The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Famke Janssen (“Hemlock Grove”)

Famke Janssen made both her film and television debuts in 1992, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when she became a Bond girl by the unforgettable name of Xenia Onatopp in “GoldenEye,” that everything started to come up roses for her. In the intervening years, Janssen has made multiple films, most notably starring as Jean Gray in the “X-Men” franchise, but 2013 marks her inaugural foray into a full-time TV series gig…and by “TV series,” what I really mean is a Netflix series. “Hemlock Grove,” produced by Eli Roth, kicks off its first season on Friday, April 19, but Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Janssen way back in January, at the Television Critics Association press tour, about her new series as well as a few of her past films.

FamkeHemlock1

Bullz-Eye: “Hemlock Grove” marks the first time you’ve ever taken on a series-regular role for television. Did you have any trepidation about taking that kind of a plunge for a show that’s being delivered to viewers in a non-traditional manner, or was that part of what drew you to it?

Famke Janssen: Trepidation about that element? No. Doing a series, period? Yes. [Laughs.] But to me, I think the fact that it was for Netflix and not your traditional network or cable show was one of the deciding factors—or certainly an added bonus, anyway—because it felt like we were kind of in the wild west, with new territory to explore. It wasn’t this whole weight of a specific way of working that we had to carry through in some way. So with that, I was hoping that there would be less control coming from above, and not so much like a big studio standing there with a whip, making you feel like you’re more of a puppet than anything else. Also, the whole 13-episode part was attractive as well, because I’m designed my life in such a way now that I’m trying to go back and forth between writing and directing and acting, and signing up for something that would’ve taken an entire year, as a network show would’ve…I hadn’t considered that at all, just because I don’t have the time for it. I don’t want to tie myself down. So in that regard, it was a perfect set-up, because I can make money and then I can pursue my passion of writing and directing in my free time.

BE: So what can you tell us about Olivia Godfrey without divulging anything too spoiler-y?

FJ: Olivia’s still mysterious even to me, and I’ve lived with her now for 13 hours onscreen, not to mention many more hours shooting the series, of course. She’s married into this Godfrey family, a family with a lot of money, but she comes from a lot of money as well…or she seems to, anyway. But whether she does come from a lot of money or where she really comes from or what her deal really is, nobody really knows, and maybe nobody will ever find out. [Laughs.] She’s highly manipulative. She loves her children, but she’s also somebody who just has an agenda most of the time. And she’s in love with her husband’s brother, and…there are all sorts of integral relationships with bizarre things going on within this small town as well as with these family members. [Shrugs.] It feels like “Twin Peaks” to me. That’s what it felt like. That’s the reason why I really liked it: because it is, in a good way, nonsensical. It’s not linear. You’re not gonna…not everything is going to be explained. There are going to be a lot of mysteries surrounding it all. Nothing is going to be wrapped up with a neat bow.

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DVD REVIEW: Top Gear – 50 Years of Bond Cars

At first glance, this disc looks like a bit of throwaway fluff, but after watching it? If you are a Bond fan, you will love this 60 minute “Top Gear” special. Period. Host Richard Hammond – who so very clearly loves Bond as much as we do – takes viewers on a guided tour through Bond film history, packed with clips, stories and trivia. Now, I call myself a Bond freak, but there are probably a half-dozen different behind the scenes stories Hammond relates here that were entirely new to me. One involved the procuring of the iconic Aston Martin DB5 for use in “Goldfinger”; another detailed a stunt for “The Man with the Golden Gun” with the AMC Hornet that could have gone disastrously wrong.

A great deal of attention is paid to the DB5, but an equal amount of love is given to the Lotus Esprit from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Surely you remember that one? It’s the sleek white job that turned into a submarine and made cinematic history. Though the tech of 1977 wouldn’t allow for the actual creation of such a vehicle, Hammond puts today’s technology to the test by attempting to make a fully functional Lotus submarine. You have got to see this. If that doesn’t do it for you (though how it couldn’t is baffling), there’s also his comical attempt at making an invisible car with the help of flatscreen TVs and cameras!

You can tell Hammond’s a take no prisoners fan, too. When the series starts to go to shit in the Brosnan era, he takes it to task for its failure to create proper vehicular thrills. The special also features Hammond chatting up directors Guy Hamilton and Vic Armstrong, Roger Moore, Daniel Craig, and producer Michael G. Wilson on the set of “Skyfall.” Speaking of “Skyfall,” if you’ve not yet ordered your copy from Amazon, this disc will nicely pad out your order so you can get free shipping.

