Black Book Spring 1998

Vanilla Milla
She's a pro in the upcoming Spike Lee film He Got Game. She's the new face of L'Oreal for 1998. She's recently been cast - by her husband Luc Besson - as Joan of Arc in a $75 mil prodution. She's Milla Jovovich, and there's a chance you might care.

by William Georgiades
photos: Terry Richardson


"I know that nothing I do matters one fucking bit. In the end I'm going to be rotting in the ground just like everyone else."

What a difference one year can make in the life of a brand-name model/movie starlet/musical artiste. Last spring, I spent one allotted hour with Milla Jovovich in a low-rent coffee shop in downtown Manhattan, scrounging for quotes as she breathed egg in my face and trembled,--ever so slightly-- about her first proper starring role in 'Fifth Element'. As we chatted, her trendy photographer boyfriend Mario lurked dubiously in the foreground, staring at me in the manner that men will stare when they have long since lost their girlfriends.

Quite what she was thinking when she made that remark remains a mystery. Today, of course, Milla matters considerably more. She is now a bona fide movie star ('Fifth Element' made nearly $64 million domestically in theaters); a married woman (she tied the knot with French directory Luc Besson in December); a stepmother (well); still a super (as in, actually working) model, and a musician. She is also joining the ranks of the small cadre of white-skinned actors deemed worthy enough to be in a Spike Lee joint, the irascible director's new film 'He Got Game', out May 1st nationwide.

A little context, in case you're wondering. Milla is just back from her honeymoon abroad, having just completed 27 days of shooting a new series of advertisements for L'Oreal. At 22, she's the youngest spokescreature the cosmetic giant has used to date, but her mug will be in good company with Kate and Claudia (her '98 co-faces). Then again, public offering of her image is nothing new. We've seen Milla photos on large flat surfaces for years now, hawking the very finest products that Versus, Chanel, Banana Republic, and Coach have to offer. Come late spring, Milla has what is politely referred to as a "featured role" as a prostitute named Dakota Burns in Spike Lee's unfortunate new b-ball/father-and-son/coming-of-age flick, in which Denzel Washington--not to put too fine a point on it--fucks her.

"In my line of work, last names aren't needed," she tells Denzel. "You're actually better off without 'em." Though her character's actually alluding to the job of turning tricks, Milla has reached the level of ubiquity where her last name has fallen away. In career terms, as with career girls, it's better that way.

Consider: at eleven, she was on the cover of 'Seventeen'; at twelve, she was being photographed by Richard Avedon as one of Revlon's Most Unforgettable Women in the World; at thirteen, she starred in 'Return to the Blue Lagoon'; at eighteen, she released her solo album 'The Divine Comedy'; and, at nineteen, she was a Calvin Klein Escape girl.

So perhaps it does matter one fucking bit what she does. I suggest this to Milla in the greasy way that interviewers will make suggestions to newly-married, superbabe princesses of all media--at which point she does what I think she does best: she laughs. Her laugh--a frequent, effective punctuation that is somewhere between a giggle and a squeek--makes her human. Or at least more like you and me, with that goofy rat-a-tat-tat that offsets those perfect-perfect teeth, those sheringly wondrous eyebrows (if you like that sort of thing).

Giggling, Milla offers me a supermodel health tip: "Drink a lot of water," as she drags on a Camel Light. "I feel like you can do anything you like, as long as you drink a lot of water."

At any rate, it's Valentine's Day and I am sitting in the living room in her shabbily fabulous apartment just south of midtown Manhattan, nicely situated right in the middle of nowhere. You forget that she's a model, until you focus in on the drum kit, guitars, organ, synthesizer, mic, and assorted musical tidbits dominating the living room. And you might forget that she's an actress, except that even at 11am on a Saturday morning, even in taut belly-revealing sweats and a several-sizes-too-tight/just-right T-shirt, she is still full of charm and friendliness. She is as on as the gold wedding band on her right hand.

I congratulate her on her performance in Spike Lee's movie. She cannot believe that I have seen 'He Got Game' and that she has not. "You saw it ! You saw it ? Wait ! You have a little skin hanging off your nose. OK. Now, wait, you saw the movie ? How'd you get in ? I haven't even seen the movie ! I'm not allowed. I've been, like, wanting to see it for so long. Those bastards."

