Buzz May 1998

Burn, Baby, Burn

Mrs. Luc Besson goes from supermodel to supersaint Joan of Arc
Supermodel Milla Jovovich, poised to play Joan of Arc, would give her kingdom for a Parliament.

Milla Jovovich could win wars just by standing there and yawning

Managing editor Robert Hofler ("Burn, Baby, Burn") had the unusual pleasure of profiling the May cover subject, Milla Jovovich. The actress-model is unique among celebrities: despite her many handlers, she does not have a publicist. "And Milla NEEDS a publicist," says Hofler. "I never thought I'd say that about anyone in Hollywood." Hofler also writes weekly Industry columns for 'The Miami Herald' and 'The Reuters/Variety Entertainment Report'.

Milla Jovovich is the first international superstar model to play Joan of Arc. When you're Mrs. Luc Besson, things like that happen.

It's amazing how unremarkable a remarkable life can seem to the person living it. To Milla Jovovich, the 22-year-old actress-model-singer, there's nothing particularly noteworthy about having become a sucessful model at 11, hanging out in illegal after-hours clubs by 14, retiring from modeling at 15 to pursue a rock 'n' roll career, getting married in Vegas at 16, having that marriage annulled two months later (at your mother's behest), touring Europe with a rock band at 17, then deciding to resume modeling and having your career take off into the multimillion-dollar stratosphere--all while dabbling as an actress in the movies, until one day you marry a director old enough to be your father who promptly casts you as Joan of Arc in his next big film. Or maybe Milla Jovovich is just too jetlagged to give all this much thought. "I leave my schedule to other people," she says whenever something goes wrong. "I just show up."

And today something has gone awfully wrong.

Milla's schedule at the moment is in the hands of many people: an LA agent, ICM's Steve Chasman; Faith Kates of Next, a New York-based modeling agency; a guy friend, Chris Brenner, with whom she still shares an apartment in Manhattan; and yes, her 47-year-old mother, Galina Loginova, a former actress who emigrated from the USSR to Los Angeles in 1981 so that her five-year-old daughter might have it all--before she reached voting age. (Milla's father, an L.A. physician, separated from her mother in 1991.)

Here in the lobby of the Chateau marmont, a setting rife with the spirits of Hollywood past, Galina Loginova approaches to apologize for her famous daughter's tardiness. "Milla is running later," she tells me. Back in the days of the silents, stars like Natasha Rambova and Alla Nazimova must have been like this, their Russian accents intimidatingly dramatic, their fingers weighed down with stones.

Galina is to Milla what Teri Shields was to Brooke--the ultimate model's mom, gracious to a fault--in this case, a big fault. "I hate to leave you sitting here. If you want, you can wait for Milla at the photo shoot." It is not surprising that Milla is being photographed. The model of the moment, hers is the face that is now selling products for Chanel, L'Oreal, Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, Versace and ICB.

I ask Galina what ad shoot could possibly be running past 7 PM. "Oh, it's not a fashion shoot," she says, as we ascend the steps in the garden behind the Chateau, the El Nino rain falling hard and cold. "It's for 'Detour' magazine."

Needless to say, being interviewed by one magazine while doing a photo shoot for another qualifies as a fairly serious Hollywood faux paus. On the other hand, how ripely delicious to be behind enemy lines, tape recorders charged. As we enter one of the Chateau's motel-like rooms out beyond the old bungalows, we see half a dozen men lolling about and--there's no other way to put this--cackling like hens. Two are sunk deep into a black leather couch, feet up, kicking away at the air. Galina offers me a fold-out chair. "Milla's still doing hair and makeup," she says. "It will be another hour, then you can interview her." At the word 'interview', all four flying feet land on the shag carpet at once. Meanwhile, Galina is summoned to the patio for a haircut. (It appears that one of the perks of being Milla's mom is having your hair done at photo shoots.) Despite the driving rain, it seems cozier out there with her, so I step outside.

"Of course I am, completely," Galina begins, when asked if she's still involved in her daughter's career. "If you could give a name to what I'm doing..." She shrugs. "Manager, friend, mother." Milla's triple-threat career of modeling, singing, and acting doesn't surprise this woman. "Why not ?" she asks. In fact, it upset her no end, she reveals, when Milla announced, at age 15, that she would no longer act or model for $3,500 a day. The previous year, she'd starred in 'Return to the Blue Lagoon', the sequel to Brooke Shields's only hit movie. But then, in the throes of a midteen crisis, Milla decided she lived for her music alone. Galina pleaded, "Please, Milla, you shouldn't limit yourself. Don't put everything in one basket." But Milla prevailed, eventually leaving L.A. to sing and put together a band in Europe.