  

007 One by One: ‘You Only Live Twice’

Bullz-Eye is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film with look back at every Bond movie, 007 One by One, along with a series of features about the Bond franchise, all laid out in our James Bond Fan Hub.

As the worldwide spy craze peaks, the James Bond series settles in for the long, tongue-in-cheek haul with this often maligned but very enjoyable entry, introducing the world to both ninjas and the original Dr. Evil. It also might have been the final appearance of Sean Connery as 007, except that it wasn’t.

“You Only Live Twice” (1967)

The Plot

A United States space capsule is hijacked, killing one astronaut. Naturally, the Americans assume the Soviets are at fault and world war seems a real possibility. There’s only one thing for the level-headed English to do: Stage James Bond’s death and send him on an undercover mission to Japan to expose SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s plot to dominate the world by partially destroying it.

The Backstory

With enormous success comes enormous pressures and change was very definitely in the air as “You Only Live Twice” began production. Now one of the world’s most bankable stars after the mega-success of “Thunderball,” Sean Connery was contractually on board for only one more film and starting to be seriously fed up with all the 007 insanity.

Behind the camera, original Bond director Terrence Young had had his fill and “Goldfinger” helmer Guy Hamilton was unavailable. Editor and second unit director Peter Hunt, who had been instrumental in the series’ creative success, badly wanted to helm the project, but producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman apparently weren’t ready for a first timer for Bond #5. Therefore, a new recruit was sought out to join the small fraternity of James Bond directors.

An old hand at period pieces and war films, Lewis Gilbert was hot off an Oscar nomination for a classic-to-be about a compulsive womanizer who could give Bond a run for his money. “Alfie” starred Connery’s good friend, fellow movie spy, and now award-winning box office rival, Michael Caine.

Lewis Gilbert also brought along one of the very few directors of photography who could have reasonably stepped into the very big shoes of series regular Ted Moore. Freddie Young had won the first of his four Oscars a couple of years prior for David Lean’s visually stunning 1963 70mm masterpiece, “Lawrence of Arabia.” For the sake of keeping things consistent, all the other key collaborators, were back on board in their regular roles, i.e., composer John Barry, credit designer Maurice Binder, and production designer Ken Adam. For once, they’d all have a nice budget to play with, too.

The script, however, was an issue. The novel “You Only Live Twice,” was the last Bond book published in Ian Fleming’s lifetime and the story was problematic for more than one reason. For starters, it was actually the third and final installment in what literary Bond fans call “the Blofeld Trilogy.” EON’s original intent had been to film the books in their original order. That way Blofeld, who had been teased as a character starting in “Dr. No,” would get his long-delayed onscreen introduction in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and finally suffer James Bond’s revenge in the follow-up, “You Only Live Twice.” Unfortunately, logistics made the ski chalet setting of “Majesty” impractical for the summer release EON and United Artists had their hearts set on.

The other problem was that the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel, which involved Blofeld setting up a lavish sanitarium for wealthy suicides, just didn’t seem to be the stuff of a James Bond movie. It also ended with Bond fathering a child with Kissy Suzuki. Only a few elements from the book would remain in the finished movie, most notably the Japanese setting, love interest Kissy, and friendly spy boss Tiger Tanaka.

There was also a problem with finding a writer. Richard Maibum, who had worked on every Bond up to this point, was deemed unavailable. A rumored screenplay by renowned author Kingsley Amis had been reportedly dismissed. Another script was commissioned by writer Harold Jack Bloom, but little of his work would remain in the finished film.

The final choice of screenwriter turned out to be an interesting one. Decades after his death, Roald Dahl remains one of the world’s most popular children’s writers with such film-friendly classics as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Witches,” “Matilda,” and “James and the Giant Peach” all too his credit. He might have seemed a far likelier choice for writing an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s children’s book, “Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang,” the gig that was apparently keeping Richard Maibum busy. Nevertheless, Dahl had written his share of adult thrillers and had actually performed wartime espionage and been friends with Fleming. Scads of 007-inspired spy spoofs were upping the humor ante and this would be a somewhat more tongue-in-cheek Bond. Dahl’s dark sense of humor would be a plus.

