Famke Janssen’s roles as Dr. Jean Grey in the X-Men movie series and the femme fatale in the James Bond film GoldenEye shot her to stardom, but the Dutch actress is down to earth in her musical passions -- from the song that helped her learn English to the track she digs into to play emotional scenes and an Americana classic. She recently won an award for her work in the independent film Turn the River and will be starring in the upcoming The L Word spinoff called The Farm.
1. Stevie Wonder - Village Ghetto Land
2. Cat Stevens - Trouble
3. Secret Garden - Adagio
4. The National - Daughters of the Soho Riots
5. The Flying Burrito Brothers - Sin City
Chris Douridas: Hi, this is Chris Douridas from KCRW, and I am here with actress Famke Janssen. Thanks for joining us.
Famke Janssen: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Chris: Absolutely. You might recognize Famke for her work in the "X-Men" series, among other things. So, we're going to talk about the music that's inspired you over the years. You were born in Holland.
Famke: Born and raised, yes.
Chris: Yeah, and at some point you, you made a move to the United States, and your English was a bit iffy at that point, wasn't it?
Famke: Yes. I learned English in school, probably started at about age 12, 14 or something. But, at the time, this teacher decided that she was going to teach her 12-year-old students a Stevie Wonder song called - it's from the album "Songs in the Key of Life," that's the name of the album -- and "Village Ghetto Land" is the song. And it's such a dark song. Especially for a 12-year-old, when English is your second language, you have no idea what you're translating. And that album has always stuck by me, other than I think that Stevie Wonder is a genius and apparently he did everything on that album. But it just always struck me, you know, later on in life, what an interesting teacher to pick that song to teach little kids how to speak English!
Song: Stevie Wonder’s Village Ghetto Land
Chris: Village Ghetto Land from Steve Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life.
You're a big Hal Ashby fan too, the filmmaker.
Famke: Huge Hal Ashby fan.
Chris: You've chosen a song that comes from probably his most, well, one of the films he is most remembered for his soundtrack.
Famke: Harold and Maude. One of my favorite movies of all time. I know in reading -- because I'm obsessed with him, I've read a lot about him -- reading back of what people said at the time of Harold and Maude, some reviewers said I'm going to do you a favor by not reviewing this film. It is unbelievable what this man had to go through in his lifetime, with the movies that he made and then getting those types of reviews, but on the soundtrack of Harold and Maude is "Trouble," Cat Stevens song. Cat Stevens is unbelievably talented. And one of the songs I've probably used most as an actor in movies when I have to play emotional scenes, because for whatever reason, I can barely listen to it, it somehow because I associated it with so many painful moments that I had to play in movies, it is difficult to listen to. But I think it is a heartbreakingly beautiful song.
Song: Cat Steven’s Trouble
Chris: That's "Trouble" from Cat Stevens. Famke Janssen is with us. I'm Chris Douridas, it's KCRW. We are hearing some of the songs that inspired her over the years. There is a film by Kar Wai Wong that I'm not really familiar with …
Famke: 2046, you’ve never seen it?
Chris: Yeah, 2046. I've never seen it.
Famke: I would really recommend checking it out. His films are poetic, beautiful to watch, very stylized and very moody. His music really emphasizes all those particular elements that he brings to a film and they are another separate character. The piece that I picked, "Secret Garden," is a very moody piece. There is an Irish and Norwegian duo called Secret Garden that created this piece. I just like a lot of the music or my influences in music often come from films because film is such a huge part and influence in my life. So, I'm always curious what filmmakers pick for their soundtrack and how it’s either distracting from what's going on or adds to the film. Those are the things that are interesting to watch because there are films when you feel like you're singing or humming along to a song, but it's really not appropriate at that moment because you should be in the movie. Then there are other movies where you are so drawn into the story and then all of the sudden this music starts playing that only adds to your emotions that you're already feeling. I think Kar Wai Wong is a master of that.
Song: Secret Garden’s Adagio
Chris: It’s a piece from the Kar Wai Wong film, 2046, is called "Adagio", performed by Secret Garden with David Agnew. You mentioned how when music is part of the films you work on it's an important thing for you how the choices are made and where the directors intentions are with the regard to the music. The National is a band that's part of a film project for you...
Famke: Yes, I'm in a film called Turn the River. I play a woman named Kailey who has lost custody of her kid. When she finds out that the ex-husband has probably beaten the kid, she wants to do everything in her power to get the kid out of the country with her. The way she goes about it, is she hustles pool games as a profession basically, or a way to make money, and that's how she tries to make enough money to do this.
The music again, like I said, is another character and you want to make sure that it only adds to what you're trying to do. At some point, the editor of the film, Michael Hay, put down a Clogs song over just a little piece of pool they were putting together and he asked Chris to come in. Chris Eigeman is the writer/director of our film. He said just look at this and listen to this, and they both realized that this was perfect for the mood of the film. They ended up talking to Clogs and they became the people to do our soundtrack. I had never heard of them before that time so in then trying to listen to their music, I realized Clogs are a subgroup of The National. When I became familiar with both those bands, I started listening to their songs and The National has this song called "Daughters of the Soho Riots." I thought it was beautiful, so that's how I ended up picking that one.
Song: The National’s Daughters of the Soho Riots
Chris: That's The National. The track is called "Daughters of the Soho Riots"
There's one last track on this guest DJ list. It's Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons’ song "Sin City"
Famke: Right. I'm just laughing because this particular song, the Gram Parsons song or really the Flying Burritos, is because my boyfriend always sings this song to me all the time. I wouldn't have known it if it wasn't for him. Especially, as a foreigner coming to the United States I think it's interesting to see what makes it from the US into Europe. It's very different the things people grow up with here versus what we grow up with in Europe. Gram Parsons, for whatever reason, wasn't really… Stevie Wonder was a very big part of my upbringing in whatever shape or form. For whatever reasons, Flying Burritos or Gram Parsons was not. To me, it is the ultimate American kind of band or songwriter, whatever you want to call it. So, I really like it because it's part of what has become the new me. I guess I'm now a New Yorker as opposed to a European. I don't know if I can call myself an American since I have a green card. This song is for that particular reason in this little list.
Song: Flying Burrito Brothers’ Sin City
Chris: Thank you so much for putting so much time and effort into this. It was a blast having you.
Famke: Thank you so much for having me.
Chris: Absolutely. Famke Janssen. It's our Guest DJ Project here on KCRW .com. I'm Chris Douridas. Thanks for listening.
[PLAYLIST GOES HERE]