She does, however, like the role that Spike Lee gave her. A drug-free, Coney Island prostitute involved in a physically abusive relationship with a pimp, Ms. Jovovich is given the opportunity to receive a beating ; say, "Fuck me, Daddy, fuck me," with a certain amount of conviction; and enjoy star Denzel Washington in ways both philosophical and sensual.

"I think she's really amazing," she says about her character Dakota Burns. "A very exceptional person. That's what Spike wanted, and I had to find what was exceptional about her. Wait. How old do you think she is ? I was afraid you'd think she was 26, and I was playing her nineteen, and I was, like, god, what if people think she's old, like 26 or something ? People always tell me I look mature."

One has to wonder quite who those people might be. Mature is hardly the first word that springs to mind when gazing at this young woman's countenance. The wigs and gutter-mouth of her latest movie character only heighten the vulnerability and innocence of the actress, and even her drug taking (references to mushrooms and Mary Jane) seems high-schoolish and amateurish; cute, if you will. She was a poster girl for the weed set, appearing on the cover of 'High Times', and her character here just so happens to be drug-free.

So one has to wonder--if only a little--about Milla and her husband, and her husband's good friend Gary Oldman. Besson was one of the backers of Gary Oldman's 'Nil By Mouth'; Milla herself appeared alongside Oldman in Luc's 'Fifth Element'. So, has this young woman seen Oldman's powerful testament to the less than wonderful side of alcoholism ? Her answer speaks volumes.

"Noooo. I heard it's pretty heavy. I'm just so over kids on drugs. I saw enough people in my life doing drugs, and I don't wanna have anything to do with it. Now, 'High Times' is fine, I mean it's not like it tells people to do heroin. Drug movies are just too depressing. I want to grow and change." There you have it.

As one will when talking to someone knowing that a tape recorder is picking up most of the vital words, one's eyes will wander around the room. And this is what mine partake in before a too-long silence punctuates the stillness. There is a Peter Frampton mirror on the wall above the drum kit and, next to that, a photograph of a toilet. Elsewhere is a marksman's sheet of paper with several bullet holes shot through the chest and head, remnants--I am later told--of a magazine shoot.

Milla is curled into a pillow on her antique couch--hugged into herself in a rather pleasant, unapproachable manner--the whole look rather un-self-conciously promoting a sense that gazing is acceptable, while defiling is unthinkable (at least for a moment or so). Recall that this is the girl held up by Luc Besson as The Perfect Woman in 'Fifth Element' and, further, the girl--nay, wife--he has chosen to be Joan of bloody Arc in a reported $75 million production that kicks off this summer.

"It's amazing," she gushes, as well she might. "It's one of the best roles in history for women. Luc Besson is going to direct it, and he is a great writer and director for strong female roles. He's got the touch. Can't talk that much about it. I feel bad."

It is pointed out that her husband the director will have to torture and burn her alive, unless a happy Hollywood ending replaces history. Quite rightly, she stares back at me and keeps talking. "He has the patience and understanding to work with me and test me and push me. And then there are the horseback riding lessons....Stop ! Stop ! I can't talk about this movie. You're horrible. You're just taking it out of me."

When in doubt with a woman--any woman--ask about her cats, at least two of which are bounding about doing their own interpretive dance of "Lady Sings the Blues", which Milla will sing along to with alarming sweetness. "Oh, it smells really badly here with three cats in the kitchen. That's why I took you in the back way so your first impression wouldn't be, you know, shit."

Whereupon I am invited into the kitchen and shown Milla's pride and joy: her "dope camera."

"I love to take pictures," she offers, cradling the Mamiya. "I'm not, like, a professional. I just like to create as many things as I can, so I surround myself with cameras and guitars and books and things that'll always give me inspiration."

The staple scene of any tale involving a model is, of course, the photo shoot, and today is no different. The model is being (of course) moody and shielding his own lovely locks and shatteringly gorgeous baby-blues as the photographer gently coaxes him into something bordering on submission. "Different on the other side," she admonishes me, clicking shot after shot as I squirm on a bench in her country house-sized kitchen.

