Famke Janssen is no stranger to big blockbuster movies and has starred in huge hits such as GoldenEye and the “X-Men” franchise, but don’t expect to see her in another studio summer movie anytime soon. The brunette beauty, who looked striking in a cream ruffled knee-length dress and silver flats for our interview, said she’s rather happy doing mostly indie films. ComingSoon.net talked to the former model about her latest one, Turn the River, in which she plays a pool hustling mom who has good intentions, but repeatedly makes poor choices. Janssen also talked about her upcoming projects and if she’d ever do another “X-Men.”
ComingSoon.net: I found myself thinking about the role you immersed yourself in for “Rounders” and wondered if this was sort of the spiritual cousin to that.
Famke Janssen: Sort of. It’s a much darker version of “Rounders” because the character in “Rounders” was much more glamorous. I approached that character very differently from this one. The pool/poker world, I guess they’re similar. In the end, as much as it’s a movie about pool, more so it’s a movie about a story between a mother and son and that’s what really attracted me about playing this character because it’s such a beautiful story or tragic or whatever you want to call the story between the two of them.
CS: How did you bond with the young actor who played your son?
Janssen: You have a limited amount of time in films and you have to all of a sudden portray this relationship of people who have known each other a long time. In this case what was in our favor is that we actually had not been together that much clearly in those times because they have an estranged relationship because the kid was taken away from her as a baby. I think people look at chemistry on film and people go, “These two people have chemistry and these two just happen to not.” I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as one other part of my job as an actor in order to create that. I have to create that as much as any other aspect of my character and so we just sat down whenever we could together. We would always be in close proximity to one another in the makeup well, we didn’t really have trailers or a makeup trailer for that matter. We had one little bus; I don’t even want to call it a bus. I don’t know what it was. We were so low budget. So we would be there or hang out wherever we had lunch in whatever church basement or in the park where we were shooting there. So just anytime we would just be chatting and [we] hung out. I’ve worked with Dakota Fanning and other child actors and what I find really remarkable about child actors is that they’re actually more grown up than the adults around them. So you never feel as if you all of a sudden have to go, “Oh I’m talking to a kid.” You know you see people do it. I never do, but specifically with child actors you go, “Wow you’re an adult. This is really crazy.”
CS: How old was he when you were shooting?
Janssen: He was about 10 or 11.
CS: He was great.
Janssen: Yeah, he’s wonderful and he’s grown a lot since then too. It’s weird. We shot the movie about two years ago and all of a sudden at that age they just sprout out and to see him two years later was very odd.
CS: How much energy did this part require?
Janssen: Going into it I realized for the limited amount of people who are going to have any idea or notion about me, for those people I would come with the baggage of either being glamorous or a superhero type or whatever. So I thought I have to go against this image or idea that people have about me because the film will never work and so I went and made myself look extremely crappy. Part of that was really easy because it was 110 degrees in New York City when we were shooting in Brooklyn or wherever. In the pool halls we had no air conditioning so nice and sweaty that just came with the package. But then on top of it, I wore this funny little hair piece that I found. We didn’t have money for a wig and I just thought, I’ve got to do something to make myself look a little off and different. My hair was long at the time, I just cut it off, but it made my own hair look really stringy and the top part is not even real hair. It’s like a rug or a piece. The color was slightly off and we just pinned it down and it looks bad, but without anybody really knowing what’s really bad about it. That was my solution of adding to this character [and] making her look like she was living out of a pickup truck which basically is all we see. We never see her at her home. I made a clear choice not to be flirtatious with men, not use my sexuality in any of the pool games because I thought that would be a whole different character. Since her relationship with her son because he was taken away from her, a very big part of her has died. That’s what I wanted to bring to her. She’s in a man’s world. She’s not a man by any means. She is a woman, but she’s not using her sexuality or any of those things that generally I think you would think a woman is going to bring to maybe as one of the elements in order to win games.
CS: Was that something that was particularly welcomed with this character?
Janssen: Absolutely, but that was something I brought in and Chris [Eigeman] loved it when I did that. It’s just something I thought that was a different movie. That’s not the character. It’s not interesting to play. It’s too easy for me. I’ve done it before. It’s not how I see Kailey.
CS: Was the scene where you break down in the park and walk through the streets very hard to shoot?
