From executive producer Eli Roth and based on Brian McGreevy’s gripping novel of the same name, Hemlock Grove, is a murder mystery set in a Pennsylvania steel town, in which Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen) is the otherworldly beautiful and controlling matriarch. As the crime goes unsolved and outlandish rumors mount, everyone is forced to confront unspeakable truths about themselves and Hemlock Grove, as the mystery unfolds in this 13-episode first season. The show also stars Dougray Scott, Bill Skarsgard, Landon Liboiron, Penelope Mitchell, Freya Tingley and Lili Taylor.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Famke Janssen talked about what led her to take this role, the similar tone to Twin Peaks (which she loves), why she likes to stray from the source material to make a character her own, how diabolical and manipulative her character is, the advantages of being able to watch the entire season at once on Netflix, and how she would love to play comedy more often. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
FAMKE JANSSEN: They approached me. I had taken a couple years off of acting to direct my own movie. I didn’t decide to take three years off. It just, ultimately, happened that way. After that, I started to look. I did Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Taken 2 and a bunch of stuff. I’m just so grateful for that. I don’t even know what happened. I’m not going to question it. I’m just going to be very grateful for the opportunity. As a woman, you just never know. It’s a very fickle business. As you get older, people just get wiped off the screen so quickly that you don’t even know what happened to them or why they were wiped off. Anyway, I’m grateful I got to come back with a vengeance.
So, a couple of television things were offered to me, but I’ve always been very nervous about TV. The only thing I’ve only done was Nip/Tuck, and it was only one season, but I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the collaboration of it, but that was a cable show. I’ve always been afraid of network TV because it takes up your entire year and it’s grueling hours with a repetitive nature. And it’s mostly not shot in New York, where I live and want to be. Now, especially given how I want to design my life, with writing, directing and acting, it just didn’t fit in.
And then, Hemlock Grove came along, after I had just passed on a couple of things for television. I got on the phone with Eli [Roth] and the producers, and it was the words Twin Peaks that they mentioned as a guideline for what they wanted the show to be, visually and tonally. That’s how they got me. It’s the only show I’ve ever really watched religiously on television. I loved it! I love that it’s not explainable. Life is not explainable. Whose life is ever neatly wrapped up? I know that film doesn’t function that way, or network television. It’s not my way of thinking. I’m very European, anyway. Our films generally aren’t designed that way, and our television isn’t designed that way. So, I loved Twin Peaks and I thought, “This is for people like me who want to be in this world that is strange and peculiar and exciting and mysterious.” And Hemlock Grove reminded me of that.
Did you decide to read the book for this?
JANSSEN: I read the book, but then, I always stray from whatever the source material is. It can be interpreted in many different ways, and I feel like you always have to give it your own version. So, I wanted to stray from the book and make her my own.
JANSSEN: Yeah. Anything that you base on something – any adaptation – becomes its own thing. It’s never the same feel because it’s a different medium, so inherently, it’s going to be different. I think that, as much as they wanted to stay true to the novel for the first season, it became its own thing.
Was there something about this specific character that appealed to you?
JANSSEN: She’s very different. I never get to play people like me, which is probably a good thing. The only thing I wish I would get to play more is comedy. I did it in Love & Sex, but other than that, I don’t really get asked for it. I wanted to make this funnier than they allowed me to. It got to be a little more serious than I would have wanted to do. I’m a big fan of making things have humor somewhere. But, that’s what I’ll do in my own writing and directing. I’ll try to find the humor in that. But, there are definitely things about the character. She’s mysterious and not neatly wrapped up and never fully explained.
Who is Olivia Godfrey and how does she fit into this world?
JANSSEN: She’s the matriarch, and she’s really the queen of this whole town and extended family structure. She somehow has her claws into everything, in some way, shape or form. Even though it’s much more Bill and Landon’s show because it’s a young person’s story, and people like Dougray [Scott] and I are more the supporting cast, I’m really the one from which everything trickles down.
Does she enjoy manipulating people?
JANSSEN: She’s highly manipulative, by nature, yeah. She’s a diabolical character. For some reason, I always get to play these characters. I’m not really sure why. I’m really nothing like it, in life. Maybe it’s one of those art creating life, life creating art syndromes of who knows what I’m going to turn into one day, just because I’ve played too many of these weirdo characters. But, they’re fun. In Hansel & Gretel, I got to play this really ugly witch. It gives you a certain freedom. You don’t really have to stay within the restrictions that you normally do. You don’t have to be likeable.
What sort of relationship does Olivia have with her son, Roman (Bill Skarsgard)?
JANSSEN: A complicated one. Every relationship between people in this show and in this world is a complicated one. Nothing is what meets the eye, at first. There are a lot of complex relationships between people. There are things that you don’t realize from the beginning, that maybe you find out a little bit more about, or things that you never really understand fully, even at the end. But, Roman and Olivia are very similar in nature, so they butt heads a lot. She’s also extremely controlling and manipulative. She’s trying to create and make him into something, and he fights against it. At the same time, he’s still very much his mother’s son. He’s at an age where he still loves his mom very much, but is really fighting against it. It’s a bit of a tense relationship.
How does Olivia feel about the friendship between Roman and Peter (Landon Liboiron)?
JANSSEN: There’s a lot of tension there because there’s a lot of history there. So, she tries to keep them apart, which doesn’t work out very well.
Do you see the advantages with something like this, where Netflix allows the viewer to watch all of the episodes at once?
JANSSEN: I just did that with Twin Peaks. On Netflix, once you start watching an episode of something, you go into the next one and it’s so addictive that, before you know it, you’ve been sitting there for 13 hours watching something. I love it! It’s actually what I did with Nip/Tuck. When they offered me Nip/Tuck, I hadn’t seen the first season, so I watched it on DVD, at the time, and got so hooked that it became this thing of, “Oh, my god, should I watch the next one now, or should I wait for tomorrow?” I was on the couch with my chocolate next to me and my dog on my lap. There’s something about that that is now part of our lives. It wasn’t part of the past, but it is part of the future and it is part of our present lives, right now. We can dictate when and how we want to watch something, and there’s something really great about that. I think a lot more people are inclined to at least give it the entire first season, and not just watch three weeks of something on TV and then move on to the next one. You may as well just go and watch it because it’s right there.
Hemlock Grove is now available on Netflix.