Kick-ass beauty Milla Jovovich on taking a punch in 3-D, always being the “breakthrough”—and standing tall with De Niro
by LESLIE GORNSTEIN / photographs by GUY AROCH / styling by HAYLEY ATKIN
Considering the laws of physics, photos of Milla Jovovich should be little more than a blur. The onetime child model and actress hasn’t stopped working since she landed her first movie role at 13. But this year, her career has officially kicked into overdrive, with no fewer than 10 movies either completed or in the works, plus three modeling contracts and a new fashion line for Japanese label iCB. (It launches in Tokyo at the end of August but at this point will not be available in the States.)
All this is on top of a calendar packed with appearances ranging from the fanboy convention Comic-Con to Paris Fashion Week. Her July itinerary alone included stops in Paris, Berlin, Moscow, San Diego and Oklahoma City, where she recently wrapped the dramedy Bringing Up Bobby, with Bill Pullman.
Oh yes, and Jovovich is also raising two-year-old daughter Ever with husband—and her director in the Resident Evil franchise—Paul W.S. Anderson.
Given the circumstances, one would expect her to speak in short sentences—or at least very fast. Not so. Jovovich has been in this business long enough to know the value of promotion as well as production, and she’s as deliberate and pensive in her interviews as she is in her performances.
Jovovich may be known to many as the girl who snaps zombies in half or that kid from The Fifth Element with the funny way of pronouncing “multipass,” but her stock is rising with the film-festival crowd. As a morally dubious wife who seduces Robert De Niro in the upcoming drama Stone, she is winning the respect of critics, including one in Entertainment Weekly who declared that the actress “stole” the movie’s two-minute trailer.
Stone debuts October 8—less than a month after Jovovich flattens a fresh round of undead in Resident Evil: Afterlife. Talk about a one-two punch...
“You spend your whole career when you’re young screaming, ‘I’m a serious actress!’ And the second they don’t call you a model anymore, you’re like, ‘Waaaahhh!’ ”
Leslie Gornstein: VH1 has dubbed you the Reigning Queen of Kick-Butt. Does that help or hinder in getting dramatic roles like the one in Stone?
Milla Jovovich: You know, at this point in my career, I can’t imagine anything could hinder me, aside from myself. Having a baby really kind of changed my whole outlook. Before, it was more me being too into my head—too self-centered or insecure about this and that. Now, if my baby is not sick, if she sleeps okay, is eating well...that’s all any mom can ask for. With that kind of new outlook, people can’t help but feel that from you and look at you differently. Now I love to go on auditions.
The official buzz is that Stone is your “breakthrough” role. What does that mean for you, and did you have to read for the role?
Oh yeah, I got it out on tape for the casting director, and then I got called back to meet with the director [John Curran]. He wanted me to do a test reading with Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, so we hung out, and before I knew it, we were adding lines and talking about the characters. When I left, I felt like, Oh my God, I can’t believe I might never see those guys again! But how lucky am I to have spent two hours in a room with them?! I was trying to have a really positive outlook on it, and then John called me and said, “Are you ready to go?” It’s funny, because I’ve had “breakthroughs” my whole career. I tell my manager, “I am, like, your constantly new face!” First there was the breakthrough with The Fifth Element—like, “Oh, she can act.” And then with Joan of Arc, “Oh, she can do drama.” And then with Dummy, “Oh, look! She’s a comedian!” No one ever expected me to be good, I guess. I feel on top of the world.
Many a veteran actor has confessed to feeling intimidated working with De Niro.
It was definitely intimidating working with De Niro, but again, it’s that change that happened after I had my daughter. I wasn’t going to allow myself to fall into some hole of insecurity, to let my character be drowned out because I was nervous to take risks. Because in the end, nothing can scare me anymore. As long as my baby isn’t sick, at this point, it’s like, whatever. Still, I have to give some credit to one person, Jake Hoffman [Dustin’s son and Stone associate producer]. We met working on Joan of Arc. We were both kids—he was 18, I was 22. He’s an actor, too. And so I came to him and said, “Look, I need to run lines.” And literally every single day and evening, poor Jake would be sitting there, running lines with me until it became totally second nature. He would be practically falling asleep, and still he would be like, “Do it again.”
Your Wiki says your mother “raised you to be a movie star.” What does that entail?
It’s being educated, working hard on your talents from a very early age—acting classes, dance classes, music classes. I worked really hard. I studied art, photography. But it didn’t really go the way my mom wanted. She was super disappointed when I was 16 and quit acting to be a musician. And then I quit everything to be a designer. And she was pissed off! She would say, “Why can’t you be more like Gwyneth Paltrow?” And I would say, “I don’t know! I wish I could help you, but I’m me!” More than anything, Mom raised me to be a compassionate, intelligent person. She started me reading books at a very young age. She was always telling me that this modeling stuff isn’t going to last, that I’d better be ready, be an educated person, because what am I going to do when the looks fade? Looks can get you into a room, but what are you going to do once you get there? That was the main thing she gave me. And from my dad, [I got] that you have to have discipline. Opportunity knocks, but you have to be ready to answer.
You have some 10 movies in the works. And yet, other than Resident Evil: Afterlife, I see no roles involving backflips or uppercuts to any jaws, undead or otherwise. Is the Queen of Kick-Butt abdicating?
Well, the only other action film I have really done was Ultraviolet, and that was just something I especially wanted to do. I’ve always been the kind of girl who admired people in the army and boot camp. I’m a very physical person. When it comes to Resident Evil, I guess people just associate me with that kick-ass role.
Is it a good thing to have people relate you so much to one role?
