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Famke Janssen, genre queen, is perfect in everything

By Sara Century
Famke Janssen as Jean Grey

Famke Janssen first became known as a fashion model in the mid-'80s, but by the time the ‘90s rolled around, she retired from that glamorous gig and started another pursuing a life as an actor. Since her small screen debut in 1992, Janssen has starred in dozens of successful franchises and even directed her own film in 2011.

This is one actor who began in genre and who returns to it time and again in the most surprising ways. For her variety of roles and her ability to play each line to its fullest, we’re of the opinion that Famke deserves credit for her significant contributions as a genre queen.

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Star Trek & Clive Barker

Janssen immediately won the hearts of genre fans through her first television role as Kamala in the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Perfect Mate." Appearing in the role of an empathetic metamorph with the ability to quite literally become the woman of any man’s dreams. This causes a lot of unintentional emotional chaos on the Starship Enterprise, but it’s all resolved by the end of the episode. Still, this role was so memorable that she was offered an ongoing role on Deep Space Nine, which she declined in order to pursue a film career. We respect it, but daydreaming about the possibilities of an ongoing Famke Janssen role on DS9 is one of our favorite ongoing pastimes.

Janssen worked with Clive Barker on the final film he directed to date, Lord of Illusions, which has now achieved cult status. Her role as the troubled wife of an emotionally broken illusionist might not have given her much to work with when it comes to dialogue, but she still managed to bring a haunted, sincere quality to the role. For this reason, she’s one of the most memorable parts of the movie, despite the fact that she is mostly viewed through the lens of the male characters rather than through her own.

Janssen continued played scene-stealing, comparatively minor roles. In GoldenEye, she is the assassin Xenia Onatopp, who derives sexual pleasure from killing and prefers to kill men by squeezing them to death with their legs. That premise is either hilarious or offensive, but either way, it’s amazing, and nobody but Janssen could pull it off. Likewise, though the House on Haunted Hill remake is generally panned and isn’t necessarily what we would call a great movie, we will still give all the credit due to Janssen for her playful and excellent portrayal of Eve Stockard-Price, the vindictive and conniving wife of the equally morally shady Steven.

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Jean Grey

Though she wasn’t particularly fleshed out in the films, the fact still remains that any actor cast in the role of Jean Grey has got to be able to run the emotional gamut. Say what you will about the movies overall, there is no arguing that Janssen was a great casting choice. In the first few X-Men films, Jean goes from the object of a love triangle to demonic villain to suffering martyr in the time it takes to change a scene, and then does it all over again.

One of Janssen's stand-out talents as an actor is that she always manages to wring a lot of expression out of some pretty sparse scripts. Her role as Jean Grey is often panned, but that has nothing to do with her performance. Fans disappointed that the complexity of comics-Jean has yet to make it to Hollywood has everyone to blame but Janssen, who takes some incredibly lightweight dialogue and brings her whole mood to it.

Of course, X-Men isn't the only blockbuster franchise Janssen has been involved in, and her role as Lenny Mills in the Taken trilogy can't go without comment. Yet again, our girl isn't given much to do in these films besides to drive the plot of the male protagonist, but Janssen always brings a little something extra to the screen. In a role that could be forgettable, she still manages to pack an extra emotional punch into her lines as she refused to take any guff off of her ex-husband-turned-action-hero.

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All About Eve (Rothlo)

Besides her blockbuster career, Janssen’s acting roles have always been a little on the peculiar side, and they certainly haven’t gotten less interesting with time. She played the villainous Muriel in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which is one of those movies that absolutely shouldn't have worked yet still managed to be pretty fun. This is in no small part due to Janssen’s wonderfully campy turn as a fairy tale villain. Of course, a lot of TV fans will also note Janssen’s role on How To Get Away With Murder, where she portrayed the DA who still struggles to get over the main character Annalise Keating (as played by Viola Davis). HTGAWM is full of incredible acting, but even on such a stellar cast, the exchanges between those two were truly something to behold.

Janssen has done the work in Hollywood, from portraying supposedly one-note villains to fridged girlfriends and wives of action leads, but she always brings her A-game to every performance. Wherever her bonkers career goes next, we’re absolutely here for it, popcorn in hand. Here’s to you, Famke!

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