The true queen of evil, Famke Janssen is like a female Christopher Lee in that she more often than not tends to play the evil, alluring, dark sexy villain in genre and cult movies which also makes her the perfect choice for this edition of cult actors.
Janssen has always been one of my favourite actresses. She has an undeniable towering presence and this coupled with such a long career spanning film and television has allowed her to bring many exciting and colourful characters to life.
Kamala/ Star Trek The Next Generation
One of Janssen’s first ever roles. This character was a far more sympathetic individual than many of her later more famous parts.
Kamala is an empathic alien who is forced to marry a high ranking member of an alien species for political reasons. Along the way however she ends up falling in love with Jean Luc Picard and he her which somewhat complicates things.
This episode “The Perfect Mate” is essentially just a remake beat for beat of an original series episode called “Elaan of Troyius“. Both revolve around the captain of the enterprise having to escort a female alien who does not want to marry a member of a rival alien race, in order to prevent a war because she falls in love with the Captain. The Captain in both cases returns her feelings, though in both cases said aliens are said to have some kind of special supernatural power over men (not that either actress would need it!)
Of the two of the very similar stories “The Perfect Mate” is undoubtedly superior. I do enjoy “Elaan of Troyius” but it is one of the sillier TOS episodes. “The Perfect Mate” deals with the idea of a woman being forced into an arranged marriage in order to prevent a war in a much more nuanced and interesting way. The relationship between Kamala and Picard is a lot more touching the way she falls in love with him because of the kindness he shows her.
Janssen and Patrick Stewart have very good chemistry with each other and manage to make the relationship between Kamala and Picard, which happens in a relatively short space of time seem sincere and genuine. The two actors would later be reunited in the X-Men film series as Professor X and Jean Grey, two characters who couldn’t have a more different relationship. Indeed the idea of Jean and Professor X being in love would seem completely inappropriate, which is a testament to what good actors they both are that you don’t even think of them as the same people in this episode.
Overall a good start to Famke’s career and a strong performance particularly for an actress who had really had so little experience at this point. This was in fact her second acting role
Xenia Onatopp/ Goldeneye
Her breakthrough role. Xenia is arguably the most famous Bond villainess of all time.
She’s really the ultimate fetishized female character. She murders her victims by crushing them to death with her thighs whilst sleeping with them.
In many ways she kind of reminds me of the classic death by snu snu joke in Futuruma.
Whilst it might sound like an incredibly sexy way to die on paper, it would probably be one of the most agonising deaths known to man, having pressure put on your pelvis until you literally snapped in half like a twig.
Xenia I think was really the last iconic hench villain in the James Bond series. In the earlier films the hench villains like Jaws, Nick Nack, Tee Hee, and Odd Job were always so over the top. In some cases they even managed to overshadow the main villain such as Jaws who is arguably far more remembered than either Stromberg or Drax the two villains he worked for.
Similarly I’d say Xenia is the villain that people remember more than even Sean Bean’s 006.
The character of Xenia is utterly ridiculous but again I think that was part of the charm of the earlier Bond villains in general with their scarred faces, metal claw hands, and penchant for feeding people big hungry fish. Sadly I think this is something that is missing from the later villains who are a bit dull in comparison.
Whilst Xenia put Famke on the map it did typecast her as the sexy villain and though she did try and break free from it with different roles, ultimately as we will see many of her later roles were often in a similar vein to Xenia.
Evelyn Stockard Price/ The Darkness / The House on Haunted Hill
Another villainous character. Price is the scheming wife of an amusement park Mogul named Steven Price, whom she and her lover Donald Blackburn (who she later turns on and kills) plan to murder in order to gain access to all of his wealth.
She ends up being consumed by the dark power of the house however simply known as the Darkness, which takes her form afterwards allowing Janssen to play both villains.
Though the film has often been derided, I personally thought it was a great remake as it did at least try to do something new and it had a very strong cast.
Janssen is excellent as Price as she really does give the character no redeeming features whatsoever. She’s violent, treacherous, spoiled, selfish and a chronic backstabber.
I also like her and her husband Steven’s relationship with each other the way that there is absolutely no affection between them. Even before it becomes apparent that she plans to betray him its obvious that they can’t stand each other. He obviously only married her to boost his ego whilst she obviously only married him for his wealth.
