‘X-Men’ vet Janssen peers through director’s lens

CANNES, France – Getting downsized out of screen roles is inevitable for most actors — and particularly actresses — as they get into their 40s and beyond. With her writing-directing debut, Famke Janssen is taking the do-it-yourself route to ensuring she still has a film career.

Janssen’s mother-son comic drama “Bringing Up Bobby,” starring Milla Jovovich, is playing in the huge movie market that accompanies the Cannes Film Festival, where the filmmaker hopes to find distributors to put it into theaters in the United States and elsewhere.

The 46-year-old Janssen aims for a career balance of acting and directing.

“I’m hoping that I can juggle both for a little bit, at least,” Janssen said in an interview. “The older you get as a woman, the less parts you’ll have just by nature. And then I really don’t want to go down the whole plastic surgery route and become obsessed with the way I look, which is very much a part of being an actress, sadly.

Janssen, who played telepath Jean Grey in the “X-Men” franchise and a James Bond villain who crushes victims with her legs in “GoldenEye,” took a couple of years off from big-screen acting to raise money to get her own film off the ground.

“Bringing Up Bobby” stars Jovovich as Ukrainian con artist Olive, a brash, boisterous woman raising her young son in Oklahoma through a variety of schemes and grifts. Bobby (Spencer List) adores his mom, but Olive is forced to decide if he might have a better future in the custody of a grieving couple (Bill Pullman and Marcia Cross) who take an interest in the boy.

Janssen wrote the screenplay based on a story idea she and her boyfriend, Cole Frates, came up with. A native of the Netherlands who moved to New York City to work as a model in her late teens, Janssen said she was inspired by her own experiences as an immigrant observing America, particularly in heartland states such as Oklahoma, where Frates grew up.

“I just wanted to play around with the idea of what is it like to look from the outside into a country? What’s the perception?” Janssen said. “Then very much the idea of living the American dream, which I feel like I’m the perfect example of. America’s a land of immigrants and people who come there with big dreams, and that’s my journey. It’s Olive’s journey.”

Potential financial backers asked Janssen why she did not simply play the lead herself. Janssen did that once on a short film she directed years ago and decided she did not want to work in front of and behind the camera at the same time again.

The workload becomes too heavy, and the demands of acting would have pulled her away from her duties as director, Janssen said.

She also got tired of looking at herself on film.

“I couldn’t stand it in the editing room. ‘Oh my God, me again. I can’t! I’m terrible in this movie! I hate myself!'” Janssen said. “Also, I did not want to be in the makeup trailer. It’s very different. There’s a lot of men who direct movies and act in them, but they don’t have to sit in the makeup trailer for two hours getting ready. … I only wanted to be on set, and it was spectacular. I loved every minute of it.”

Since finishing “Bringing Up Bobby,” Janssen has gone back to work as an actress for hire in “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” a dark twist on the fairy tale in which the young siblings (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) grow up to become bounty hunters of the supernatural. Janssen plays the head witch in the action tale, due out next year.

Janssen said it was a challenge rejoining the troops and taking orders after being in charge on her own movie set. While she seeks out acting jobs to pay the bills, Janssen will be developing projects she can direct herself on the side.

“I’m not really good at waiting for the phone to ring to see if someone wants me for a part,” Janssen said. “And most of the time, I don’t really like being told what to do, frankly. So it’s much nicer to tell people what to do, instead. So it suits me a lot better, and I hope to more and more go do this.”

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