Famke Janssen knew she was going to have her work cut out for her when she agreed to become a Bond girl.
The Dutch actress starred as Soviet assassin Xenia Onatopp in 1995’s 007 film “GoldenEye,” which starred Pierce Brosnan as Hollywood’s most famous spy.
Janssen, 54, told Fox News she learned to avoid being typecast long before she took on the role that catapulted her to stardom.
“I started out as a model even before I became an actress,” she said. “Then I tried to get away from the stereotype of a model-turned-actress by quitting at the height of my career and going to Columbia University. And then I turned to acting, thinking that I could start clean. It didn’t exactly happen that way.
“Even though I started out in independent films first, the big role was ‘GoldenEye.’ That was the part of what was considered to be a Bond girl, which came with an enormous stigma. I thought, ‘OK, we now have another hurdle to overcome. Now I have to get past that stigma.’”
After the steamy role, Janssen quickly became a sought-after actress. However, she said she turned down numerous scripts to avoid being labeled as just another big screen femme fatale.
“I didn’t want to do anything with guns,” she recalled. “And I think people thought of me like this weird foreigner. They couldn’t really place where I was from and I had this weird name. Then I thought, ‘OK, let me do the most American type of things that I can think of.’ So that became my focus after a while.”
Instead of pursuing more blockbusters, Janssen tackled independent roles, which gave her the liberty to tell different stories. That lasted until she decided to become a superhero.
In 2000, Janssen starred as Jean Grey in the Marvel film “X-Men.” She would reprise the role in four sequels, from 2003 until 2014.
“I had to tackle another stigma and tried to overcome that,” she chuckled. “It’s been kind of funny and interesting in terms of my career and trying to go against the type for years, but always coming back. Something always catapults me back, which is fantastic because a lot of these movies brought me enormous success at the time. So that’s good. But with that also comes the certain idea that people have of you.”
Janssen said she's grateful for the two major roles many fans remember her for. But these days, she’s more focused on her next challenge in front of the cameras.
“No matter what, people are always going to think of you in a certain way,” she admitted. “The roles I’ve been asked to play have nothing to do with me personally… [And] I try to do different things all the time. Whether or not people see them or acknowledge it, that’s out of my control. But I try.”
Janssen said she is excited by the recent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements rocking Hollywood, which has shed light on the inequality being faced by women in the entertainment world, all while acknowledging those who are attempting to make a change in a male-dominated industry.
She hailed filmmaker Ava DuVernay as “the role model of all role models,” but stressed more work needs to be done.
“It’s wonderful we have opportunities for women like her,” she explained. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to fight for those opportunities. For me, I think the most interesting thing about all of this is that we’ve never actually lacked role models as women. We’ve just never made aware of them. Because somehow history likes to forget what women have accomplished.
“I’m hoping that at least now we will remember women more. Because it’s really about giving that gift to the next generation. Having roles models, women to look up to. Women we can aspire to be.”
And Janssen is keeping busy. She’s currently starring in “Asher” alongside Ron Perlman and Richard Dreyfuss. The story explores how an aging hitman (Perlman) must learn to redeem himself. Janssen plays Sophie, whose mother Dora (Jacqueline Bisset) is suffering from dementia.
Janssen said the only reason she said yes to the emotionally challenging role was that it hit so close to home.
“I lost my acting coach of 30 years who had dementia,” said Janssen. “I saw that progression of the disease and what it does to the person who’s inflicted. It’s very hard. When I read it, I realized I could recognize so many things from my experience and his wife’s experience. I just knew I had to play the character because of this story. And I thought it was handled with dignity and respect.”
Janssen said it was difficult at times to conjure up those painful memories of losing her beloved friend on set, but she said it’s those kinds of challenges that give meaning to acting.
“It was very hard, but it’s also why we act,” she explained. “It’s why we do what we do. You live for those moments where you actually have such a deep connection with the character that you fully understand what they’re going through. For each character, you have a different way in. And sometimes you get lucky if it’s that close, so you can really identify with the role. But it doesn’t make it an easing experience for sure.”
Janssen is aware she may never escape her past as a Bond girl or superhero despite having zero regrets in taking on those roles. Still, she hopes her body of work will ultimately speak for itself. In the meantime, she will continue on her quest for the next great story to tell.
“Some things are going to have a bigger impact and are seen by more people,” she said. “Films like ‘GoldenEye’ or ‘X-Men’ will be seen by more people than the independent films I do. And most people won’t even be aware I have done those other types of films. But in the end, it’s part of my personal journey. It’s my growth as an actor. And that’s what counts.”