Famke Janssen is sitting in a large, sunlit suite at the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto. Her legs are elegantly crossed, with hands comfortably placed upon them. She slightly tilts her head when discussing the latest acting projects, and has impeccable posture. Although the actress was a professional model many years ago, she still sits like someone who is ready to have their photo snapped at any given moment, even though no photos are allowed during the interview.
Her choice of words is unusual too: unlike many Hollywood talents who tend to sound more casual in interviews, Janssen is extremely elaborate and eloquent. Her speech is like a dialogue between a professor and a writer — smooth and consistent.
Known in Hollywood for her tendency to pick roles that are complex, with surprising twists, Janssen’s career highlights include playing Jean Grey in the X-Men series, as well as roles in GoldenEye and the Taken trilogy. Janssen is also an important player in the fashion industry thanks to her classic approach to Red Carpet fashion. Floor-hugging gowns tend to be her frequent go-to pieces, with plenty of silk and lace.
A perfect cover story for The Fashion and Celebrity Issue, the actress tells all about her latest Netflix project (Hemlock Grove), her love for animals and passion for Valentino clothing.
HANNAH YAKOBI: I know you travel quite a lot, so how did you feel when you were told that certain parts of your latest show on Netflix, Hemlock Grove, will be filmed in really small towns in Canada? Let’s face it, most people around the world don’t know about Port Perry or where it is.
FAMKE JANSSEN: Oh they never told me that part, I just found out [laughs]. We were all stationed in Toronto and would just go on day trips to all these various places.
I like travelling, and really like to get to know a country and its people. I think you can get very isolated if you’re just in the big cities—it doesn’t give you a real idea of what a country is like. So I’m thrilled whenever these things are introduced to me.
What were your first impressions of these towns?
I like Canada a lot. I think it’s an interesting mixture of European and American cultures. And because that’s kind of my mix now, I’m European-born, living in the United States, I feel very much at home and spend a lot of time here.
In terms of your role in Hemlock Grove, how do you think your character has grown and changed from season one to season two?
A lot of changes have occurred to Olivia, directly and indirectly. At the beginning of season two, we see her stripped of a lot of things: she has health problems, she has a cane, she had her tongue reconstructed, her son is no longer talking to her, she has nothing to do with the White Tower any more – she’s lost all control there, there’s a whole bunch of new developments. So she’s really thrown through a loop with just having to reinvent herself a bit, and trying to understand what emotions mean because she’s never had them before. It is really challenging and fun to play her.
As an established feature film actress, why did you choose to do a Netflix show?
I really liked the idea. When this was introduced to me, Netflix had started filming House of Cards, they hadn’t aired it yet, but it was such a prestigious group of people. I thought this sounds really interesting, this company sounds really interesting. I like the idea of it, I like the idea of doing something that is 12 to 13 episodes, and working with an interesting group of people.
When they pitched it, Twin Peaks was mentioned as a reference which, in my personal history, was the only time I’ve ever watched television. I like that it was highly visualized in terms of the look. There were many elements – the international cast, the international appeal all together, it’s based on a novel, so I could at least have a sense of where this was going to go, so there were just upsides, lots of upsides.
How do you think companies like Netflix are changing the film industry?
It really has influenced a lot of different things: I think everybody is watching now or trying to recreate what Netflix has done. It’s a great way for the modern world that we all live in, where everybody has tablets, iPads, iPhones and God knows what. At any given time, you can watch anything you want. And why not cater to that? That is exactly what they are doing. I really think that it lies somewhere between film and television, so it’s neither — but its own thing. It is a 12-hour movie or it’s 12 one-hour movies. And the idea, the notion, that you can watch it whenever you want, is great because most people don’t have the time to tune into a specific [show or film] on a certain night.
A couple of fashion questions — what was your favourite costume in the last two seasons?
Well, season one was all white and we went for a lot more vintage too, because we wanted to establish this character as, on the one hand, this kind of a grande dame who comes to town and thinks of herself in a very specific way. She thought she was an actress and so she acted like one, and she adapts this way of speaking which was similar to the way actresses from the 20s and 30s spoke in American cinema, this transatlantic kind of accent. Because of the longevity of this character, possibly having lived for 400 years, we wanted to create different looks from different decades. It was really fun to deal with the 60s and 70s, and 40s and 50s, which I personally really, really love.
This season, we decided to go with a different colour palette, so we’re more in the earth tones; and we didn’t do vintage, we did all modern contemporary clothing. I think the first season was more extravagant in where we went with the clothing, but because of where Olivia is at this stage in the story, that just didn’t make sense anymore. She’s a little bit more downtrodden, but in terms of her wardrobe she’s always going to be put together. I liked elements of it all, this was fun to explore. And I have a great costume designer that I work with.
With the Toronto International Film Festival and fashion week season taking over September and October, you are often spotted on the Red Carpet or in the front row at runway shows. How would you describe your personal style?
I love dresses by Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. I also love Red Valentino, everything has a little bow on it somewhere, [these pieces are] feminine yet practical. Because I live in New York, I walk around a lot, so I wear a lot of ballet or ballerina [flats]. Summer, winter — it doesn’t really change a whole lot other than I put stockings on with whatever I’m wearing and a sweater, or a cardigan and a coat.
You used to do a lot of modelling. Are there any photoshoots throughout your modelling career that really stand out to you?
I’ve had the privilege to work with so many great photographers over time. I’ve been photographed too many times to remember the outfits and locations. But there was a trip, actually, to Kenya, when I was a model, where I got to travel all over the country in this little plane, just with a photographer and a make-up artist. We flew over and would say: ‘Oh, let’s go shoot here!’ And then we would just land. That trip was really memorable, it was really beautiful.
And then I went to India on a fantastic trip too, where the plane rides were a little less fun because we weren’t on a small plane, we were on these big passenger planes, and literally as we were going up in the air, smoke would come out of the aisles or the oxygen masks would start falling down, so it was a little scary, but all memorable!