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Actress Famke Janssen May Get the Roles, but Not Always the Guys

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

As beautiful as she is, Famke Janssen almost never gets the guy in her movies. Take this summer’s mega-hit “X-Men.” Though Janssen’s Dr. Jean Grey is attracted to the hunky hero Wolverine, she can’t seem to abandon her rather stodgy fiancee.

Kenneth Branagh spurned her in Woody Allen’s “Celebrity.” Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond found her a bit too much to handle in “GoldenEye.” Matt Damon turned her down in “Rounders.” And now Jon Favreau is the man who gets away in the new romantic comedy, “Love & Sex.”

“It’s some sort of theme that happens to my characters,” muses the Dutch-born actress during a recent breakfast interview at a small West Hollywood eatery. “Most of the time I don’t end up getting the guy.”

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(In real life, Janssen separated last year from her husband of 11 years, Tod Williams, the writer-director of “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole,” in which she appeared. “We’re best friends,” she says.)

“Love & Sex” writer-director Valerie Breiman was in the last stages of casting her low-budget romantic comedy when she saw the whippet-slim former model in “Celebrity.”

“She is so real and natural in it and when she gets dumped by Kenneth Branagh, she just handles it so well,” says Breiman. “The fact that she got dumped by Kenneth Branagh let me know that she was perfect to play Kate.”

Janssen’s Kate is a Los Angeles-based magazine writer who reflects upon her rather miserable love life while trying to write an article on relationships for her harpish boss (Ann Magnuson). The comedy focuses on her passionate but volatile relationship with her ex-lover Adam (Favreau), an artist with very bizarre sideburns. They meet cute at an exhibition of his paintings and live together in blissful sin for a year.

Their relationship begins to disintegrate, though, when Kate suffers a miscarriage. Plus, the relatively inexperienced Adam becomes increasingly jealous of her promiscuous past and decides to sow some wild oats of his own. Though they break up, Kate and Adam remain best friends. As the years pass, Adam decides he wants them to become a couple again.

“We had to shoot this film in 21 days,” Breiman says. “[Janssen] was incredible under pressure. The fact that she was in every single scene and she had to carry the film and then to do it with such savvy. She just carried it really well and the chemistry between the two of them just came through.”

Janssen recalls laughing out loud at Breiman’s script. “I remember thinking it is so honest, it is so real. It is a romantic comedy that is more edgy than the ones I have seen in the past. It takes us places we haven’t seen that much on screen before as far as relationship issues. I really liked what she did with it and how flawed the characters were, especially for two leading characters in a film.”

The actress has teamed up again with Favreau for “Made,” a film in which he stars in, wrote and directed. “I play a stripper in the film,” Janssen says, laughing. “He wrote that part for me. I am sure it is no accident after he had to strip in this movie.”

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Janssen, 34, came to New York as a model when she was 20. “Modeling was nothing I ever pursued,” says Janssen. “I was discovered on the streets. I was in my first year in college [in the Netherlands] and I really didn’t like what I was studying--economics. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

So when the modeling opportunity came up, she took it in hopes that during her travels she would figure out what she wanted to do. By the time she got to New York, she had set her sights on acting. “I modeled for a couple of years and then quit. I went to Columbia University. I didn’t want to study acting. I wanted an all-around eduction. After I finished there, I stayed in New York.”

She got her first film there, a 1992 indie production, “Fathers and Sons” with Jeff Goldblum. “It gave me a completely screwed-up idea of the business because the job was fairly easy to get,” she says. “Of course, three people saw it.”

Janssen struggled for the next couple of years. “I would come really close on projects but wouldn’t get them.” Then she landed the memorable role of Bond girl, Xenia Onatopp, in 1995’s “GoldenEye.” But no sooner did she get the part then she learned about the Bond girl “curse.”

“The thing I kept getting over and over again from the press was ‘Don’t you realize there is a curse and you’ll never work again because that is what happens to Bond girls?’ ”

But Janssen shrugged off their warnings. “Who knows the deal is with those women,” she says. “Maybe at the time they were just models and they didn’t have any aspirations to be an actress. I never like to compare myself with other people. I just thought it was a great opportunity if it works out the right way and hopefully I would get to work with people I want to work with.”

But she admits that after “GoldenEye” it was a “bit tricky” to convince directors she wasn’t just a beautiful Bond girl. “All of a sudden people would go, she is so exotic. She’s so foreign or whatever.”

So she fought for and won a decidedly unglamorous role in the gritty film noir “City of Industry.” Since then she’s played everything from a shy teacher in “The Faculty” to a shrewish wife in “The House on Haunted Hill.” And she’s worked with such noted directors as Allen, Robert Altman, Bryan Singer and Ted Demme.

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Janssen is currently going through the busiest time of her career. In fact, it may be a bit too busy. “I don’t even know how I am still standing,” she says.

For nearly a year she’s been working on “X-Men"--filming the sci-fi thriller on location in Toronto for six months and then spending the past several months promoting it.

Ironically, she wasn’t interested at first in playing the mutant superhero Dr. Jean Grey, who’s telekinetic. “I knew nothing of ‘X-Men’ comic books or the TV show,” she says.

She became intrigued when she learned Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) was attached as the director. “Judging by the films he had done up to that point, I thought he would give it a different tone.”

Because of her hectic schedule, Janssen says she’s currently living “nowhere.” Her sublet in Los Angeles is up at the end of the month and she’s planning on taking her two cats and moving back to New York as soon as she finds a place to live.

Janssen is also in the midst of trying to option the film rights to a book. “It is a great part for a woman,” Janssen says, adding she doesn’t want to mention the novel’s title until the deal is done. “I will be a part of every single aspect of the process.”


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