Arena July/August 1997
Milla Jovovich is everywhere. Walking through Manhattan, the likeness of the Ukrainian born model, actress and sometimes singer stares persuasively from so many billboards, shop windows, subway stations and TV screens, that it seems like she's running for office. Famous mainly as the Slavic Brooke Shields - she was pouting from the covers of magazines at age 11 - Milla has spent most of the last decade dabbling in movies and music. She exhibited all the charisma of a stunned antelope in films like Return To The Blue Lagoon, Kuffs and Chaplin. Warbling over mandolins, zithers and harpsichords, she released a Kate Bush damaged collection called The Divine Comedy in 1994. Yet there is little in her history to prepare the casual viewer for Jovovich's dazzling turn as the female lead in Luc Besson's big, sprawling knockabout science fiction epic The Fifth Element. Whether babbling in an invented alien tongue, unleashing feet of fury on a bunch of foolhardy mutant mercenaries, or matching smirks with co-star Bruce Willis, Jovovich is the most alluring nutball naif to hit screens since the formative days of Daryl Hannah. Her presence in America - on front covers, as advertising campaign figurehead for the Gap, Banana Republic and clothing line ICB, in movie publicity - is inescapable. Pretty soon, we're all going to have to get to grips with that problematic surname.
You're kind of adorable in this movie. It's being promoted as a massive epic but it's actually pretty goofy.
I know, you think it's going to be very dramatic and it's funny. But you never know with audiences, especially American audiences, if they're going to find this funny or Jim Carrey talking down his pants.
Well, that's always funny....
[haughty] Oh, that's the most common sort of American joke.
You think you're above vulgarity?
Yeah, actually I do. Well, not so much in private. I have my random acts of vulgarity. I used to be worse when I was younger, but now I try to...
...keep your body functions in check?
No, I've been really liking being a lady. I used to be all like a homeboy wearing my baggy jeans and my baseball cap and stuff, slouching and chilling. I still chill, but I'm not as insecure as I once was.
How could you ever be insecure?
But you're a big shot model.
I think people in front of the camera are insecure in general whether they're models or whatever. The more attitude someone has, the more insecure they are. If people are bitches or assholes to you, you know it's because they're feeling bad about themselves because if they were feeling good, they'd be nice. I noticed this about myself, that's why I can say it. You get nothing good from giving attitude to people, you get spit in your food.
You're 21 now, you've been a model since you were 11. Is it something you do with your brain switched off?
Yeah definitely. There's a lot of stuff I do with my brain switched off. Jesus Christ, if my dad heard me say that he'd slap me.
Is modeling like a bank to you, something you do to subsidize your other enthusiasms?
It's like a small prize in the lottery. It's not going to make you scream, but it'll definitely give you a kick in your step.
One of the many front covers you've done was for High Times, America's premier marijuana magazine. Are you a big hemp advocate?
I'm definitely a big hemp advocate. I'm not for or against pot, but there's a lot of good that can be done with hemp, that's for sure
Would you call yourself a recreational user?
Did you have any trepidation about going back to movies? It had been a while since you'd made one and the ones you did before weren't very good.
Excuse me, are you Mr. Critic?
You don't have to be so formal.
That's pretty straightforward. Well, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy some of my early work. For Return To The Blue Lagoon, you should be about 11 years old to enjoy it.
I have the mentality of an 11-year-old. Didn't help -
[knocks over the beer] See how nervous you've made me? You know, I did what I could when I was younger. I've seen some really bad movies and I don't think any of the things I've done have been that bad. I was really young and there wasn't a lot out there for me. When I was 13 I looked like I was 18 so it was hard to cast me. I couldn't be cast as an 18-year-old because you had to have a teacher on set and there were all the child labor laws. I couldn't do the 13-year-old parts because I didn't look 13. I did what I could. It was an experience, and without that I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today.
I wasn't trying to make you nervous, just throwing something out there to you.
Yeah, and I caught it and flipped it back to you.
When you first met Luc Besson for the part, he thought you were another sulky model girl. Then he met you again and suddenly saw the possibilities. What changed?
I thought, I really want this part and I'm going to do my damnedest to do what he wants me to. So when he asked me to speak gibberish, I spoke gibberish. When he asked me to laugh with no expression like an idiot, I laughed huh huh huh. I looked stupid, I made a fool of myself. I guess he wanted to see how far he could push me before I went no, I can't. When it comes to my work, I'm always ready to try new things and take a chance. It was like the Winter Olympics...
You were in the Winter Olympics?
No. Sometime in the Eighties, the Saudi Arabians sent a delegate to represent them in skiing, but of course, they have no snow. Everybody's coming in at like 0.6 seconds and this guy comes in at 8.4 minutes, really slow and he gets down there and he bows to the audience and everybody's clapping so hard. He was like the best thing at the Olympics that year because he tried. He did it. It was hilarious but it was amazing because he did it and he was not embarrassed. That's how I've been trying to take things. Just try it and if people can't appreciate the fact that you put your neck out and make yourself look stupid then they're not worth it anyway.
What was it like living in LA in the Eighties and being an adolescent supermodel? Did you have producers chasing you around the pool?
No, no, no. It was just my work. It was just adults in the fashion industry that knew anything about me. There's so many actors and entertainment people in LA that it's not a big deal. People are very blase there and that's what kills me about young people. In LA, especially, they're blase about everything. It freaked me out because I don't think I'm like that. Most things I still get excited about. I see a lot of boredom in Los Angeles and, to me, boredom says you're not exited with your life any more. People forget that your eyes are open and there's color in front of you and shape and sound and light and dark and shadows. It's so amazing and so weird to be bored. Even if you're sitting in a dark room you can still trip off the shadows on the wall.
You were in London for eight months for the shooting of The Fifth Element. Did you take to life in the capital?
I love London. It's a very mysterious place for me with the clouds and the gray. There was this one time I was in London and we're all wearing these big-ass coats down to our ankles and it was the first day of spring and the sun came out and it was so beautiful. I decided to greet the sunshine with a more summery outfit. I called my friends and I put on my princess-blue flattery silvery dress and my earrings and high heels and froze my ass off. But I was so starved for the sun, I was just like, yeeeeeaaaaah, let me open my skin and let it in. It was fucking raining all the time.
Do you still feel like a young person? Because you've been working for a long time and primarily in an industry where it's easy to become jaded.
I went through my jaded stage I think when I was 13. I try my best to keep the magic alive in my life. I think people lose that magic of being young when things aren't going well and you start being disappointed with your life and your actions.
So do you ever get sick of seeing your face plastered everywhere?