Steven though not as quite as monstrously evil as his wife is still a repugnant character too and thus they both deserve each other. Though having said that as wicked as they are even they don’t deserve the horrible fate that befalls them, where their souls are condemned to an eternity of torture at the hands of the spirits of the patients in the house.
Spooky stuff, but its somewhat ironic that these two people who had the most poisonous marriage will now be suffering together forever.
Of course in the sequel after the power in the house is destroyed both of their souls are freed, though it probably won’t make a difference as they’ll end up going to hell anyway.
Overall Price is great performance from Janssen who manages to create a wonderfully vicious femme fatale.
Jean Grey (Phoenix)/ X-Men Film Series
Probably her most famous role. Famke played this superheroine/villainess in 5 films.
She was really the perfect choice for the character in every respect. Physically she is a large statuesque beauty, but the character of Jean also needs to have a certain gravitas as she is definitely one of the more tragic Marvel characters.
Jean really has the biggest role in the second and third film in the series. In the first movie whilst she isn’t wasted, its really more Rogue and Wolverine’s film.
The second movie meanwhile sees her memorably sacrifice herself to save the rest of the team. I always got a bit of a Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrificing himself vibe from Jean Grey’s death at the end of X-Men 2. There’s even a closing monologue from the deceased character at the end of each film over a shot of their resting place. Lets not forget that Bryan Singer who directed the film is a big Trekkie so I think he may have had Wrath of Khan in mind when making the film.
Jean’s death is very well acted on Janssen’s part, but some have criticised it for the fact that Grey seemingly didn’t need to leave the plane in the first place!
Some fans however have argued that this was the beginning of the Phoenix persona taking over her personality and that it forced her to leave so that Jean could effectively die and the Phoenix could rise in her place. This would tie into how powerful Jean was becoming at the end of X-Men 2.
X-Men 3 often gets a hard time, but I thought it was a good film. It had some flaws yes, namely how Cyclops is killed off too quickly. To be fair though X-Men 2 misused his character as well. Also James Marsden it must be remembered was unavailable for most of X-Men 3’s filming.
I think that James Marsden and Famke Janssen didn’t really have any chemistry with each other which was obviously a problem when they were meant to be this big great romance. The fact that her chemistry with Hugh Jackman was so much better obviously meant that Wolverine would be put at the forefront ahead of Scott.
Famke is the best thing about X-Men 3 even though she has very little screen time. She is perfect at switching between the tormented and guilt stricken Jean and the savage, animalistic Phoenix. The scene where she literally tears her friend, father figure and mentor Professor X to bits is both shocking and frightening.
In the comics the Phoneix was a powerful alien entity, but in the films it is revised to just being a split personality of Jean. Whilst some fans were understandbly upset at this big change from the comics, ultimately I don’t think the all powerful alien would have gelled with the films universe at that point as it did in the comics.
Overall I think X-Men 3 did a good job of condensing the Phoneix story arc and making it fit the more down to earth universe of the film series and Janssen was excellent at playing a woman possessed and tormented by a great evil.
The only gripe I have with it is that Janssen wasn’t given enough time to explore both sides of Jean’s personality, but she did well with the screen time she was given.
Its ironic in a way that on the one hand Jean is the most heroic part she has ever played, whilst the Pheonix is by far and away the most destructive villain she has ever played.
Though Jean is killed at the end of X-Men 3, Janssen would go on to play the role two more times. First as a hallucination in The Wolverine and finally in a cameo appearance in X-Men Days of Future Past which saw her and Scott resurrected via a change in time. To many fans and critics alike this helped rectify the terrible way their romance ended in X-Men 3.
Janssen expressed interest in reprising her role for the next X-Men film, but was passed over in favour of the much younger Sophie Turner. Janssen said that she felt it was Hollywood sexism that she had been replaced by a much younger actress though she wished Turner luck in the part.
Personally I don’t see this as being an example of sexism as the entire cast has been replaced by much younger actors for X-Men Apocalypse. Also on top of that Days of Future Past did feature her alongside Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. The only reason she wasn’t in it as much was because her character had been killed off and therefore couldn’t appear until the end, which was the same for Scott too.