Oh, but people probably associate me most with The Fifth Element. Are you kidding me? Pretty much every security guard in every airport in America may tell me they love Resident Evil, but more people come up and say, “Hey, you’re that girl from The Fifth Element!” That was the one that changed my life. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime character. I was just at Comic-Con, and people were asking me to say “multipass.” MOOOOL-tee-pass! I was really scared, like, My God, can I still do it right?
Resident Evil: Afterlife marks a shift to 3-D for the franchise. Does the approach to acting change when you’re shooting a film in 3-D?
Well, I’m a very gesticulating person. I use my hands all the time—definitely very Russian, European. Any overt hand movements are going to really pop out at the audience in 3-D, so you have to take it down a notch. And the acting sequences really change—you can’t get away with the same things. In 2-D, it’s very easy to fake throwing and taking a punch, but in 3-D, you see the distance between the fist and the person’s face—you really have to take the punch. While we were filming, they kept saying, “Closer—get closer!” And suddenly, I got hit on the head. As real as it gets for the audience, it got very much real for us.
I see you’ve added a Russian-language film to your slate—a comedy.
Well, a friend of mine, [Wanted director] Timur Bekmambetov, and I talked about doing a different Russian-language project. This was before the baby, and I didn’t think I could handle it. I thought maybe my Russian wasn’t that great. But he called last year and said, “Listen, I have a fun comedy. I could shoot you—in and out—in 10 days.” My good friend Ivan Urgant was also doing it, and I thought, If he’s doing it, I have to do it—we’ll have so much fun. He is one of the most ironic, dry, hilarious people. So I couldn’t pass this up. But I was like, Oh my God, do I have 10 days to do this? I had just done Faces in the Crowd, I was going into Bringing Up Bobby, and I had modeling jobs to do. In the end, we moved some stuff around, but I thought I would go crazy in the process. I think in English, you know. Before, I could only read my daughter Russian baby books, and here I was memorizing Russian monologues. It was wild—especially with the jet lag! I landed, and we went right into the rehearsals and makeup and costume. I was fried, having to keep up with those guys all day and remember my Russian. It was a challenge, but I feel like my brain grew three sizes.
“It was intimidating working with De Niro, but a change happened after I had my daughter. I wasn’t going to fall into some hole of insecurity...Nothing can scare me anymore.”
Well, having 10 films coming out within a year or so is quite a feat for any actor.
I’m definitely trying to maximize the years I have left when it’s easy for my baby to travel with me. When she starts school, I want to be there to pick her up, so I won’t be making five movies a year.
What stands out for you from your whirlwind of filming?
Well, two of my films have been accepted into the Toronto Film Festival this month [Dirty Girl and Stone]. I’ve never even had one movie at Toronto, and suddenly I have two. Dirty Girl is hilarious. I play this young, trailer-trash mom trying to raise a 16-year-old daughter in the ’80s. I’d never played the dumb blonde before. It’s the first time I get to do a southern accent, so I had a dialect coach for sure. But I learned the accent the most after listening to [Oklahoma-raised director] Abe Sylvia. As soon as he started imitating his mom, I got it. I said, “I know exactly where you’re coming from.”
With so many other singers, actresses and models jumping into the fashion space, it’s tough to distinguish yourself with your own brand. And yet you did that years ago with Jovovich-Hawk—and now you have the iCB collection. Do you miss Jovovich-Hawk?
You know, once I got pregnant, I said, “Look, I can’t run a company.” My partner, Carmen Hawk, and I really got success, but we couldn’t handle it. We were two girls who loved to make pretty dresses when it was a small, hip underground label. I was like, “Let’s get a seamstress! Let’s make dresses!” And then the orders came in, and I was like, “Uh-oh.” Suddenly, we’d be asked to get 400 blouses to this location, and then our shipment comes in, and there is a buttonhole with no buttons—and suddenly they’re going to cancel, and you’re going to lose all this money. The train had left the station, and we couldn’t catch it. So we said, let’s call it a day, end on a high note.
It just wasn’t fun anymore. These were things I liked to do to stay creative, but I went about it the wrong away. I was very impatient. Now, if I’m going to do design, it has to be smaller things for bigger companies—like with this iCB capsule collection.
Given your mother’s warning, do you still see yourself modeling in 5, 10, 15 years?
Listen, if people want me, great! If it’s a product I believe in, I’m up for everything. This is my life. Modeling is as much performing as acting or singing, and that’s definitely where I belong. Hey, Charlotte Rampling is still doing commercials. Jane Fonda is still doing commercials. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be doing it.
There’s a whiff of disdain that tends to come along with the term model turned actress, even though plenty of top actresses used to be models. At what point do you stop fighting that stigma?
You know, after I had the baby and gained all this weight and stuff, suddenly I saw a picture of myself in a tabloid, and it said, “Actress Milla Jovovich.” It didn’t say “model” after it, and I thought, Gosh! People don’t think of me as a model anymore! You spend your whole career when you’re young screaming, “I’m a serious actress!” And the second they don’t call you a model, you’re like, “Waaaahhh!”
And yet the scrutiny that goes with being a model turned actress can be quite intense. I’m thinking of the attention that your dress got at Comic-Con.
What did they say?
Well, I mean, it wasn’t bad—
What did they say?!
I guess there were some polls about whether the Roland Mouret you wore was too short.
Oh, it was short. I shouldn’t have put my arm around [Resident Evil costar] Ali Larter like that. I was not even thinking my dress was hiking up! Roland Mouret is the man. But I should have experimented a little more in front of the mirror. Now I know: Never put my arm around anyone!