Janssen: Well, it was definitely hard to shoot because I have a puking phobia. [laughs] And in the script, Chris had me puke five times or something, initially. And I said to him, “Chris, I don’t know how to tell you this, and you’re going to think I’m crazy, and I probably am, but I am afraid of throwing up, so you’re going to have to work with me here.” And he goes, “Okay, she’s clearly crazy,” he’s thinking to himself. And so for various reasons, some of these throwing up scenes were cut. Not because of me, but because of location issues or whatever. [laughs] But the one that’s left in full glory is the one where I’m running. And yes, I mean, other than that, there’s of course the emotional part of it, and that was a tricky part shooting that right by Central Park in the 100 degree weather, and we’ve got to do this in one take now. “Oh my God, she almost got hit by a car.” [laughs] But I said as long as there’s nothing that needs to come out of my mouth, I can’t pretend. But it’s going to be hard, and you’re going to not do too many takes, please. [laughs]
CS: What was physically wrong with her?
Janssen: Nerves. She knew she was doing something that potentially had a really bad ending. I really learned to love her when I was portraying her. [She] made some really bad decisions during the course of the story. And what she decided to do with her son is virtually kidnapping. In the scene where she says, “Do you want to come live with me?” you never really fully see him say yes. He kind of shakes his head… And so there’s this sense of this dread of “Am I doing the right thing?” But it’s weighing on her, and then she ends up only making a lot of other bad decisions after that. I mean, getting a gun and then going over to the husband’s house… I mean, terrible decision. And then showing the gun and that it’s not loaded–another bad decision. She’s just riddled with bad decisions from beginning to end. And so I think it’s this probably knowledge of what she’s about to do, what the implications might be, and that having a physical toll. Plus you see her smoking, you don’t see her eating. She drinks, she smokes, she does not have a healthy lifestyle.
CS: What did you think about playing so much pool? I would think you would have to have a certain level of affection for playing.
Janssen: Well I learned to like it, but it wasn’t something I was familiar with. I’d never done it and I had to be trained for the movie specifically to be able to pull off of my own pool shots. That’s something Chris and I talked about. It was extremely important to us that I did my own shots. People are just too clever at this point. If you don’t do your own shots, they’ll freeze frame it and go, “Wait. See. There’s a cut in there somewhere. I noticed it.” We didn’t want that. You can freeze frame or do whatever you want to do, but I’m there doing my own shots. There’s a lot of pressure on it in getting it done in the time that we had. It was fun of course, it’s always fun, but it wasn’t like, “Oh my God I’m going to play pool today.” It’s like, “Oh God I have to play pool today and I have to learn how to make these shots because we only have this window and I’ve got to be really good,” so there was just an added pressure that gave it a different spin than if I were just leisurely walking into pool halls and playing pool with strangers or something.
CS: Considering that Chris wrote the roll for you, how much input did you have and was there ever a back story as to why her nickname was “Rings?”
Janssen: No, we both have had conservations at various times about things, but Chris and I have this shorthand. It’s the way he’ll come to set and go, “You know the way you did that, don’t.” I’d go, “Okay,” and that would be the end and nobody would know what we were talking about, but we have a shorthand and we understand each. In terms of creating a back story, I worked on this the same way I work on everything which is I create my own back story. Most of the time you don’t have the luxury to sit down with the writer and say, “This is my back story does it match your back story.” As an actor, you just have to come up with all of this stuff and create your own character because it’s written they’re generally two dimensional characters and you just have to give her one extra dimension to make it all real. We didn’t really discuss. Some of the things over time in talking we talked about, but most of it is I had a very clear idea after reading the script how I wanted to approach her, what I wanted to do with her, what back story she had, how the son being taken away from her how that affected her life and that made her who she is in the current time we see the movie playing. I think Chris and I from what I understand are on the same wave length about that. We’re good friends.
CS: In addition to playing pool, she’s also a gambler. How does that reflect her character and her choices?
Janssen: The way I looked at it is it’s an addiction in the way anybody else would be addicted to drugs and alcohol. I think it’s a very similar feeling and approach to her life. It’s also almost as if she’s an idiot savant or something because she’s extremely bad at making decisions in most areas of her life except for when it comes to pool. Most of the time she’s very good at it. Even then there are times she does dumb things like going in that pool hall with those guys who are playing with their girlfriends and asking them to play a game with her when she should know much better than that. Also she goes in with such aggression and stuff that it can only end up badly. The way I looked at Kailey is that it’s just a woman who makes extremely bad decisions in her life, but the one thing she’s really, really good at is pool and that’s sort of the whole thing with her addiction and just can’t help that that’s where her whole focus and energy goes into. Then of course the kid is the big part why in this particular moment in her life pool has an additional importance. It’s not just about getting her fix or her high, but it’s also about making money to get her kid out of the country.
CS: When you were learning to play pool, did you see any models for Kailey?
Janssen: No, we never got around to that. I had a male instructor and he’s one of the actors in the movie. His name is John Juback who plays Duncan. He’s the guy who I play the big game with at the end of the film. He was actually my pool instructor and in my opinion my guardian angel because whenever he was on set, I would feel very secure that I could make the shots. The times he couldn’t make it I’d be nervous because he was the one who had taught me so around him I’d be confident and comfortable. We’ve seen women play obviously when we were practicing and rehearsing, but we never saw to the extent Kailey does it. That’s kind of a pity because I could have loved to have seen it.