Sharing Milla's kitchen-cum-photo studio with me--yet a couple million miles away from me in their own weekend morning reverie--sit Chris Brenner, Milla's booker and roommate, and yet another lovely young model called Nathalia, who could stunt-double for Milla on the odd day. They're both paying attention to a kids-on-drugs movie on television, and occasionally laughing at the earnestness of it all, as I scramble to think of something to ask Milla while twisting away as her muse. Her male waif, if you will.


Um, does she ever wonder if she might be spreading herself a little thin ? "Yeah, but I try to categorize what's important in my life and photography isn't, like, the most important thing, you know ? But it's something I like. I'm learning constantly how to use a camera, and keep learning about light. Diane Arbus was 35 when she focused on what she wanted to photograph, so I have time to focus on where I wanna take it. And, with music, there are so many things that I wanna capture that are, like, eluding me right now."

Even with the burgeoning possibility of a career in photography added to her already impressive CV, that awful voice we all know, the one that offers doubt with alarming frequency, pops up in her lovely head as well. "Oh, yeah, I feel like I haven't done my music or figured out the camera really well, so I feel like a loser. I'm always coming against these obstacles and feeling like I should be working so much more than I am. Working all day and writing all night and getting one hour of sleep." Sniff.

However, if she was to be to photography what she has been to music, movies and modelling, are there any particular models she would love to work with ? Beri Smither, perhaps ? "No, any model would do."

Ever done any yoga ? "No. See, I'm also an actress, and a lot of people hire me because of that. It's not like I'm the prettiest girl that walks into these offices. Some beautiful, beautiful girls came in for the L'Oreal campaign, but L'Oreal knows they'll get their money's worth with me because my face is out there.

She considers herself to be a "conservative bohemian," which has a ring to it. She was married once before at sixteen, to someone she hasn't spoken to in years, someone who was on the set of 'Dazed and Confused'. They eloped, went to Vegas, and had the marriage annulled within weeks. Mr. Besson has also enjoyed marriage before, with his 'La Femme Nikita' starlet Anne Parillaud. Interesting.

"I've met somebody who is the most important man I've met until now," she asserts. "Luc is the person that loves me the most and understands me, and he's my best friend in a lot of ways. When he's not around, I don't do much. I don't go out, I'm not a party person, I just like chilling out and watching the Olympics every night. I watch everyone fall."

This marriage thing, you don't want to press it. She is, after all, too beautiful for my words, anyway, and the idea of marriage for one so young and free is just, well, unfortunate for the rest of us.

"Luc keeps me in line. He's not about drinking or any of that. But there is a lot of red wine when we are at our home together in France. A few puddles of red wine with lunch ! The south of France is crazy; it's a completely different way of looking at life." Here Milla gets emphatic about urban life, screaming, "I'm like, 'Gimme some convenience, gimme the phone, gimme a delivery,' and the French are like, 'Take it easy.' "

Lest one forget, we are also speaking to a stepmother. "Luc already has two little girls, and they're wonderful and they look at me like a major person, and I feel this trust that I might not deserve sometimes." As for children of her own, Milla says she will not be birthing babies any time soon. "Not until my mid-20's, anyway."

What else ? "I just took a vacation and got a property in Normandy. I'm gonna reconstruct this place and open a dope photo studio. It's just so, so beautiful there....What were we talking about ? Wait. Red wine, and then I said, 'Normandy,' and I can't remember what I'm saying. Where did I go ?" Not rotting in the ground just yet, and certainly not wherever everyone else is.

The interview is now over, the door closes behind me, and I'm feeling that peculiar and deep sense of self-conscious uncoolness, never-will-be-ness that greets most of us who sit with the beautiful and famous. I pull out Milla's photograph of me. She's captured something there: the shifty, snide, floor-staring smirk, and even a touch of a smile. I look at the two photographs she's taped together and her scrawl, which reads "To William Cutie Patootie --Love Milla." Inspired, I immediately go buy a bottle of water.

p.105 inset   The Milla Movie Map   (again with the too-cute small upper-case)
'Two-Moon Junction' (little sister to Sherilyn Fenn): thirteen minutes
'Return to the Blue Lagoon': every frame
'Kuffs': two minutes flat
'Chaplin': one minute, 30 seconds
'Dazed and Confused': two minutes, 30 seconds
'Fifth Element' (Leeloo): the whole damn time
'He Got Game': fourteen minutes

Total Milla seconds: approximately 213 minutes
(editorial-- these timings are fairly universally wrong)