"X-Men" and "Goldeneye" star Famke Janssen makes her screenwriting and directing debut with "Bringing Up Bobby," a family drama starring Milla Jovovich and Bill Pullman that cuts close to home for the Dutch-born actress. Below, Janssen opens up about her personal ties to the film and shares a scene exclusively with Indiewire readers. "Bringing Up Bobby" opens at the Beekman Theater in New York Friday, September 28 (go here for showtimes).
What It's About:
“Bringing Up Bobby” follows Olive, a Ukrainian-born con artist, and her 11-year-old son Bobby as they blithely thieve their way through Oklahoma.
I wanted to make a film that was both serious and comic, eschewing a single genre in favor of something more complicated. I wanted to marry '70s Hal Ashby with a strong, iconic female protagonist from films of the '30s (many of my favorite films are from these periods), aspiring to combine disparate genres into a moving mother/son story.
My protagonist, Olive, is a woman deeply affected by the steady diet of classic American films she consumed in the Ukraine growing up. She has, consequently, a distorted view of the American dream: films -- which she references throughout her Oklahoma journey -- shaped her understanding and informed -- or misdirected -- her moral compass. She sees herself as a character in a movie and models herself as a star, embracing a persona that ranges from Scarlett O’Hara to Bonnie Parker. In the first half of the movie, Olive is a woman who is play-acting for her co-star, best friend, partner in crime and the love of her life, who happens to be her son, Bobby. They are having fun and in love, on a romp through a conservative and religious heartland. This can’t last. The ride comes to an abrupt halt, and the movie turns more serious: Olive’s life as a character in her own movie can’t sustain itself, and she is forced to embrace America for what it really is.
Why I Made It:
I am Dutch by birth and after living in New York for twenty years I thought I knew America. But when I visited Oklahoma for the first time I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I was struck by how much the landscape reminded me of movies like "Bonnie And Clyde" and "Paris, Texas." I was intrigued by how different the people were from where I grew up. The visit inspired me to make the film: I wanted to tell an immigrant’s tale in a way that appears simple but incorporates more complicated themes.
How I Made It:
To help me craft the look and the story, I turned to still photographers and novels. I found inspiration in the iconic photographs of Robert Frank’s "The Americans," the analog beauty of William Eggleston and the thematic exploration of the role of cinema by Cindy Sherman, especially her “Untitled Film Stills." They inspired me visually (some of the scenes are reproductions of their images) and, in the case of “Untitled Film Stills," guided me with Olive’s character. Henry James’ exploration of Americans in Europe and Europeans in America also helped frame the storyline.
The scene begins with Olive and Bobby in a car. Olive starts the classic mother lecture, telling her son he can do whatever he wants in the future; it ends with her stealing a dress and fleeing with her son, bookends for her character: loving mother on the one hand and thief on the other, an irreconcilable conflict. It is a tale of the American Dream gone wrong. Olive comes from a poor, Ukrainian background. She is like a kid in a candy store in America. Everybody dreams big and things are there for the taking. She hopes to provide her son with better opportunities than she ever had. I set the story up so that the audience knows from the beginning that the characters are sitting on a time bomb and we are waiting for it to go off. But all the while hoping that we enjoy their escapades in the way of the classic road/con-artist movie.