CS: How do you think your game is now?
Janssen: I don’t know. I’m too scared to go anywhere near a table at this point. There’s so much pressure especially with that shot that I make at the end of the film. Are you guys doing Chris today?
Janssen: He’ll tell you a story. He loves, loves, loves talking about this story because he says people were placing bets against me and all of it. They mapped out a whole day for me to make this shot because nobody thought I was going to be make it let alone in a few takes.
CS: Did you know that at the time?
Janssen: No, thankfully I didn’t because I don’t know exactly what that would have done to my game at that moment, but I made it in the first shot.
CS: Were you surprised at the mechanics of making a shot like that really were?
Janssen: Yeah. It’s so precise. That’s when you really learn in that five bank shot that I make at the end of the movie that it is so precise because you hit the ball here instead of here, I mean we’re talking about a quarter of an inch or an eight of an inch left or right and the shot just doesn’t work anymore. It’s that precise and of course here and there you have to get a ball so you have to hit it exactly at the right spot. It’s not just that ball, but the other ball has to hit that ball. It’s a lot of variables and you go, “Wow, that’s really, really precise.” I think the only way I can explain how this sort of all happened, I mean making the shots in the time frame we had in the first or second take, and again Chris will love telling this story of how competitive I am by nature which really helped me , but I really felt like a professional athlete in an arena or something who had that very moment had to make the shot because the whole audience was watching and that was just the one and only chance I had. I think with that added pressure and then blocking out everything that was going on around me and staying in character, that’s the only way I got through the shots and made it.
CS: What kind of energy do you get from working with someone like Rip Torn, whose choices are never predictable?
Janssen: Entirely unpredictable, as a matter of fact. I was in another movie with him years ago called “Eulogy,” but he was in a casket and dead for a large part of the movie, so there was not a whole lot of interaction going on between the two of us. [laughs] But you just don’t know what’s going to come out. It’s always the most unique delivery of the line where you go, “Wow, I never would have thought of saying it that way, but you’re cracking me up. You’re funny.” I mean, he’s funny without trying to be funny. It’s a real gift as an actor, I find.
CS: Why is it so hard to make films like this in today’s cinematic climate?
Janssen: I have lots of opinions about it if you want to hear them. [laughs] I think many things have happened in recent years, but other than that at some point, everybody decided they wanted to become an actor or a writer or a filmmaker, and then all of a sudden we add HD to this whole scenario, and now everybody actually can afford making their own movies and acting in them and starring in them or whatever. So we have now a market that’s saturated with film, and very few people actually willing to buy these movies because there’s only so many movies that you can bring out. Then add to that things like Netflix, where all of a sudden you don’t actually have to leave your house anymore, or Movies on Demand. I live in New York and I walk past the IFC, and I see a film playing that just opened that weekend, and I turn on my TV to Movies on Demand and I realize that movie started exactly at the same time on Movies on Demand. I mean, what do most people do? They go, “You know what? I’m going to stay home tonight.” Because especially if you live in places like L.A., you don’t have to get into your car, you don’t have to go pay for parking. There’s just a lot of additional things that make going to a movie much more difficult versus just staying at home and seeing the film. And now we have all these opportunities to do so. Plus, I think–and like I said, I had many opinions on this–clearly all of a sudden, we make movies below a million and over a hundred million, but very little in between. And that did not used to be the case when I started. We had a lot of films in the 2, 3, 4, 20, 30 million range, but they’re kind of gone at this point. And it’s really become this thing where now films like “Turn the River” have to perform in a similar fashion as a film like, let’s say, “Iron Man,” which just opened, because people are looking at box office gross. And they will look at it when it comes to “Turn to River,” if in the first week we don’t perform, it’s not the company even that’s going to yank it out of the theaters, it’s the theater owners who are going to say, “This film did not perform. I didn’t sell as much popcorn as I wanted to, I’m going to throw this one out and put something else in.” And it’s a sad reality. Unfortunately, my bubble was just burst because I didn’t even know about any of this until I started really getting involved in the distribution part of this movie. But that’s the reality of it, and that’s what we’re dealing with. So all we can do with these little films that I do–the majority of my work now as in independents–is you just try your best. We don’t have the budgets behind us that all of the big studio films have, so we really rely on word-of-mouth and we hope that people will keep us in the movie theaters long enough that by the time people spread the word, we’re actually still in the theater. But these are the things we’re up against.
CS: Can you divorce yourself from all these issues when you’re actually on set making the movie?
