by Rainbow Kirby
photography by Sarah McColgan
From Bond girl bombshell and X-Men super mutant to a major force for justice, Famke Janssen brings a controlled passion, a latent threat, as she fights to end corruption, human trafficking, and our dependence on oil – both celluloid and real.
And if you look just a little under the PR nonsense, you will see this is for real: she is a super being – a real, concerned and committed activist with an abundance of natural ability to really make a difference. Appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador of Integrity at the UN Convention against Corruption in Bali earlier this year, Famke has a long history of involvement fighting social injustice. Her UN concerns range from needle exchange programs to human trafficking. “The U.N. doesn’t have a clear definition on what corruption is. It’s a worldwide problem, affecting women, children, and the poor. Locally, it applies to the corruption underlying the building boom in this city. As far as the contracts, resignations, cranes, citations, improper building permits – I’m writing an Op-Ed piece on it right now!”
This must have gotten her fired up, because on the other end of the line, I hear her tapping her fingers furiously on her keyboard. She begs my patience for a moment as she searches YouTube for a PSA that she and Jason Schwartzman (of Rushmore fame) filmed to raise awareness for Burma Myanmar.
In the clip, Schwartzman wanders into Famke’s travel agency, yearning for adventure. “I’d like to take a vacation… something exotic, different culture, crazy foods, wild animals.”
Famke puts down the model airplane she’s been twirling. “Animals. Wild. You? I know just the place – Burma!”
“Ancient culture, child soldiers, and sunsets to die for! Tigers…death squads… walruses… repressed people scared of their own government…” Schwartzman runs for the door.
“We used humor as a tool. We’re talking about serious topics, but we have to use what we have to offer. We’re not politicians, we’re actors.” This actor is speaking her mind and fighting worldwide corruption, not as a mutant, but as a powerful voice in the artistic community.
She is also vocal about her support for End Oil, a non-profit organization whose mission is to ultimately end oil dependency by educating individuals, government, and society about ways to incorporate alternative uses of energy into their daily routine. To shrink her own carbon footprint, she gets around the city on her Dutch bike or walks.
But she’s wary of all the green initiatives that seem to have sprung up overnight, dismayed that organizations may be jumping on the environmental bandwagon for the wrong reasons. “It’s very disturbing. Omigod, every time you turn on the television, it’s green this, green that. Then at the end, you see, sponsored by some car company. There’s nothing green about it. It’s ridiculous.”
Even though Famke won’t personally be pulling a voting lever in November (she has a green card, but cannot vote unless she gives up her European citizenship), she’s rooting for the Democrats with pumped chest. Disappointed by Hillary’s loss, she shares that “as a woman, it would have been extremely exciting. I think she is one of the smartest people I have seen in my life. We haven’t seen the end of her.”
She believes that if Obama wins and breaks the color barrier, “it would make such a huge impact on the world… what it says that an African American with the name ‘Barack Obama’ is president… this would be a great time to clean house and start over.”
She speaks from experience when it comes to starting over, first with her emigration to the States and second, rediscovering herself after she divorced producer/husband Tod Williams eight years ago. “I had never really lived alone before. Even when I first moved to the States, I had a boyfriend, and then I had a husband. It was a whole change; a big growth spurt. I learned to stand up on my own two feet… I wasn’t leaning anymore. When you’re part of a couple, the other person takes care of you, you do things together – silly things, like drilling holes in walls to hang up paintings.”
Far more impressive than learning how to master a level, she bought her own place in Greenwich Village, and keeps a close eye on the real estate market, doubting the theory that the New York City market is untouchable. “It’s hard to imagine right now with the building boom going on around me, but we are in the middle of a recession and everyone is hurt by it. A lot of Europeans are investing, but when the Euro becomes less strong, they may go into a recession, too. Everything is linked. New York might get hit at some point. If I had European money right now, I’d buy up the whole city!”
She also tells me that although New York City is certainly home, living in the States as a foreigner still has its difficulties. “It’s a very different culture, it’s deceiving. The biggest hurdle is you think you know it because you speak the language (she also speaks French, German, and Dutch), you’ve seen it portrayed in film… and it’s not like moving to India or Africa, but still people think and act very differently.”
And as a foreign celebrity to boot? “I don’t mean to be discouraging, but it’s hard to overcome. I’ve been fighting a stereotype for as long as I can remember. People still see me as a foreigner who doesn’t speak English, who is some type of superhero. I’ve just learned not to care about it anymore. People have an impression and it doesn’t matter… they see what they want to see.”
But with several new projects in the works and a few films out in the fall, perhaps the public’s view of Famke will broaden indeed. She will star alongside Liam Neeson in the drama, Taken, about a young girl abducted into the human slave trade. Kiddie Ride, set on the Jersey shore, will share the lives of three childhood friends who unravel a secret from their past, and most recently, she has been in Germany filming Black Death.
Of future collaborations, she gushes over the Cohen Brothers, “I’m one of their biggest fans… and Alexander Payne. I’d love to work with him, too.”
However, she doesn’t want to limit herself to simply working in front of the camera. Famke pursued a passion for writing and literature at Columbia University, and recently she has used this love of words to pen her own screenplay. “Right now I’m focused on getting my movie made,” she says.
So, for the super woman with a mile-long list of things to be admired, including a quick wit, intelligence, compassion and of course her extraordinary DNA that contributed to a striking jaw line and deep-set eyes, are there any words of wisdom she can offer for the rest of us mere mortals?
She implores women who mull over the past to stop thinking about what could’ve been and start focusing on the things that they can change. “I prefer to look ahead instead of looking back. It’s very important to keep evolving. Not to be stagnant. Not to be stoic.”