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.
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.
I’m sure some would still try to argue this point, but in a world where it seems like just about every comic-inspired movie finds itself atop the box office on its week of release, it’s hard to pretend that comics are strictly the domain of the geeks and the nerds. (Would that this transition could’ve occurred when I was still in high school.)
As such, Bullz-Eye is going to try to tackle more stories from the medium…and when I was sent a copy of “Ides of Blood,” a new series from DC / WildStorm which is – at least according to the press release – not entirely unlike a blend of “True Blood” and “Rome,” it certainly seemed like something that our readership might be interested in learning more about.
God bless DC’s publicity department: they quickly put me in touch with series creator Stuart Paul, who gladly answered a few questions for us about his own introduction to comic books, the origins of “Ides of Blood,” his semi-controversial decision to have characters in ancient Rome use modern colloquialisms, which of DC’s stable of superheroes he’d like to take a shot at writing, and much much more.
Since I’ve seen the phrase “new to comic books” used in conjunction with your history of writing for the medium, what’s your personal background with comics? And don’t be shy: if your memory stretches back that far, feel free to offer up the very first comic you remember buying.
My childhood experience with comics was pretty limited. Other than reading the occasional issue of Moon Knight or X-Men at my friend’s house, the only comics I personally bought were “Star Trek” comics—mostly “Next Generation” and some of the original crew that took place in the post-”Wrath of Khan” time period. It wasn’t until college that my girlfriend reintroduced me to comics through Sandman. Once I realized there were comics for adults out there, I started reading them more and more. Initially, I stuck with the superstars—Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Garth Ennis. I was kind of a Vertigo whore at first. I guess I still kind of am, but not as much. I have to hear a lot of good buzz about something before I’ll invest in a whole series like Walking Dead, but I’ve definitely branched out. Once I discovered Urasawa’s Pluto, I started getting into manga more. Right now, I’ve got 20th Century Boys, Basilisk and Lone Wolf and Cub to read. I also went through a period of reading a lot of DC superheroes. Jeph Loeb’s Batman stuff is my favorite. Sometimes I’ll still read X-Men, but it’s pretty rare for me to read superheroes these days. My favorite series right now is probably Okko. I think Archaia is doing some of the most creative and well-made comics today. Also, Chew is the only series I read on a monthly basis. Everything else is TPB’s, although the iPad is kind of changing that.
There’s been much talk about how fans of both “True Blood” and “Rome” will find much to enjoy in Ides of Blood. Is that combination what led to the concept for this series? If not, what were its origins, and how do you feel about those points of comparison?
No, neither show existed when I originally came up with the idea and wrote the first draft. I mean, I don’t have a problem with people using those as points of reference. It’s an effective shorthand, but it’s the type of thing you’d bring up in a Hollywood pitch meeting. The problem is that you don’t necessarily know what connotations those shows have for the reader and also, they’re such current references that it makes the comic sound like it’s just trying to exploit the zeitgeist. I mean, if you said it’s “Gladiator” meets… well, actually, “Dracula” might have too much baggage attached to the name, so I guess “True Blood” probably is a good descriptor. The point is, I don’t mind the comparison, but I do think it has as much potential to put-off readers as it does to draw them in. Anyway, the concept for the series came out of boredom. I don’t really like vampires, so it started as a challenge to myself to figure out what I’d have to do to make vampires interesting to me. Julius Caesar just popped into my head.