Famke Janssen is known best for her role of Jean Grey in the “X-Men” series. She also has co-starred alongside Liam Neeson in the “Taken” and its recently successful sequel “Taken 2”. She is making her writing, producing and directing debut in the film “Bringing Up Bobby”, which stars Milla Jovovich in the lead. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Famke about her first go at directing and also working with Liam Neeson.
Mike Gencarelli: You really went all in with “Bringing Up Bobby” writing, producing and directing; how did this come about?
Famke Janssen: Well it was inspired by my first visit to Oklahoma, where my boyfriend’s parent live. All of the sudden, I was taken back by how much of a foreigner I was, even after living in the United States for 20 years. I was living in New York for all those years. It reminded me, in the beginning, what it was like coming to the United States. I remembered coming to New York, looking around and just imagining that I was in a movie. Everything reminded me of the films that I had watched. As a European, we have a very specific idea of how the United States is like. Our perception is largely formed by film and media in general. So that visit to Oklahoma, I had this renewed feeling of being a complete outsider and that coupled with the fact that to me it was so reminiscent of “Bonnie and Cyde” movies, landscape-wise. I thought it would be a good idea for a movie and that is how the idea for “Bringing Up Bobby” came up initially. Then I turned it into a story and it took its own life overtime. I watch so many movies from the 1930’s, that is like my hobby and I started wondering why am I so obsessed with the 30’s but it was because the Golden Age for women in film. I coupled that obsession with my love for films from the 70’s. Hal Ashby is a major influence. Between these two time frames, the character of Olive is really somebody in essence imagining herself to be living in a movie. Her ideas about the United States were formed by films.
MG: Tell us about how Milla Jovovich was cast as Olive?
FJ: An interesting thing that I learned from being on the other side of the camera is that you really learn about the business aspect of it all that you don’t as an actor. In the business aspect, the list of people that were able to be cast for Olive was a short list of maybe five actors who were right for the part. Milla was on the top of that list, in my opinion. I had to have specific things that were really important to me. She has to be a foreigner. She had to really stand out in Oklahoma. She had to be a great actress. With an independent film, unless you are offering somebody a different type of role than they are used to playing, they are usual going to say no. They can get money for doing the same part in a bigger movie elsewhere. Then the challenge came of getting the script to her and having her read it. She ended up liking the script very much and after having a few meetings, she was on board. Then we still had to fit it into her extremely busy schedule. So there were many steps along the way.
MG: How long did this project take from beginning to release?
FJ: It took about five years from beginning to end. Three of which, I stopped acting all together, since I thought at various times we would be able to start production but it fell through many times. But I just kept writing screenplays and tried to get it started again. It was quite an interesting process.
MG: What was your biggest challenge on overall on the film?
FJ: I think the greatest challenge was believing in myself when no one did anymore. Except my boyfriend, he stood by me the whole time. when you are pushing a project like that up the hill for that long, a lot of people stop believing you along the way. The millionth time you mention that you are making that movie, and it is now year three and you still haven’t done it, most people will think to themselves that is not going to happen. I just kept trying and believing in myself and prove that I could do it.
MG: You got a busy month with “Taken 2” also coming out; how was it returning to that role?
FJ: It was really great. After a three-year break of not acting, it was fantastic. I absolutely adore Liam (Neeson). I think he is one of the nicest people in the world. And to get a chance to work with him again for a film that was so successful the first time around is just fantastic opportunity.
MG: You are no stranger to action after “X-Men” series, how do you prepare for a physical role like this?
FJ: [laughs] Well, the role wasn’t that physical. Someone was put upside down (and it wasn’t me) [laughs]. I get dragged around a little bit. Thankfully there were some great dramatic scenes that made it worth my wild. Then the action stuff was there but not too much physical for me, I was the one taken in this movie. Liam has all of the action.
MG: You have plans to write and direct again in the future?
FJ: Yes. To keep my sanity while trying to get “Bringing Up Bobby” off the ground, I keep writing. Most of those scripts, I have put on the back burner though. Since then, I have written a script called “Río Rojo”, which means red river and is what the Colorado River used to be called. I am working at the moment in Toronto till Christmas, so in my free time, I am trying to setup get meetings in order to get things started. I will be directing it for sure and I definitely not giving up after the last experience. It was the most challenging and yet satisfying experience of my life. Can’t wait to do it again.