Famke Janssen came to the United States from Holland and quickly established herself as one of Hollywood’s leading ladies. She broke out with her role as a Bond Girl in GoldenEye before taking on the iconic role of Jean Grey in the original X-Men trilogy. However, she is now taking on a new role in her career, behind the camera, for her directorial debut, Bringing Up Bobby.
Janssen brought her movie to the deadCENTER Film Festival in Oklahoma City, the same state where she shot the film. At the festival, Janssen was presented the award for Best Oklahoma Film for 2012 for Brining Up Bobby and was gracious enough to take the time to talk with me about her decision to direct, the fun of shooting in Oklahoma and more.
What made you decide to step into the director’s chair and decide this is what you wanted to do with this movie?
That was actually long in the making. I applied to AFI writing program with a script a long time ago. There was actually a time where I was debating which direction I was going to take, either acting, which was really difficult to break into, or writing. Right at the time I was accepted into the AFI film school, I got the opportunity to be in the Bond movie. At that point, I thought I had to take this now. I got derailed for awhile but I kept writing. I had a few false starts with movies I tried to get off the ground and then this one finally stuck. It seems out of the blue but it is a dream I have had for a really long time.
You wrote Rory Cochrane’s role with him in mind. How did that work out?
Rory and I met about 18 years ago, on our first movie called Fathers & Sons and we have been best friends ever since. It really helps when you have someone in mind when you write the part of a character. Rory is very funny and I wanted to make sure we had a comic relief in this film. ‘30s movies were such a big influence and comic timing was a crucial aspect of it. I wrote this part of Walt with Rory in mind, knowing his cadence, the way he speaks and his jokes. He made it funnier because he comes up with better lines so it was fantastic to work with him.
Talk about your child actor in the movie. How did you find him for this movie?
Spencer List. Spencer List is amazing and it was one of those challenges. We only had a local casting director here in Oklahoma, Michelle De Long, but we didn’t have a casting director prior to coming here to help us out. My producing partner, Sofia Sondervan, and I just went through ‘which movies have you seen with kids lately and what movies are coming out with kids?’ We didn’t know any child agencies and they are a whole separate thing from the agencies we had been dealing with. Finally, we got to one child agent who gave us a bunch of head shots and one of them was Spencer. I set up, in my apartment in New York, a casting session of a whole day with kids coming in and he was the first kid to walk in. I thought, ‘please, when you open your mouth be as perfect as you are right now’ because it was exactly the way I envisioned Bobby in the movie. He’s perfect.
I saw a lot of footage I recognized in the movie from Oklahoma. How important was Oklahoma as a character in the movie?
Very important. Oklahoma had inspired the movie. My partner Cole Frates is from here and I met his family and came here to visit and I saw the place through the eyes of an outsider, so it really influenced the movie. It was another character and we wanted it to be in the way that Paris, Texas was filmed in the idea that we are seeing a state through the eyes of an outsider. My DP, Guido van Gennep, is Dutch like me and we worked a lot from different movies. I made a director’s book that had all these different photographs that inspired the movie that I used for all the department heads to use as a guideline. It had to be Oklahoma. We had to fight to get it here and it wasn’t easy. It was all constantly about how much money we could save by shooting in different states. We shot with the help of the Oklahoma Film Commission and the Rural Tax Credit that since has, unfortunately, folded. But it was there for us so we could shoot here, which is great.
How nervous is it to show it here in Oklahoma?
I have to say, we have screened it now for the last year all over the world. This is the most nerve wracking one because there are so many people here who worked on the film, behind the scenes and in front of the camera, and you just want to make sure you thank everyone properly. I would feel horrendous if I made an oversight and forgot so that part makes me nervous.