The main thrust of the film’s new plot was apparently invented by Cubby Broccoli, however. Upon seeing a dormant volcano while scouting locations, he came up with the idea of using it as a giant villain’s lair. With the U.S.-Soviet space race at full swing, the Russian-Chinese split a topical news item, and terrorism on the rise, the idea of SPECTRE hijacking spacecrafts in order to start a world war on behalf of Red Chinese clients seemed like a natural.

The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 + 1)

Once again, 007 does the espionage nasty with three beautiful women on his Japan adventure. Shockingly, however, the movie’s main love interest is not one of them.

Ling (Tsai Chow) — This lovely lady of Hong Kong engages in mildly racist pillow talk with Bond and then reveals herself to be an accomplice in the spy’s elaborately faked death. Though her part is small, actress Tsai Chow was already a recording artists and a major star of the London stage in “South Pacific” and “The World of Suzie Wong.” Her very long film career would include parts in “The Joy Luck Club,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and the 2006 Bond reboot, “Casino Royale.”

Helga Brandt (Karen Dor) — The latest Bond villainess with preying mantis-like tendencies, the dangerous Ms. Brandt is the secretary/in-house assassin of the wealthy SPECTRE operative, Mr. Osato. She has her way with Bond, then fails at killing him. It’s only natural that she winds up a victim of SPECTRE’s signature approach to personnel management, which in her case means being fed to the CEO’s pet piranhas. Actress Karen Dor has enjoyed a very long career in German films and television that continues to this day. She also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s unsuccessful spy thriller, “Topaz,” and the modestly titled horror flick, “The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism.”

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Drink of the Week: The Cosmopolitan

the Cosmopolitan Ready for a change of pace? Last week, we were going over an actual creation by Mr. James Bond. Today’s post-Thanksgiving refreshment is most commonly associated with Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City.” Now, I’m probably not quite the most macho member of the very manly gang at this here online men’s magazine, but something about that show has made me want to avoid it at all costs. While I’m far from averse to watching 1940′s “women’s pictures” and I love a good romantic comedy a great deal more than the next guy, somehow I could never bring myself to check out more than a minute or two of the HBO hit-cum-franchise.

How shocked was I, then, to find, a couple of years back, that the drink most associated with that show, and which I had assumed to be a super-sweet catastrophe, was actually kind of delicious? Pretty shocked. At least that was clearly the case when made correctly at a nice restaurant/bar like the sadly closed down Culver City outlet of Fraiche.

And so it was that I found myself looking for something that was somehow appropriate for the post-Turkey Day weekend, and the fact that I had a bunch of unsweetened cranberry juice sitting in my refrigerator from a prior adventure. After making Cosmopolitans a bunch of times this week, I will say that while a drink that only goes back to the mid-1980s wouldn’t usually be called a classic, I think the Cosmo just may be a real contender for boozy immortality.

The Cosmopolitan

1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce unsweetened cranberry juice
Twist of lemon or orange (garnish)

Since you’re probably still getting over your turkey, pie, and warm beer hangover, you’ll be happy to know that this is a pretty darn easy drink to make, once you’ve gathered the ingredients. Simply combine the listed liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and shake as vigorously as Carrie Bradshaw would try to shake off a sub-par boyfriend, or something. (Remember, I never watched the show.)

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and enjoy, secure in your masculinity or femininity, or whatever combination thereof may be apply.

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I found that both the pleasant, but very sweet, Hiram Walker triple sec and the vastly more pricey and less sweet/slightly bitter Cointreau I used counterbalanced the tartness of the lime and unsweetened cranberry juice beautifully.  At least that was the case when my base spirit was good ol’ reliable Sky Vodka. The Cosmopolitan proved much less successful when I tried it with some 100 proof Smirnoff. With Cointreau it was, for lack of a better word, a bit nasty. With the sweeter triple sec, it was sweeter — but still nasty.

As for the garnishes, I recommend lemon peel to counter the sweetness of the triple sec if that’s what you’re using. Also, since The Cosmopolitan was, according to some, originally invented to be used with Absolut Citron and is still often made with lemon-infused/flavored vodkas, a touch of lemon flavor may be in order. Still, I loved the orange peel with my more upscale Mr. Big-budgeted version with Cointreau.

I have noticed, however, that some versions of this drink actually call for Rose’s sweetened lime juice instead of fresh squeezed, and I’m sure people are using super-sweet cranberry juice “cocktails” in this drink. Don’t.

