Esquire (UK) July 1998

Interview by Bob Flynn, Photographs by Kate Garner

Milla Jovovich Is Already Hot. But In Her New Role As Joan Of Arc, She's A Real Scorcher.

I first glimpsed her, almost literally in the flesh, through the baying crowd ringing the Palais Du Festival at the premiere of The Fifth Element, last year's Cannes opener. Milla Jovovich was dressed in mist, a sci-fi Gaultier-Egyptian nothing with strategic straps. She seemed not to notice her near-nakedness. A natural, obtuse beauty, unenhanced and the antithesis of the Croisette babes, she looked around her like the new Garbo. Though this was her first Cannes, the French ballyhoo just seemed to make her scowl and laugh all at once. She was the new star alongside Bruce Willis in the most expensive French-financed film ever, conceived and directed by Luc Besson. While Demi Moore tried to attract the million flash-guns with her considerable starry suction, the insouciant, plural-universe presence of Milla was a magnet to the frenzied cameramen.

Later, on the Palais screen, there was Milla on the ledge of a futuristic skyscraper, in Gaultier bandages. The image was indelibly imprinted on the eyes of the audience and reprinted by the world's press. The critics tore Besson's mind-candy apart, but the then 21-year-old Milla had arrived like a red-haired bullet, crashing into the back of Bruce Willis' air-cab jabbering a non-existant language and looking wild, alien. She made the child-woman, animal-angel Leeloo almost believable beside the likes of Ian Holm and Gary Oldman and was the soul of the movie.

And things would never be the same again, for she is now Luc Besson's wife -- married in the Chapel of the Bells, Las Vegas earlier this year -- and she is preparing to follow in the illustrious footsteps of Bergman, Seberg, and Falconetti to the stake in her new husband's version of the life of Joan of Arc, the ultimate French heroine and martyr.

From the gates of Kiev to the gates of Orleans, Jovovich has led a series of lives in her 22 years that defy the normal boundaries of ambitious striving or talent. Born on 17 December 1975 in the Ukraine, her parents -- mother Galina was a respected actress in Russia; father Bogich a doctor -- left for America when she was five. Her face, constructed of Slavic planes veering into plush lips and eyes like pale embers, illuminated almost every glossy magazine cover by the time she was 12. But the tag of child-model nymphet was never going to be enough.

"I thank God that my parents got together and created a model who could make money out of her looks," she says. "Not for the material gain but for the freedom to do what I want.." You should believe it, for, against her mother's wishes, at 15 she "took three eyars off modeling and moved to London to do my music." An album of folksy songs, The Divine Comedy, was released by EMI when she was 18, but things did not evolve as planned when they tried to mould her into the new Kylie. Warning: she does not like "singing stupid songs" and is not the new Kylie; her album, named after Dante's masterpiece, sold 200,000 copies but despite this, the recording career lapsed.

Galina pushed her child towards the fame and fortune -- and by 14, Milla had made a fortune -- that she had strived for in Russia. Galina once said that she thought "Milla is carrying on from where I left off." Little or no mention is made of her father, and it has been reported that he is serving a 20-year sentence in the USA for a multi- milliondollar medical insurance racket (allegedly the biggest in American history) uncovered in 1994. This resulted in the breakup of the marriage, though is is said that Milla still visits her father in prison.

Ferocious ambition, it seems, runs in the family, but despite the innocent wantonness and feral sexuality of the Jovovich child, if anyone is going to exploit Milla, it is herself. "I guess it's normal for parents to live vicariously through their children," she says, "but it does get a little difficult at times."

Milla Jovovich is the kind of person who defines the age. These rare finds fit the times -- they lock into place, summing up something of the era as if they had just been waiting for the moment to appear. The days of the waif are over -- even Uma is to be a mum this month -- and Milla is the next level, a blend of Bjork and Moss. The upfront yet elusive, earthy yet classics-reading, folk-pop composing yet catwalking, millenium girl. Her star turn in the 1998 Pirelli Calendar shows the inherent tension in her presence; a nude decorator, both innocent and knowing at the same time.

She might even be a great actress. Next, she plays Dakota, a prostitute befriended by Denzel Washington in Spike Lee's He Got Game. But can she really take on the enormity of Jeanne d'Arc? The peasant girl from Lorraine instructed by heavenly forces to become a divine warrior and lead an army to Orleans and drive the English from French soil in 1429? The betrayed saint who welcomed the flames of the pyre at Rouen? Course she can. She's perfect.