X-Men and James Bond Star Reflects on the Price of Fame

After GoldenEye, X-Men actor Famke Janssen took control of her professional life.

The Cast of X-Men
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Looking from the outside, one might assume that Famke Janssen had the best time of her life in the late 90s and early 2000s. But as she reminded readers of The Independent recently, looks can be deceiving.

Born in the Netherlands, Janssen modeled throughout the 80s but began acting in the early 1990s, scoring roles alongside Jeff Goldblum in the film Fathers and Sons, and on Star Trek: The Next Generation (which led to her being considered for the role of Jadzia Dax on Deep Space Nine). Her big break came as the villainous Xenia Onatopp in 1995’s GoldenEye, playing an assassin who crushes victims between her thighs. In 2000, Janssen appeared as Jean Grey in X-Men, a role she reprised in three more films.

What appeared to be a meteoric rise to glamour was for Janssen a burden. “After GoldenEye I felt like I was thrown to the wolves,” she revealed. “It was just an onslaught of attention, good and bad and everything in between.” Part of that attention includes assumptions that people made about the actor. “I feel incredibly misunderstood at times,” Janssen admitted. “It’s the dichotomy between the way I look and what is happening inside.” In GoldenEye, she played a “crazy assassin,” a killer who took pleasure in taking lives. But in real life, Janssen clarified, “All of my friends and family know that I’m goofy, and sensitive, and that I play these characters who are so different from that; other people probably think I’m just playing myself.”

That same level of misunderstanding can be applied to Janssen’s X-Men character. Although Jean Grey was introduced making an ethical and philosophical argument before congress, she has by X-Men: The Last Stand become the Phoenix, an unfeeling creature who kills teammates. These roles, combined with Janssen’s first job, stacked assumptions against her. “I already had to deal with the stereotype of having been a model, but then I added another thing: model turned actress turned Bond Girl,” she lamented. So pervasive were the assumptions that even fellow actors mistrusted her. While working on the noir City of Industry, Janssen recalls, “Harvey Keitel was all, ‘Can you even do your own laundry?’ – that kind of thing.”

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Rather than let these experiences chase her out of Hollywood, Janssen instead took more control over her career. The actor has continued to appear in high-profile projects, including the Taken franchise, the Netflix series Hemlock Grove, and the network drama How to Get Away With Murder. In 2011, she wrote and directed the feature film Bringing Up Bobby, starring Milla Jovovich. The unenthusiastic response to the film gave Janssen pause, forcing her to rethink her approach. “How it was received, and how people would talk about it,” Janssen revealed. “I didn’t feel valued, or seen.”

While she hasn’t repeated the success of her GoldenEye and X-Men days, Janssen reveals that it’s intentional. “Fame comes at a price,” she said; “and it wasn’t one that I was willing to pay.”