  

Drink of the Week: The Vesper

The VesperThis was the recipe I’d always planned to do right around now. By “now,” I originally meant before the release of the first James Bond movie in several years and/or right around the 50th anniversary of the 007 film series. Even so, I managed to miss the fact that the opening weekend of “Skyfall” was last weekend and not this weekend, so we’re a bit late.

This despite the fact that I and my Bullz-Eye compatriots have spent — and are spending — a fair amount of time actually writing up the Bond films for this very blog. (Check out the Bondian fan hub here.) Fortunately, the movie is turning out to be the most successful film in the uber-franchise in a long while — how long probably depends on whether you bother to adjust for inflation — so it’s going to be around awhile. That means the Bond celebration will also continue.

The Vesper, I should say, is a tricky and ironic drink among late period cocktail classics. Since it debuted in the very first James Bond novel,1953′s Casino Royale, and was created for 007 author Ian Fleming by his friend, Ivar Bryce, a fellow real-life spy, the supercool authenticity factor is off the charts. The scene in the 2006 film version where Bond finally orders the drink some 53 years after it was first invented was a special treat for diehard spy fans and cocktail lovers, and I’m both.

The downside here is that there are issues relating to the ever formulating changes in booze brands that has made the idea of the Vesper a bit more enthralling than the actual drink usually is. We’ll get to those, and a bit more history, after the very, very strong recipe below.

First, however, a word to wise boozer. If you drink a whole Vesper, you really should be done for the night. Mere mortals should not drink like functioning dipsomaniac superspies. You may want to consider cutting the portions here in half or pouring this drink into two glasses for you and a friend.

The Vesper

3 ounces gin (90 proof or above)
1 ounce vodka (100 proof or close, probably)
1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine your ingredients in cocktail shaker with a sufficiency of ice. Though heretical cocktail snobs will tell you to stir, this is an Ian Fleming cocktail and Mr. Fleming would certainly have you shake the drink. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or, if you really want to be classical, do as Bond asked the barman in the novel and serve it in a deep champagne goblet. Add your lemon twist, sip and surrender your car keys to the nearest trustworthy soul. Watch out for double agents.

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In the scene in the novel (included in the wiki I linked to above), CIA agent Felix Leiter expresses some skepticism about the as-yet unnamed Vesper, which Bond later names for the first of his two true loves, Vesper Lynd. It is a very big drink and not for pikers. It also a drink that, as cocktail historian David Wondrich and many others have admitted, hasn’t aged terribly well for a number of reasons.

First of all, all the ingredients have changed. Bond specifically requests Gordon’s Gin. Though it’s no longer considered on the high-end of the gin scale, I actually quite like today’s value-priced Gordon’s, but the flavor of today’s version can’t be the same as was back in ’53. Gordon’s is now only 80 proof. Back then, it was a higher proof and most, Wondrich included, now suggest using Tanqueray. This time around, I used the similarly high proof Beefeater, which seemed a bit more classical.

As for vodka, Wondrich and others seem to assume it would have been 100 proof. At $26.00 a bottle, I’m simply too cheap to buy 100 Stolichnaya, so I went with the $16.00 100 proof Smirnoff. I’ve never really been sold on Stoli and I doubt Bond or Mr. Fleming would have drunk a communist vodka.

Moving down the list of ingredients, I love Lillet Blanc. In fact, maybe my favorite thing about the Vesper is that it introduced me to this intriguing aperitif wine and occasional cocktail ingredient; it tastes like dry vermouth and sweet vermouth made love and birthed an independent-minded female child. However, it also apparently isn’t what it once was. Mr. Bond’s original recipe calls for the now long-gone Kina Lillet, which we are told had a bit more quinine than the present day Lillet Blanc.

That leads us to the use of the bitters, which are an attempt — some would argue a rather lame attempt — to compensate for the low level of quinine. Folks with more time and money than I have been known to actually purchase quinine powder. Since I’m not fighting a case of malaria right now, I chose not to.

So, what do I think of the Vesper? I’ve made this drink probably 10 times over the years and ordered it a few times in bars and, with a couple of exceptions, I’ve been disappointed in the taste while always enjoying the effect. A regular martini, either of the gin or vodka variety, will usually go down more pleasantly. Even so, if you want to drink the one drink that James Bond created on the spot, well, you’ve got no other choice. You’ll drink it and, by the time you’ve finished all that booze, you’ll like it.

In any case, it’s only human to want to try the drink James Bond made up.

  

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