In the action thriller Taken 2, from director Olivier Megaton and co-screenwriters Luc Besson (who’s also a producer on the film) and Robert Mark Kamen, Liam Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the retired CIA agent who stopped at nothing to save his abducted daughter (Maggie Grace). Two years later, the family of those responsible are now seeking their own vengeance, this time on his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), with whom Bryan is hoping to reconcile.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Famke Janssen talked about the surprise global success of the first film, her immediate reaction upon hearing about the sequel, working with a new director this time, and the experience of shooting in Istanbul. She also talked about taking three years away from acting to dedicate herself to her full-length feature debut as a writer/director, called Bringing Up Bobby, going through three hours of make-up to play a witch in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, what attracted her to the Eli Roth Netflix series Hemlock Grove, and the next film she’s hoping to direct. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: When did you first hear about this sequel, and what was your immediate reaction to it?
FAMKE JANSSEN: My immediate reaction was, “Sign me up! Can I get an offer, now?” I was thrilled to be a part of it. I think there’s a big misconception out there about actors and the choices they have. I think if you’re one of a lucky five, maybe, you’re that privileged, but most of us are living paycheck to paycheck and we’re really extremely grateful for opportunities. So, this one was a no-brainer. The first one was extremely successful. Liam Neeson is a big star. He’s an extremely nice person, to boot, and I was thrilled to be asked to work with him again. And I had taken off three years prior to that, to write and direct my own movie. I’ve been working back-to-back, ever since I started as an actress, just to catch up on some money, but not having an income for three years was tricky. So, this was a fantastic opportunity.
Was it weird to switch gears and get back to acting, after taking three years away from it, or did it come back right away?
JANSSEN: Well, the first thing I did after Bringing Up Bobby was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunter, which ironically comes out after Taken 2. The challenge there was going from being in control of every aspect of the film to sitting in a make-up chair, having prosthetic make-up put on my face for three hours, every day. That was really a big adjustment. And yeah, you get a little rusty, as an actor. It wasn’t until I started doing Hemlock Grove, where I’m doing so much acting because it’s a six-month shoot, that I’m finally feeling like I’m not as rusty anymore. It does disappear for a little bit, if you don’t keep it up. It really is a very different headspace.
Taken really came out of nowhere and became a huge hit. Were you surprised by the worldwide success of it?
JANSSEN: All of us were. I don’t think anybody anticipated the success. It came out in Europe before it came out in the United States, and it just kept going. It was a really pleasant surprised for all of us. You don’t ever know with films. You just hope for the best, but sometimes it’s a bit of a crapshoot. It’s like playing Russian roulette. You just don’t know, but you hope for the best. I don’t think anybody has the formula. If they did, a lot of financiers would be a lot richer.
You had a new director for the sequel, with Olivier Megaton. How did that experience compare?
JANSSEN: I think every movie is its own little world, and a director certainly sets the tone. With Liam [Neeson] and Maggie [Grace], there was a certain sense of familiarity, but it still felt like a very different movie. We also shot in Istanbul, where we didn’t shoot before. So, yeah, it was different.
What was it like to shoot in Istanbul, Turkey?
JANSSEN: It’s absolutely, spectacularly beautiful. It’s just one of those cities that should be on everybody’s list of 100 things to do before they die. It’s really amazing! It has this beautiful juxtaposition between old and new, and the various cultures and religions. It’s a very interesting city, in that regard. It’s outgrowing itself so fast because the city is built on this hill and its surrounded by water, and it’s one of the fastest growing economies. The amount of cars and people, you just sit in traffic for hours and it’s very chaotic, in that regard. That actually really added to all the stuff. My character in the movie, Lenore, is going through all that chaos. There’s cars and people on mopeds and wild dogs. That utter chaos worked beautifully for being a person that’s being taken, in a place like that. It doesn’t take much imagination to know how that would feel.
Were there many changes made to the script or the story, during pre-production?
JANSSEN: It was pretty similar to what I read. We really stuck to the script.
How was the experience of doing Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters? Was it challenging to act through all of that make-up?
JANSSEN: I thought so, yes. First of all, it literally was the first thing that I came back to, as an actress, after a three-year hiatus from acting to get my movie off the ground. So, after being in control and calling the shots, for all that time on Bringing Up Bobby, all of a sudden, I had to sit in a make-up chair for three hours every day and watch the transformation of being turned into this ugly witch. And then, with all that make-up on my face, I thought, “Well, how do you act?” And I had these contact lenses on. Everything that you rely on, as an actor, all your tools are taking away from you. I looked so scary, to begin with, so how far do you take it or how little do you have to do? It was a very different experience. I haven’t seen the end result yet, but I hope it turns out great.
Were you totally ready to celebrate never having to put all of that on again?
JANSSEN: Oh, my god, yes! The putting it on was bad enough, but the taking it off had 99% alcohol involved with it while I was just trying to preserve my face. It was a little disconcerting. But, it was a great experience. The cast is really wonderful. Jeremy Renner has become a big star, and Gemma Arterton is a lovely actress. All the way around, it has a great cast, so I’m excited about it.
Just how violent does the film get?
JANSSEN: We got an R rating, so it’s definitely not your children’s fairytale.
What attracted you to doing the Eli Roth Netflix series, Hemlock Grove?
JANSSEN: I liked the character, Olivia Godfrey, a lot. Netflix is something I watch. I don’t even have cable anymore, or a television. I just watch on computers. It’s clearly the future of where we’re heading. And there’s the whole notion of working for 13 episodes, and then having the rest of the year to follow my passion projects as a writer/director. That’s what I’m trying to get going, at the moment. It really fit in perfectly.
Does it put its own spin on the werewolf/vampire genre?
JANSSEN: Yeah, it does. This has more of a Twin Peaks approach, in that. And then, if you mix that with the setting, you should have a good idea of how it’s going to turn out.
Now that you’ve written and directed your first full-length feature, do you have a new appreciation for how all-consuming the job is?
JANSSEN: I absolutely do! I’ve been very close to it on independent films that I’ve done, as an actress, but it certainly becomes a different experience when you do it yourself. I had to sacrifice a lot to get the movie going and, ultimately, you have to keep pushing it up the hill because nobody else really does. It becomes your own passion project. It is a collaboration and I couldn’t have done it without all of the amazing people that were involved, but I had to be that driving force, every single day. It’s a really challenging and exhilarating experience. I cannot wait to do it again. We’re extremely lucky to have theatrical distribution, when most independent movies, these days, go straight to VOD. We have a great deal, so I’m thrilled.
Are you already working on what you’ll direct next?
JANSSEN: Yeah, I finished writing it and I’m ready. Now, I just need to get everybody else around me. I need to find a whole team to be as ready as I am. I’m in the midst of trying to put the entire thing together. It’s very time consuming, and money doesn’t hang from the trees where I live, at least. The biggest challenge is how you get money for independent films, in these ever-changing times when most people don’t really want to invest in that anymore.
What type of film will that be?
JANSSEN: It’s different. It’s called Rio Rojo, which means Red River in Spanish. That’s what the Colorado River used to be called. It’s a story set on the Mexican-American border. I don’t want to really say what it’s about, in detail, because it’s a somewhat steal-able idea, but I’m fully done with writing it. It’s going to be spoken both in Spanish and English, and a little bit in French. I’m super excited about it because it’s so different from Bringing Up Bobby. I came up with the idea and really got excited about developing it, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
Taken 2 opens in theaters on October 5th. Bringing Up Bobby is now playing.