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
- 2017 This Is Your Death as Ilana Katzenberg
- 2018 Status Update as Katherine Alden
- 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: It took her years to admit it but she was disappointed with 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".
- 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, 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.
- 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 favourite role is a little-known comedy called Love & Sex.
- 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.
- 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.