InStyle August 2007

Milla Instinct

Call it an innate sense of cool if you will, but some girls just have 'it', and none more so that fashion designer/model/actress/singer Milla Jovovich. We caught up with her in LA as she prepares for her latest challenge: motherhood.

by Sanjiv Bhattacharya, Photographed by Mark Abrahams

It might be a scene from a movie -- Milla Jovovich is walking delicately through one of Beverly Hills' most extravagant private gardens on a gorgeous sun-dappled day filled with butterflies. She looks this way and that, searching for the right spot, stopping finally at a secluded cover by a vast azure pool. "I've been waiting for this moment all day," she says, and sinks her teeth into a giant chicken burrito.

"Excuse me," she says, scooping the sour cream off her lips with her fingers. "I used to smoke cigarettes, drink champagne -- I was a big champagne person -- but now eating is the only crutch I have left. I gained 22lb last month!"

The secret's out -- she's eating for two. In November, she's due to give birth to her first child with her partner of seven years, the Newcastle-born film director Paul Anderson. "It wasn't planned," says Milla, "but I wasn't on the Pill either." And as she quit her other vices, the munchies began.

"I have a very addictive personality," she says, chomping away. "They say you're supposed to gain 30lb when you have a baby and I'm nearly there already! All those stories that you see on TV -- 'I eat when I'm upset!' I totally get it now."

Milla has always been a woman of appetites. At 31, she is set to marry for the third time. And her career, which began at the age of 11, could scarcely be more wide-ranging and ambitious. So far, she's been a supermodel, a singer, a movie star and lately a fashion designer. And yet through it all, she's somehow managed to remain mysterious and distant, not unlike Leeloo, her character in The Fifth Element.

So meeting Milla for the first time is a surprise. She's warm and girlie, always friendly and ready to unleash her dirty Julie Walters laugh. She has the wide-eyed curiosity of a young girl -- her interests are far-reaching. "I can't resist antique furniture," she says. "And rare books. I have a beautiful library back home." Recent obsessions also include physics and math, because "it's the language of God!" And then there are her doll's houses. "I build them. I have an amazing little village at home with ten houses, horses and carriages, little markets and tiny little lettuces. When I had them in my bedroom, my fiance would trip over them when he went to the bathroom in the night. It was ridiculous."

Today, she's been busy modelling for InStyle. Moving from lush location to location in this four-acre paradise, she slips effortlessly from pose to pose, switching her smile from beaming to coy to knowing in an instant. Though she says modelling's not the most important thing she does, she remains one of the most successful in the business. In a 20-year career, she's been the face of many campaigns including L'Oreal, Prada, Chanel, and Versace.

Nevertheless, modelling has recently taken a back seat to fashion designing. The Jovovich-Hawk line, which she launched in 2003 with fellow model Carmen Hawk, has taken off, particularly in the UK, where high-street brand Mango stocks a critically acclaimed limited-edition collection. The clothes are quirky, characterful, bohemian -- very Milla. "I was getting a lot of attention from the press about my personal style, so the label seemed like a logical step," she says.

And it's true -- Milla's look has never been conventional. As a 16-year-old, she dressed like a skater -- "baggy jeans, baggy T-shirt and a baseball cap -- the whole Avril Lavigne thing. I wanted to be hardcore." Now her approach is more feminine and theatrical. She even has a collection of Victorian dresses and costumes. "I'm inspired by characters out of books and history," she says. "Like, I want to be that starving artist from the 1700s, but with really nice fabric. Or the little Victorian match girl with the torn sweater, but it has to be cashmere, you know?"

Reactions to Milla's look haven't always been kind. "Sometimes, if you dress quirky, people are like [she puts on a whiny nasal voice], 'Oh, you're dressed like your grandma'. But I love girls who go for character rather than upfront sexuality. It's much sexier for the kind of guys that I find attractive."

Her sense of costume stems from her Russian actress mother. Milla was five when her parents first arrived in Los Angeles from the Ukraine. "They didn't have any money, they were working as housekeepers," she says. "So for my mum to feel beautiful and wear really cool stuff, she'd have to go to junk stores and swap meets." Inevitably, the kids at school made fun of her outlandish vintage outfits, but Milla brushed them off. "My mum taught me to take pride in the fact that I'm not like everybody else."

Her mother's influence has been huge, particularly since her father, a Serbian doctor, was sentenced to jail for a health-insurance scam not long after they arrived in the US. It was her mother who encouraged nine-year-old Milla to act and it was after an audition that she was discovered by the photographer Richard Avedon. Today, her mum remains a central figure in her life, living nearby in Beverly Hills. But her dad is also now part of the scene. "He's coming over for a barbecue this weekend," she says breezily. "I'm very family-oriented."

As a teenager, however, things weren't nearly so peachy. A bona fide wild child, Milla's rebellions were bolstered by the fact that she was the family's biggest earner. At one point, she went off and married Dazed and Confused co-star Shawn Andrews (a marriage her mother swiftly had annulled).

"I was pretty fearless," she says, laughing. "But it was different for me. When I argued with my parents, I didn't just go stay at my friend's house for a few days. I'd go 'Screw you guys! I'm buying my own apartment!'" Her life back then sounds like a reality show. "Yeah, I was 16, chilling at my apartment with rappers, smoking bongs. But at the same time, come Monday, I'd fly to Paris to do a job. I always knew that we came from nothing. I was a little too scared to just party my ass off for good."

Convinced by her mother that modelling wouldn't last, Milla decided music was her calling. And it was for a while. Her first album was well reviewed and although she recorded a second, she couldn't bring herself to release it. "My record company wanted me to change some things," she recalls, "and I couldn't handle it -- this is my writing, I don't think anything should be changed. It's genius! So now I just treat that second record as something for me. And when I perform [she still does the odd impromptu gig -- a few months ago, she played in Paris and Moscow], it's great because I'm not trying to make money out of it -- I'm just here to give."

In any case, her film career has long superseded her music. Alongside her fashion designing, movies are still where she sees her future. They have been hugely influential in her personal life too. She married The Fifth Element director Luc Besson -- they were together for two years -- and it was on the set of Resident Evil that she met Anderson. "I thought he was cute and interesting," she says dreamily of her rakishly handsome partner. "And there's also that thing where he chose me for his film. It's a very attractive quality when someone chooses you. I like people who like me!" It also helped that he's British -- Milla's unashamedly into "the whole accent thing". She has visited Anderson's family in Newcastle and talks fondly of trips to nearby castles and to Lindisfarne.

Her relationship with Anderson is certainly her most stable yet. But the transition into pregnancy was never going to be easy for a woman with four careers. "I just gave up a Paul Verhoeven move this summer, which I'm very upset about," she says, but immediately checks herself. "Whatever. I mean, I couldn't have a better reason to cancel." And with that she lifts her blouse and shows me her bump. "In three weeks, it'll have ears!" she says excitedly. "So I'll be able to start playing her music. Apparently, they respond really well to classical, but I'm going to try classic rock too. Like Bowie, Joni Mitchell, or Jimi Hendrix..."

So it's a girl, is it? "It's 90 per cent a girl," she says, grinning. "I know, I'm in for it, at least if my relationship with my mum says anything." So it looks like there's another rock chick on the way, then.

"I know!" she says, laughing. "Awesome!" And she reaches for another burrito.