Galina flatly rejects the idea that high-powered, simultaneous careers in modeling and acting might have put and emotional strain on the 15-year-old. "If it was too much, she wouldn't do it. And nobody would be hiring her. Then she wouldn't be good enough. It comes down to--people hire you to work or they don't." Galina says her own acting career in Russia started early. "Before high school," she recals. Here in Los Angeles, it has been difficult to continue that career. "I tried," she says. "From time to time I do little bits, but nothing that is incredible." Surprisingly, she never considered modeling herself. "That was not a dream of mine. In Russia it do you say...diminished. It was considered demeaning."

At this moment, Milla makes her long-awaited entrance. For the 'Detour' shoot with photographer David LaChapelle, she has been outfitted in a bolero of dyed ostrich fuzz, enough makeup to stock a Rexall, and that LaChapelle signature: pink string panties and bra.

Milla Jovovich plays a prostitute in Spike Lee's latest film, 'He Got Game'. "Why did you pick me for this part ?" the model-actress asked her director. "I get paid to keep my clothes on."

If Bozo the Clown ordered out for sex, this is what would show up at his door.

Milla apologizes profusely for the delay. The shoot shouldn't last much longer, she says sweetly. Just one more setup. Despite the sludge around her eyes, Milla's got that deer caght in the strobe-lights thing going for her. It's endearing. But this brief appearance on the patio has set of alarms among the men of 'Detour', propelling Luis Barajas, the publisher, into one of those high-decibel routines that has made him such a colorful personality around town. Dramatically drawing the hotel-room curtains, he calls for Milla to do her thing on a leopard-print rug. From the patio, all we can see or hear is the flash and pop of the photographer's camera. Soldiering on, I ask Galina if Milla's education took a backseat to the pursuit of her many careers. Clearly, she's heard this one before. "In a way, I get insulted when people say to me that education is very important," she starts in. "When I put Milla in junior high school in Beverly Hills, sometimes I would have to take her from school because she would have a job or an audition or a film. And these teachers would put me in front of them like I was a bad student and tell me how important is education. And me, who has a university degree and standing in front of them like I was a schoolgirl who did something bad and scolded like a little girl. What are you talking to me about ? I know education is important !"

Galina would no doubt still be defending her child-rearing methods were she not summoned inside to take a call. Minutes later, she reappears and says that the photo shoot won't be over for hours now, and maybe I can do the interview with Milla tomorrow, and maybe I can leave the Chateau premises right now.

Shortly before nine the next morning, Galina calls to say that her daughter's plan has changed once again. The interview will have to take place at nine the following day--ON THE PHONE.

True to form, the phone interview with Milla is nearly worthless. It's like trying to do a fashion shoot without hair and makeup, I try to explain. Back in her New York apartment, she seems to have finally succumed to jet lag. How else to explain her every response starting strong, then disintegrating into a thread of sound lost somewhere over the Rockies ? After a few minutes of this, Milla reveals that she's got yet another photo shoot. It must be a cut-rate one, because she says it's going on right there in her apartment, and she has to get back to work. And besides, "I'm not used ot doing long phone interviews. This is ridiculous."

Indeed. I've been assured by one of Milla's handlers that if I can get to New York before she leaves for Europe, where she will be at least through the spring, I can get the long-promised face-to-face interview. "So when are you leaving for Paris ?" I ask.

"Tomorrow night," she tells me at noon, Eastern Standard Time.

Fresh from the very next red-eye to New York, I hunt for the name Brenner on the directory outside the midtown Manhattan brownstone. No surprise, the name's not there as promised, so I hit every buzzer, until finally I get Milla's voice. She buzzes me in.

What a difference a couple of days make. At 9:30 in the morning, she's wearing a brown T-shirt, gray sweats, open-toe sandals, and no makeup. Even in an early-morning state of disarray, Milla Jovovich is all supermodel.

The front door leads directly into the kitchen. 'I Love Lucy' is on. So is coffee. Alas, Milla's Parliaments are nowhere in sight. As she searches for her cigarettes, I take in the decor, which might best be described as Early Undergraduate--lots of philodendrons, colored-glass objets on the windowsills, an obviously ironic collection of kitschy Third World religious icons, even the guy-friend roommate. Finally, Milla gives up on the search for her smokes and, picking up a phone, orders out for Parliaments.

Waiting for them to arrive, Milla wanders from the kitchen through the bedroom to the living room, which also doubles as an impromptu practice studio for her band. Her first album, 'The Divine Comedy', got decent reviews, so she's been encouraged to do another. Drums, music stands, and various electronic instruments take up about half the room. The neighbors must go wild.

"Only if we go after 10 o'clock at night," she says. "There's a lot of musicians around here." She points to the walls and the floor, giving a quick tour of the musically inclined within earshot. She stops, as if she's considering a possible noise problem for the very first time. Quite often there's a delayed reaction with Milla. Emotions register on her face somewhat after the fact, and when she finally does speak, her voice keeps fading off into some dimension, just as it had on the phone. There's a curious passivity about her too. Not that it matters. She could win wars by standing there and yawning.