Janssen: I never think about the business aspect of it at all. The only reason why I’m forced to think of it right now is because I’m in the midst of this movie, trying to get it the proper distribution that I think it deserves. But generally, I’m not a business person. I didn’t go into it for the money or the business part of it. And in fact, I really don’t likethat aspect of it. I love being on set, and when I’m on set, I really don’t think about that. But by the same token, when I make a movie like “X-Men,” I don’t think, “Oh my God, maybe this many million people are going to see this film.” I never think about it. I just do it and have fun doing it.
CS: In terms of the creative investment, is there something different about doing a small film?
Janssen: Oh, absolutely. I do think in the end, there is a difference. Obviously when you shoot a big studio film, it takes place over a period of time of three, sometimes six months or something, whereas in the little ones, you shoot them in 20 days. And you throw your heart and your soul into it in a very short period of time. And you’ll do anything to make these films. I mean, I will do anything. We were literally roughing it all over New York, Brooklyn, upstate New York, whatever, and I was having fun doing it. It’s great. And it is short. It’s different…What makes it harder is, I think, sometimes is that yes, there are specific scenes that require a certain type of emotional state of mind to be in. And when you don’t have the luxury to close the door behind you to find yourself in that space, and then walk out over to set and go, “I’m ready, let’s shoot this scene,” it’s difficult when you’re around on a set where everybody keeps talking to you and you don’t want to be nice. I don’t want to be rude, I don’t want to say “don’t talk to me” because I’m going to feel that people are going to think I’m crazy, but sometimes it takes that to be in the character or in that emotional state that the character has to be in. So these are just additional things that make working on a lower budget movie harder sometimes.
CS: Would you ever do another movie like “X-Men”?
Famke Janssen: I would, yeah. I mean, honestly, without the movies like “X-Men,” I would never be able to do “Turn the River” or any of these independent films, just because the independent films work in a similar fashion as the studio films do, because unless you have some sort of name recognition, people will not finance a film in your name. I mean, if “Turn the River” is any indication of how little my name is worth at this point, in terms of how little the budget was that they got to make this film, I better do another studio film soon, otherwise I won’t even be able to be cast in the independents any more! [laughs] It’s just the way it works, you know? It’s tough. It’s a tough time. I think the strike didn’t help. The actors strike that’s pending is another thing that’s not helping us right now… Don’t get me wrong, I really strongly believe in that, but I think that our industry at the moment is just going through a rough time where studios say, “We won’t pay the actors. I’m sure we’ll find somebody”–and they will–“who does it for nothing.” And so scale plus ten, which is the lowest you can pay an actor has become a really normal thing to pay an actor. And from that, we really can’t live properly because it’s like working in a McDonald’s or something. I mean, it’s really little money that you make. So that’s the reality. But in the end, I mean, I’ve been privileged enough so far that I’ve been in some of those studio films, and hopefully I’ll get another one one day. [laughs]
CS: You’re in a few upcoming movies, including “The Wackness.”
Janssen: “The Wackness” I don’t even talk about, because it was not a big part to start out with, but it’s really nothing to talk about anymore once they got to me in the editing room. [laughs] But the other ones, I can talk about. I have a bunch coming out. I have the movie called “Taken” with Liam Neeson, where we play ex-husband and wife and our child is abducted and taken into a prostitution ring. That part is set in Paris.
CS: You’re also in “Kiddie Ride”?
Janssen: “Kiddie Ride” with James Gandolfini. Yes. I think that’s it. I can’t even remember.
CS: A lot of them are being shot in the New York area.
Janssen: Yeah. “Kiddie Ride” was Jersey. “Taken” was actually in Los Angeles, mypart that I played. And we shot “100 Feet” in Budapest even though it’s supposed to be Brooklyn. And we only did the exteriors for about a week out of that schedule in Brooklyn. It all takes place in this brownstone, and they did a really good job building. You would never know the building is a brownstone set in a studio.
CS: What’s the “Kiddie Ride” about?
Janssen: “Kiddie Ride” is a movie that’s dear to me because Gandolfini and I have both worked with the same acting coach for the last 15 years or so, and he directed this movie, and his wife wrote it. And so it’s great that we all got to work together. And it’s a story about three characters–Gandolfini and I are two of them and then Joe Pope is the third actor–and we’ve been friends since we were kids. The other guy and I have a kid together who is mildly retarded, and Gandolfini and I have always had this flirtatious relationship but never really acted out on it because there’s one big secret that’s sort of held and separated these three people together. And that’s kind of what the whole film is about.
Turn the River is now playing in New York and opens in Los Angeles on Friday, May 16th. Janssen talked to us more about her upcoming supernatural thriller 100 Feet, which you can read about at ShockTillYouDrop.com!