Bond girl's career defined by power roles

Famke Janssen.
Famke Janssen.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Actress Famke Janssen, who was in the X-Men film series as well as James Bond movie GoldenEye, now plays the head of a military intelligence firm in television series, The Blacklist

NEW YORK • Famke Janssen looks like a woman you would not want to tangle with: She is 1.83m tall and crowned by intense wide-set eyes and cheekbones like granite outcroppings.

She also acts like one, forging her career on damsels more likely to cause distress than to be mired in it.

Now, she is striding - with the legs she used to crush men as a Bond girl in GoldenEye in 1995 - into her first starring network role, on The Blacklist: Redemption, beginning on Thursday on NBC.

Her character, Scottie Hargrave, debuted on The Blacklist in Season 3, when spy and assassin Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) believed he had met his biological mother after being told he was Christopher Hargrave, who vanished from his parents' home at the age of three.

I've been open about it, never lied about it. But you don't talk about Denzel Washington and say how old he is. It's not attached to his name. With women, they always do it, but then, they don't say she looks younger, so she could play younger.

ACTRESS FAMKE JANSSEN, 52, on revealing her age

Meanwhile, the equally lethal Scottie, head of a private military intelligence firm whose mercenaries tackle the morally ambiguous situations that governments like to keep clear of, offered him a job.

"Scottie is a woman with a lot of layers and, as the season progresses, we'll unravel some of those," Janssen says. "Her son went missing and that is the biggest mystery in her life and also what defines her."

In an interview, the Dutch-born Janssen, who stormed New York as a model for Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent in the 1980s and now lives downtown with her 16-year-old pooch, Licorice, spoke about staying fierce in Hollywood.

You might be Tom's mother. How on earth is that even possible?

Scarily, I could be. But thank you for saying that.

Their interactions seem sexually charged for mother and son.

Scottie doesn't know about their relationship. It's not something we have played with an awful lot.

You have already had some provocative television experiences: as a gay escort-turned-transgender wife to Alec Baldwin's doctor on Nip/Tuck and a death-row lawyer and lover of Viola Davis' professor on How To Get Away With Murder. Why this show now?

One of the deciding factors was New York City. The fact that I get to stay at home and sleep in my own bed is such a luxury after working all over the world.

And the character of Scottie is unpredictable in a way that I like. She can take a detour and start talking about her insecurities and anxieties in the middle of an interrogation.

You are known for playing formidable women. Was that a deliberate choice?

The big thing that put me on the map was the Bond movie and it catapulted me in a specific direction. I worked hard against that for years on independent films with Woody Allen and Robert Altman, only to come back to the X-Men series to play Jean Grey.

So, my career has been defined by these powerful women. I thought, well, if I am going to go against type, it will pay off over time. Whether it has or not, I don't know.

You wrote and directed a movie, Bringing Up Bobby (2012).

I thought for a while that I didn't want to act and started taking steps to go in different directions because I didn't feel I could express myself in the right way in that profession anymore.

I also didn't want to be a woman who had to battle her age for that long.

You have spoken out about age and sexism in Hollywood, especially after you weren't asked to return as the older version of Jean Grey in the X-Men series, unlike the characters played by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. What is the solution?

People such as Geena Davis (who in 2007 founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media) are doing incredible things to bring awareness to how we can start changing things by simply putting more women or girls in the background, or by changing the lead from a male to a female lead.

You need to start somewhere. I think it's just going to take time and a lot more women behind the camera. But each and every one of us can never give up. We have to continue to fight for our rights as women in the film business.

So how old are you?

Do we want to put that in there? I'm 52.

The reason I'm saying that is because I never had a problem with my age. I've been open about it, never lied about it. But you don't talk about Denzel Washington and say how old he is. It's not attached to his name.

With women, they always do it, but then, they don't say she looks younger, so she could play younger.

They say she's that age, so she can't play anything else. So, it hurts us in the end and it shouldn't be that way.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Bond girl's career defined by power roles'. Print Edition | Subscribe