Having said that though I would like to see one last film with the original cast and I must confess I thought that is what they were going for when they rebooted it at the end of X-Men Days of Future Past. Who knows maybe we’ll get a final film with the original cast some day.
Still with 5 films under her belt which covers everything from Jeans death to the Phoenix saga to the love triangle between her, Scott and Logan, in my opinion she’s already had a great run in the role and to me will always be the definitive Jean.
Miss Elizabeth Burke/ The Faculty
A more minor character Miss Burke is a kind hearted and supportive teacher of one of the main protagonists Zeke.
Sadly however she is later infected by the aliens and becomes a hideous mutated monster that tries to eat him alive. In the final confrontation with her, Zeke ends up ripping Burke’s head clean from her shoulders, though it then sprouts tentacles and walks away.
Despite this however at the end of the film after the aliens are defeated Burke ends up going back to normal. Famke survives the film which is a nice change considering she normally you know gets stabbed to death, eaten by an ancient evil or killed by criminals. Though its ironic that in one of the films where she gets off lightly she still gets decapitated.
I think the poor effects of this sequence actually add to it as it helps to reinforce the naturally cartooish element of this scene.
Trillian St James/ Deep Rising
A rare heroic role, though even then she is more of an anti hero. Trillian is a cunning and wiley thief who ends up having to help the main protagonist when hideous alien monsters begin to attack the ship and eat its passengers.
Janssen clearly has a lot of fun with the character who is more of a lovable rogue than anything else.
The ending of the movie sets things up for a sequel that sadly never happened due to the negative reaction to the first film, though it has since gone on to be regarded as a cult classic.
Despite the lukewarm reception to the movie at the time I think that Deep Rising helped Famke gain a reputation for appearing in somewhat more offbeat, indie films.
Rachel Wright/ I Spy
Famke Janssen played the main villain in this remake of the classic cult series of the same name.
Sadly the movie was an all around flop and really Janssen is practically the only thing worth watching in the film.
Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy have a reasonably entertaining chemistry with one another. They both have a talent for creating memorable double acts, but sadly I’ve seen them both create more memorable duo’s with other actors like Dan Akroyd and Jackie Chan.
Famke is really the stand out in this film as she manages to create an unbelievably sexy yet quite menacing villain at the same time.
The main character Alex played by Owen Wilson is desperately in love with her and she often uses this against him, yet at the same time she is also a brutal and sadistic villain who enjoys hurting him physically too.
We see this in the scene where she tortures him and nearly castrates him! Janssen underplays the torture scene which is more sinister. She doesn’t burst into fits of laughter, but there is a perverse little smile on her face when she is stabbing a knife into his leg and twisting it.
You get the impression that she likes the fact that he has feelings for her simply because its yet another way she can torture him. Even though Alex is a somewhat bland leading man, Rachel’s treatment of him helps to add a real tragic element to the character.
Here is the person he loves more than anything, who he has pined for for years beating him to a bloody pulp, stabbing him and trying to slice off his penis and she’s loving it! And she is openly mocking him for being so foolish as to have ever trusted and cared about her. You can’t help but feel a bit bad for the guy.
Having said that though I felt Wilson’s character came across as being a bit pathetic when he was willing to believe Rachel when she claimed to be a triple agent right after she almost tortured him to death. I mean really, I understand that Famke Janssen is hard to resist, but her lies wouldn’t have fooled Sir Gullable of Believe’s Anything Town.
Plus if she had kicked me in the balls as many times as she does Alex I might be put off her a bit. She kicks him in the nuts about 5 times in the film.
Overall with Rachel, Famke created a sadistic, manipulative, cold and very effective villain. Its just a shame she wasn’t in a better film against more interesting heroes.
Muriel/ Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters
My favourite performance of hers. Muriel is the main antagonist in the cult classic Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters.
Hansel and Gretel was panned by mainstream critics when it was first released (though it was still a box office success) but it has quickly earned a reputation as a cult classic and there is even a sequel as well as a tv series spin off planned.
Its a fantastic idea of Hansel and Gretel being so traumatised by their experiences that they end up as Witch Hunters and Janssen’s Grand High Witch is the perfect villain for the two.