Milla has always been the first to admit she was a brat in her pre-teen modeling days--perhaps because the memory still troubles her. Her reputation in the business today is exemplary. "I'm there for them to do my hair and put on my clothes and make me look like whatever they think is good for them," she says. "It's their moment, not mine."

The other point of personal history on which she's sensitive is drugs. When asked if she wished she'd gotten the part in the recent TV movie about Gia Carangi, the drug-addicted model who died in 1986 at age 26, Milla goes blank. "No, I mean, no. Not really. I don't know." Finally she lets go, "Just another tragic model story ! There are more interesting characters. I've done drugs ! I did stupid shit when I was 15. I went to parties and took drugs. I hung out, partied, whatever. I was young and lived in Hollywood and that's what you did to be cool, and I wanted to be accepted. Then I realized it was all fake. In the end, when the lights came back on, everybody looked like shit. It was scary and people twitching and people doing stupid things with their bodies. I don't want that in my life. And I don't want to play that in a movie!"

What Milla has played most recently in the movies is an alien in her new husband Luc Besson's sci-fi hit, 'The Fifth Element', and a prostitute in Spike Lee's latest film, 'He Got Game', starring Denzel Washington. Like a true press pro, Milla describes Denzel as a "generous" actor. Before their one love scene, he told her, "Don't be offended if I get excited and don't be offended if I don't get excited." She says this really helped her relax. The actress's opinion of Spike Lee is more complex. For research, the director sent Milla a bunch of videos in which every prostitute was a drug addict. And yet her character wasn't supposed to be on drugs. "I asked him, 'This girl is hooking her body for 50 bucks and NOT doing crack ?'"

So what did Spike tell her ?

Milla shrugs. "He said, 'Figure it out.'"

In a contest between Spike Lee and Luc Besson, Milla's husband wins hands down. "Luc is a very giving director," she begins. "He had a very clear vision. It makes it a little bit easier to do my job when I'm given information on who my character is."

Their next job together ought to really challenge that relationship: the story of Joan of Arc, with Milla as the 15-the century French saint. I ask if Milla is aware of the curse cast on young actresses who play Joan of Arc in the movies. "What curse is that ?" she asks.

Well, the actress Maria Falconetti went mad after filming Carl Dreyer's silent classic 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'. And sometime after HER version wrapped, Ingrid Bergman gave birth to director Roberto Rossellini's baby out of wedlock, which resulted in her banishment from Hollywood for seven years. And years after winning a nation-wide talent search for an unknown to play 'Saint Joan', Jean Seberg was hounded by the FBI and ended up killing herself.

"It's a great director," Milla finally replies, her voice going off into that other, safer dimension. "It's a great role..." And one of dramatic literature's most demanding. Yet Milla was cast from a fashion photo. "There was this shot of me taken by Paolo Roversi," she explains. "Luc thought it had a haunting quality. You couldn't tell if I was a boy or girl."

Milla Jovovich and Luc Besson met when he was casting 'The Fifth Element' in 1996. After many auditions, the 39-year-old director cast the then 20-year-old actress, who hadn't been in front of a movie camera since she'd played a non-speaking role in the seminal teen epic 'Dazed and Confused' three years before. In 'The Fifth Element', Milla's exotic looks were perfect for the part of Leeloo, a super-strong creature from outer space who speaks gibberish. During filming, the actress and the director became involved, though when the film unspooled at the Cannes Film Festival last spring, they were still denying their affair.

Prior to Besson, Milla had gone with Mario Sorrenti, a fashion photographer. In the fashion and recording worlds, Sorrenti is seen as a Svengali whose Trilbys keep slipping from his grip. He helped to "invent" Kate Moss before she moved on to Johnny Depp. He was in the process of reinventing Milla (and playing guitar on her second record) when the two abruptly broke up. Will Sorenti continue to function as guitarist on the much-delayed second album ?

"I'm not sure about that," Milla whispers, though her inflection suggests that she is.

Milla and Luc were married quietly before Christmas of last year. "It wasn't a secret," she insists. "I wouldn't NOT tell you about it. We just did it. My mom knew." They had been planning a big wedding with friends and family, and a party, too. But there were the usual scheduling issues ("We had too much stuff to do"), so they opted for the Chapel of the Bells in Las Vegas. Then they went skydiving.

"We're not based anywhere, really," Milla says. "We sort of float." But when they're in Paris, they share a little apartment overlooking Montparnasse. "Near the Cafe' Rotonde, where all the artists used to go." In addition, Milla has a third place, in L.A., on Mt. Olympus, which she refers to as Mountain Olympus. "It's mine," she begins before quickly qualifying that assessment. "It's my mom's, but I bought it for my mom. She likes to say it's my place. It's very 1960's. But a lot of Russian people live around there, so my mom likes it.

"My mom spent most of her life supporting me. She didn't concentrate on herself. Now I support her." Say what you will about pubescent actress-model-rockers and their overinvested moms, Milla and Galina are a functional family of two.