MOTW: Famke Janssen's Ascension to Fame

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
July 26th, 2013
Famke Janssen's Ascension to Fame

Dutch model-turned-actress Famke Janssen has been captivating audiences over the last several decades in big screen roles that range from playing a Bond Girl in the 1990s to the larger-than-life Phoenix in the X-Men series of movies. However, despite these attention-getting roles, Janssen didn't start out her life wanting to be an actress. From studying economics to modeling for Chanel, this brunette beauty has done a little bit of everything and now has an impressive resume of movie and television credits to round out her experience.

Born on November 5, 1964, Janssen is a native of Amstelveen, which is in the Netherlands. Her given name, Famke, literally translates as "girl" in the native language of Friesland, a Dutch province. Growing up, she learned how to speak English, French, and German in addition to her native Dutch, which has been a boon to her in landing acting roles, working with the UN, and narrating scripts. Once Janssen graduated from high school, she enrolled to study economics at the University of Amsterdam and dropped out after only a year, calling it "the stupidest idea I ever had."

After leaving the University of Amsterdam, Janssen moved to New York City and was promptly signed by the exclusive Elite Modeling Agency. Janssen had gained experience as a teenage model in Holland before coming to the United States, which helped get her in the door with Elite. In addition to her modeling stint with Chanel, she also had the opportunity to work with industry giants Victoria's Secret and Yves Saint Laurent who praised her look as being reminiscent of 1940s movie stars.

After six years of modeling, Janssen enrolled in Columbia University and began studying literature and writing. It was there her interest in acting blossomed. She studied with renowned acting coach Harold Guskin before deciding to move to Hollywood to study under Roy London.

Once in Los Angeles, it didn't take Janssen long to begin earning roles on the big screen and for television series. Her earliest title was "Fathers & Sons," where she had the opportunity to play opposite Jeff Goldblum. Her next few roles were single-episode character portrayals on popular television shows including "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Melrose Place," "Ally McBeal," and "The Untouchables."

However, by the mid-1990s, Janssen was back to long-form film and became Bond Girl Xenia Onatopp in "GoldenEye." Acting in a Bond film and opposite Pierce Brosnan gave her the visibility she'd lacked in earlier films and she was able to quickly add twelve new roles just in the three years following the release of "GoldenEye," including fan favorites like "Deep Rising," "RPM," "Rounders," and "House on Haunted Hill." By the turn of the millennium, Janssen had already made a lasting mark on Hollywood, and her opportunities continued to expand.

Janssen signed on for what would be the first of many movies in 2000 when she agreed to portray Dr. Jean Grey, who turns into Phoenix, in the original "X-Men" film. Sequels in the series, including "X2," "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "Wolverine," showed her continued growth as an actress and as a presence that can draw in large movie crowds. In between the films in that franchise, Janssen has taken on major roles in blockbusters including "The Treatment" and "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," giving critics and fans the chance to experience the breadth of her talent.

Between 2004 and 2010, Janssen returned to television to take an occasional but on-going role on the popular series "Nip/Tuck." In 2013, she took a recurring role in "Hemlock Grove," a sci-fi thriller original series from Netflix. She's said in interviews she enjoys the challenges that both television and movie filming entail, so it's likely she'll continue to go back and forth as her career continues. Janssen also expanded her experience in behind-the-camera roles by writing and directing 2011's "Bringing Up Bobby," a movie starring Milla Jovovich and Bill Pullman that debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. Her upcoming films include "The Being Experience," slated for release in late 2013, and 2014's "A Fighting Man."

Janssen has two sisters who are both also involved in the film industry, one as a director and the other as an actress. Although Janssen was married briefly in the late 1990's to Tod "Kip" Williams, the pair divorced in 2000 and Janssen's maintained a strict private life in the years since. Janssen was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations in 2008. She also routinely films commercials in support of both PETA and HIV awareness. Janssen once remarked, "I'm a firm believer in taking risks in life because you'll never get anywhere unless you do, and the more risk involved the greater the outcome-or the worse, but you never know, so you've got to go for it." Her accomplishments in life and ascension to fame are the best examples of how true that statement is.