She is absolute pure evil through and through. She is the queen of the witches who was technically responsible for the slow and painful death’s of both of Hansel and Gretel’s parents (she later murders Hansel’s one true love whom she guts like a fish too). She also plans on using Gretel’s heart to create a spell that will make her and her army of witches utterly unkillable. Plus she eats children!
She is a total monster and what’s interesting is that unlike say Rachel she is a completely sexless villain. In her human form she still looks fabulous because she is Famke Janssen, but still she never uses her looks or sexuality at any point, nor does she express any interest in anything but slaughtering humanity. Also her true witch form is genuinely horrific too.
She makes her entrance into the film by using her magic to rip a guy apart using branches, and torture another guy by taking control of him and then forcing him to eat maggots and bugs before he literally explodes into a pile of blood.
She is the ultimate dark Queen and again I think you can see how she is like a female Christopher Lee with this role. This is like the female version of the kind of character he would have played when he was younger. I don’t think there are many people who can play those types of characters as effectively as you need to have a real commanding presence. You need to be someone who just looks powerful and dangerous the second you step on screen. I think Lee and Janssen both benefited from being so tall and striking looking and having such strong voices too.
Muriel’s death scene is even like something from a Hammer Horror in terms of how over the top it is. Its a Rasputin like death the way the heroes shoot her about 5 times, stab her, beat her to a bloody pulp, hang her from the ceiling and she keeps coming back. Even when she is being hung she reaches out and starts choking Hansel and nearly kills him. They finally manage to put her down for good by taking her head off with a shovel!
Overall I’d say that Muriel is one of my favourite supernatural villains and monster rulers. She literally has no redeeming features even to her fellow witches (at one point when she suspects there is danger she sends them ahead and isn’t even bothered when they are shredded by one of Hansel’s traps.) Janssen suitably plays the role with absolute relish and simply dominates any scene she is in.
Lenore Mills/ Taken trilogy
A very unusual part for Janssen to play. Lenore isn’t just a non villainous role, she is a complete helpless damsel in distress who spends most of the second film being captured, brutalized and tortured by the villains before being killed off in the third film.
A part of me wonders if she took this role of the vulnerable, victimized loving mother to maybe escape always being seen as the villain. If so it didn’t work as literally the first role she played after Lenore in Taken 2 was Muriel who is the polar opposite to Lenore in almost every single respect.
It does feel odd at first seeing Janssen be so helpless simply because of the characters she has played in the past, but she manages to blend in to the role fine and whilst her typecasting problem may not have been helped by this part at the very least I think she was able to show how versatile she is as an actress by playing a character who could not be more different to the types of roles she is most famous for.
Olivia Godfrey/ Hemlock Grove
One of her most popular recent roles, Olivia is the scheming, matriarch of the Godfrey family. She is a Vampire like creature called an Upyr and generally serves as the main villain overall of the series.
She does have some redeeming qualities and even attempts in the second season to try and redeem herself, but ultimately she always fails at any attempt to better herself and reverts to being a brutal, manipulative monster that enjoys literally ripping people’s hearts out.
The character is the type that Janssen could play in her sleep at this point, the tall, dark alluring, incredibly vicious villain, but Janssen is able to flesh her out somewhat in the second series when we see her try and control her demonic urges before a betrayal leads to her VERY bloody comeback.
The only thing I felt was a little off about her performance was her English accent. Normally the American accent she uses for her other films which is not her own is really good, but sadly her English accent was weaker, though thankfully she began to ditch it in later episodes of the series.
Janssen also had a recurring role on Nip/Tuck as the antagonistic, transexual character Ava Moore. She played this character throughout the shows second and sixth season.
Sadly I haven’t seen the series so I can’t comment on it in any great detail but Janssen’s performance was very acclaimed.
Other non genre films she has appeared in include Father’s and Sons opposite Jeff Goldblum (which was her debut), The Gingerbread Man, Monument Ave, Rounders, The Wackness and RPM.
Whilst she has had a long and very varied career across many different genres and mediums, ultimately she will always be one of sci fi and fantasy’s finest leading lady’s and one of its most memorable villains.