The cast and filmmakers of 2008’s Taken were as surprised as anyone that the film became a blockbuster. “We had no idea it was going to become such a worldwide success,” Famke Janssen told Movie Fanatic exclusively.
The actress is phoning us from New York to discuss the Liam Neeson-starring sequel that lands in theaters October 5, but also to reflect on her writer-director debut with Bringing Up Bobby, as well as what it means to her to be part of the world of James Bond, which is subsequently celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this week.
“It really struck a chord at the time with people when it came out,” she said of Taken.
“Liam, of course, became a big action hero out of this which was also a surprise I’m sure for him and everybody else. But it was very well-deserved success,” Janssen said. “It’s always nice to see some unlikely movies, an unlikely candidate ending up like that.”
Janssen always thought that Taken was a stand-alone film, but triumph demanded a return to the thrilling exploits of Neeson’s Bryan Mills, Janssen’s Lenore (Bryan’s ex-wife) and their daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). “It’s not a story that normally lends itself very well to a sequel, you wouldn’t think. Then, when I read the script, I thought, ‘Oh wow. Yes, that’s completely going to work.’ They really pulled it off,” Janssen said.
In Taken 2, Janssen’s ex-wife character is more involved than she was in the first film. The actress also appreciated the opportunity to be more than the “evil ex.”
“I wanted to focus on making that character a little bit more likable. In the first one I didn’t have much screen time and whatever screen time I was given, the director wanted her really hard. She had a specific function in that plot, which was you have to dislike her,” Janssen said. “Liam ends up as the hero and she ends up as the mean ex-wife.”
Judging by her excitement, Janssen is clearly a fan of working with Neeson. “He is the nicest man and he’s a fantastic actor as we all know. He’s so kind, so gentle, so giving. He’s always present, he’s always there,” Janssen said. “I cannot say nice enough things about him. He really is truly an incredible man.”
When Janssen got together with Neeson, writer-producer Luc Besson and director Olivier Megaton, it was clear audiences would see a kinder, gentler character -- along with pumped-up thrills that are par for the course for any action movie sequel.
“In addition to the action sequences we also have this family unit and the drama between the three of them,” Janssen said.
The Taken 2 star admitted that even though success was a surprise for the first film, all involved have high hopes for the sequel.
“I hope it does really well at the box office. We just never know what people are going to say about a movie like this. But it’s a fun ride. It’s really great and entertaining,” she admitted.
There is also the fact that if the film does well, the actress can continue to make movies that speak to her as an artist. The last one’s blockbuster status allowed her to continue to work steadily, as well as make her screenwriting and directing debut with Bringing Up Bobby (out now).
“What I hope out of this is that I can continue to pursue various things in my career. I’m shooting Hemlock Grove right now which comes out in the spring of next year and also Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which I did with Jeremy Renner and comes out in January,” Janssen said.
“I’m just constantly trying to create, be busy, do the things that I love to do, act and write and direct, and produce. Success, especially box office success, really works in your favor in keeping your career alive which is a constant struggle. I’m just extremely grateful that I’m still working.”
The experience of making Bringing Up Bobby gave her a new appreciation for what directors go through in order to bring perfection to the screen, something she brought to making Taken 2.
“There’s just so much going on at all times that I’m really conscious now as an actor when I ask the director a question, like if it’s really something necessary or if I can figure it out on my own because I know they’re being bombarded 24/7 with questions,” Janssen said.
Time management, she learned, is probably the most difficult task of any helmer. “I certainly experienced that firsthand with Bringing up Bobby. Sometimes, as an actress, you say, ‘You know what? I need another take. I didn’t quite get there yet.’ Whereas now, I might think to myself, ‘Oh no, it’s okay. They’re running out of time anyway, so it’s better if I don’t do it.’”
Would she direct again? “It’s been an incredible ride and a very positive experience, although it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said and laughed.
“My next screenplay is ready to go and I’m just looking to put the entire thing together right now. So no, it has not deterred me in any way. If anything, my whole career has been like this, full of hurdles and obstacles because I’ve always wanted to take my own journey, my own path and it’s never been in anyone else’s footsteps.”
One of those stops along the way was starring in Goldeneye. Being a “Bond girl” is something she looks upon quite fondly, as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the British super spy landing in theaters.
“That was a really defining moment in my career. What I owe my success today to is that movie put me on the map in the way that nothing else prior to that had done,” Janssen said.
She is also proud of the pop culture icon that is being a female star of a James Bond film.
“And all that talk of people saying, ‘Oh, Bond girls, what do they do? Where do they ever go?’ I look at my career and I go, ‘Well, it’s certainly given me an incredible ride for the last 15 years: From being in independent films to studio films to working with Robert De Niro, Matt Damon, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Liam Neeson, going between acting, writing, directing to producing.’ I have nothing but positive things to say about that.”