for Fathers and Sons, a family drama with emphasis on (surprise) father and son relationships, starring Jeff Goldblum. Famke could soon be seen in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled The Perfect Mate where she sparked a twinkle in Picard’s eye, as she played a shape shifter. She would also be part in the television series The Untouchables and Melrose Place.
Soon after, Famke was cast as a female super hero for the TV movie Model By Day, directed by Christian Duguay and shot in Toronto. This could be considered a modest beginning for our future Cult Siren, as the film is not that successful (but remains prophetic as Famke would play a more established right-doer in the future for X-Men), which nixed its chance of becoming a regular series. She played Lady X, acrobatic vigilante by night and… model by day. If Famke displays the required physical attributes (even with a weird costume and unattractive head wear), the script remains juvenile. A potential future Siren, Shannon Tweed, co-starred as Shannon (who comes up with these original names?).
In 1994, Famke was part of the cast in the fourth chapter of the Relentless series, Relentless IV: Ashes to Ashes. The script is basically always the same for any of its chapters: a detective runs around trying to catch a serial killer. And that’s it. But it’s in 1995 that Famke enjoyed an important year which resulted in increased public popularity. First, she could be seen in Lord of Illusions directed by Clive Barker, an horror picture that got mixed reviews but that still tried to propose a more mature story than the soon to be (re)popular teens-in-peril formula. Of course, a more complex script doesn’t always means box office success… bah! Famke played a passive but pivotal role, that of Dorothea Swann, the widow (?) of a mysterious magician who died during an elaborate stage show. The film’s lack of support resulted in Barker’s reluctance of pursuing a series starring Harry D’Amour, occult detective and the hero of this picture, which is a shame. On a more personal and useless note, my first article for the web was a review of this production! Look where I am today… and beware when I’ll finally create my race of mindless supermen… instant world domination… beware!
But it’s with GoldenEye, a James Bond adventure, that Famke finally got recognized as a major player with the public and with just cause: she portrayed a murderous femme fatale (employed by the Russian Mafia) deliciously named Zenia Zaragevna Onatopp, assassin with the specialty to choke anyone between her silky super thighs! And she likes to kill, reaching a quasi-orgasmic state each time she wipes out some (un?)fortunate soul. Famke can easily be considered one of the best modern Bond Girl, as she was one hell of a challenge for Pierce Brosnan in his first Bond film. She also seemed like she was having the time of her life. The MTV Movie Awards nominated them both for Best Fight Scene! Famke’s presence resulted in sweet nostalgia towards classic Bond Girls, often larger than life and full of surprises. So, that was a series’ high point, and we can relish in the fact that Famke’s was not victim of the “Bond curse” where too often an actress is forgotten or doomed to work in mediocre projects after participating in a 007 movie.
An unglamorous role was next for City of Industry, alongside the fabulous Harvey Keitel, a quite interesting little thriller. In 1998, a total a seven movies featuring Famke got to theaters, weren’t we lucky souls? Deep Rising united Famke (as a charming pickpocket) and some kind of giant and cranky computer octopus running havoc on a luxury liner. Diverting in a B-movie kind of way, but no classic. Equally disappointing was The Faculty, again with mildly diverting results, as we expected more from director Robert Rodriguez. Amusingly, two great screen beauties, Famke and Salma Hayek, both played mousy roles. On the whole, the movie looks too much like a dumb Scooby-Doo episode. Another small but memorable part was for Rounders where, at some point, Famke’s character offers Matt Damon to stay the night… and the jackass refuses! She was also in the cast for Woody Allen’s Celebrity, among many known and high profile players.
Fall 1999 offered us Famke in a remake of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill. William Malone was the director, filming a modern and colorful retelling of the 1958 classic starring Vincent Price, with the story focusing on strangers accepting a bet to stay a full night in a mysterious house for a large sum of money. Famke played the bitchy wife of the eccentric owner of this former insane asylum and mastermind of this diabolic pact, played by Geoffrey Rush. Once again, the MTV Movie Awards didn’t forget her, this time for Best Supporting Actress. A low-budget movie named Love & Sex was presented at the Sundance Film Festival, starring Famke and Jon Favreau. She portrayed a journalist having thoughts on a former flame when she writes a magazine article on oral sex.
But 2000 remains important for a high-profile project that drove nuts millions of fans (especially on the web): Bryan Singer’s cinematographic adaptation of the most popular comic book in the world, X-Men. I was one of the first surprised to learn that Famke was cast as the powerful telepath Jean Grey, as we could’ve more expected to see her playing a villain. But she proved to be up to the challenge, having the chance to display more character motivation than cast member Halle Berry for the character of Storm. The two were soon back for the sequel X2, which proved to be a Cult Sirens fan’s paradise, as we could admire Famke, Halle, Kelly Hu, Anna Paquin and Rebecca Romjin-Stamos on the big screen… Then of course, the fate of Jean Grey was unveiled to the world in X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006.
Hey, I’ve got a most sacrilegious cinematic fantasy: a new version of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, with Famke in the dual roles that Barbara Steele so adequately portrayed in this classic horror film. No? Well, I just hope that she will pursue her career without any lags, continuing to be a presence in many fantasy and horror films. Truth be told, I would have no problem in keeping an eye on the subject, if you know what I mean…
1992 Fathers and Sons 1994 Relentless IV: Ashes to Ashes 1995 Lord of Illusion; GoldenEye 1996 Dead Girl 1997 City of Industry; RPM 1998 Snitch; The Faculty; The Adventures of Sebastian Cole; Rounders; Celebrity; Deep Rising; The Gingerbread Man 1999 House on Haunted Hill 2000 X-Men; Circus; Love and Sex 2001 Don’t Say a Word; Made 2002 I Spy 2003 X2 2004 Eulogy 2005 Hide and Seek 2006 The Treatment; X-Men: The Last Stand 2007 The Ten; Turn the River 2008 Taken; 100 Feet; The Wackness; Kiddie Ride