Apart from her native Dutch, Famke also speaks English and French, as evidenced by her acting career. Her early career was that of a model, after a failed attempt at an economics degree in Amsterdam (described by the actress as one of her stupidest moves). She also produced several TV commercials. In the 1990s, she moved into acting. Several almost B Movie-level roles passed, including one with Jeff Goldblum, before she obtained a role in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Perfect Mate". This was quickly followed by a role in the Clive Barker adaptation Lord of Illusions. Her big break came with the James Bond revival movie GoldenEye in 1995. Famke won the role of thigh-crushing assassin Xenia Onatopp.
Despite the potential pitfall of being a Bond Girl (there is talk of the curse that condemns many an actress' career, as seen with the output of over 50 percent of the actresses in the series after their Bond role), Janssen was savvy enough to not carve out an acting career based solely on blockbusters. After Deep Rising, she established herself as a talented indie actress, though she was notable for appearing in the creepy remake of House on Haunted Hill (1999). She then appeared in five entries of the X-Men Film Seriesnote as Jean Grey, widely accepted as a decent portrayal of the character, despite the screwover she got during X-Men: The Last Stand — when X2: X-Men United clearly sets up the Dark Phoenix Saga, perhaps the most famed story from the comics.
Since then, Janssen has been notable for playing transsexual life coach Ava Moore in Nip/Tuck and for her (finally!) leading roles in movies such as 100 Feet and Turn the River, as well as a role in Taken and its sequels.
- 1995 Lord of Illusions as Dorothea Swann
- 1995 GoldenEye as Xenia Onatopp
- 1997 City of Industry as Rachel Montana
- 1998 Deep Rising as Trillian St. James
- 1998 Rounders as Petra
- 1998 The Faculty as Miss Elizabeth Burke
- 1998 The Gingerbread Man as Leeanne Magruder
- 1999 House On Haunted Hill as Evelyn
- 2000 Circus as Lily
- 2000 X-Men as Jean Grey
- 2002 I Spy as Rachel
- 2003 X2: X-Men United as Jean Grey
- 2005 Hide and Seek as Katherine
- 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand as Jean Grey
- 2008 Taken as Lenore
- 2008 100 Feet as Marnie
- 2012 Taken 2 as Lenore
- 2013 Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters as Muriel the Grand Black Witch
- 2013 The Wolverine as Jean Grey
- 2014 X-Men: Days of Future Past as Jean Grey
- 2014 Taken 3 as Lenore
- 2015 Jack of the Red Hearts as Kay Adams
- 2017 This Is Your Death as Ilana Katzenberg
- 2018 Status Update as Katherine Alden
- 2019 Primal as Dr. Ellen Taylor
- 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation as Kamala, episode "The Perfect Mate"
- 2004-10 Nip/Tuck as Ava Moore
- 2013-15 Hemlock Grove as Olivia Godfrey
- 2015-16 How to Get Away with Murder as Eve Rothlow
- 2016-18 The Blacklist as Susan Hargrave
- 2017 The Blacklist: Redemption as Susan Hargrave
- 2019 The Capture
- Actor Allusion: In an episode of Nip/Tuck Ava gets compared to a phoenix - an obvious nod to Famke's role as Jean Grey.
- Adrenaline Makeover: She's played two characters who start out looking mousy but then go through this. Ms Burke in The Faculty and Jean Grey in the X-Men Film Series.
- Casting Gag: She and Dougray Scott were husband and wife in Hemlock Grove and Taken 3.
- Creator Backlash:
- X-Men: The Last Stand. When she was first cast as Jean, comic fans told her about the Dark Phoenix Saga and she got excited at the thought of doing it in a later film. She expressed disappointment with the final film, saying it had "too many subplots". It took her years to admit it but she was disappointed with
- She's also spoken out about her experiences filming Goldeneye; while appreciative of everything the film has done for her, she has detailed the feeling of sexism during shooting, be it the Director of Photography refusing to engage her in conversation and address her, or having a crowd of onlookers in what should have been a closed set while filming her love scenes.
- Enforced Method Acting:
- For Hide and Seek she held a gun with her left hand (she's right-handed) because - although she had used guns in films before - Catherine is a normal psychologist and she didn't want her to look too comfortable holding a gun.
- For GoldenEye she told Pierce Brosnan to throw her as hard as he could into the wall for the sauna fight scene. She broke a rib filming it.
- Fake American: Most of her roles. As she has an American accent naturally when speaking English, she rarely plays Dutch characters.
- Fake Russian: As Xenia in GoldenEye.
- Femme Fatale: She plays a lot of these, likely with GoldenEye to thank for it. She noted in the early 2000's that she had turned down a number of roles akin to Onatopp shortly after that film's success.
- Life Imitates Art: After doing Taken she was inspired to take action in the fight against corruption. She became a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
- Magnum Opus Dissonance: Her favorite role is a little-known comedy called Love & Sex.
- No Pronunciation Guide: In Dutch/Flemish, it's Fam - Kee. apparently Fam-KUH (Afrikaans) is also acceptible.
- No Stunt Double:
- House on Haunted Hill (1999) has a scene where the glass ceiling breaks around Evelyn. Famke did her own stunt for that.
- Similarly she did her own work on Hansel and Gretel, managing to break a rib after being dropped in a sequence requiring a harness; surprisingly this wasn't a first for her - in GoldenEye she did a number of her own stunts, including driving during the race with Bond and being suspended for her death in the jungle. She also did her own work in the spa fight, resulting in her breaking two ribs after she was run into a wall; this led to Famke expressing some confusion that the scene employed stunt doubles at all during a December 2020 watchalong.
- Old Shame: She wasn't too fond of Hide & Seek, saying she wouldn't have done it if Robert de Niro hadn't been in it.
- Playing with Character Type: In The Faculty she plays the Shrinking Violet Ms. Burke, hidden under Nerd Glasses, frumpy clothes and Messy Hair. Then when the alien possesses her, she goes Beautiful All Along and becomes more confident.
- Reclusive Artist: She stays away from social media, saying she values her privacy.
- Statuesque Stunner: A full six feet tall, and a definite Ms. Fanservice... even in her 50s!
- What Could Have Been:
- She turned down the role of the T-X in Terminator 3.
- She was offered a regular role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - appearing as Kamala again. She turned it down, wanting to focus on film work. The character Jadzia Dax was created to fill this spot.
- She was originally cast as Serleena in Men in Black II; after only one day of filming, she left due to a death in her family. Lara Flynn Boyle replaced her.