New Zealand Woman's Weekly February 14, 2000

Milla Stakes Her Claim
by Jan Janssen

It's time to grow up for the screen's newest Joan of Arc, Milla Jovovich

Milla Jovovich was such a strikingly gorgeous child that her mother, a Ukranian actress, knew she was destined for a career in modeling and acting when she was a mere nine years old. Leaving their home in Kiev, Milla was taken to Los Angeles and set on a path to stardom.

At the ago of 11, the child hailed as the "Slavic Brooke Shields" became the youngest model ever to grace the cover of a US fashion magazine - Mademoiselle, photographed by none other than the legendary Richard Avedon.

That same year, her face appeared on 12 other covers, including Elle and The Face, and from that point on, Milla became one of the top photographic models in the US. She stormed the fashion scene with her exotic features, ravishing blue eyes and exquisite pout.

But now, at the age of 24, Milla says few things bore her more than standing in front of a stills camera. "Modelling kills me," she sighs. "Time is so precious and you're standing aroud going 'Duh', while someone picks little nothing off your sweater. It pays well but I'd rather be doing something else.

"When I was starting out, I found it very easy to pose in front of a camera, make strange faces and earn $30,000 or more for a day's work. I've been lucky to have been able to earn that kind of money and live a good life. I'm not going to bitch about that but now I feel I want to concentrate on my acting and my music."

After a series of forgettable film roles, Milla made her first big screen impression co-starring with Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element. She went on to marry the film's director, Luc Besson, and now plays the title role in his latest film, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.

She and Luc separated during the making of the movie but Milla insists they're still "the greatest of friends".

"Something like that is never easy but it didn't affect the way we made the film. Maybe it made us work even harder, because we were more focused on our work, rather than on our personal situation."

Joan of Arc was a dream role for Milla. "She's the ultimate movie heroine - a tragic figure who aspired to greatness but whose flaws also helped destroy her. Playing her made me grow up and discover myself in many different ways.

"When you're dressed in a suit of armour, sitting on a horse and surrounded by several hundred soldiers, the immensity of the moment affects you. You put yourself in the position of a 19-year-old French girl who did lead men into horrible physical combat and their deaths. You don't just walk away from doing scenes like that without appreciating the kind of terror and strange energy which overcomes you when you're putting your life and your faith to the ultimate test. I think playing Joan has changed me - it's made me more serious and less flaky."

Milla credits her protective mother with helping her through those periods of her life when her "flakiness" threatened to destroy her. "I went through a phase where I was into this cool, sophisticated model trip and I was pretty jaded about life. I was about 13 or 14 at the time and I had a bad attitude and wasn't that pleasant to be with at times," she confesses.

"Modelling screws your head, especially when you think about how young I was when I began getting all this attention for my looks. You start living in this unreal scene, flying all over the world and dealing with a lot of sleazy people or people living a very superficial lifestyle.

"I could easily have lost my way. There are lots of temptations in every sense of the term and you have to be tough to survive that life. But my mum kept my head screwed on straight and she knew what to tell me without being too bossy. She would let me make a few mistakes and say, 'Well, now will you listen to me?'

"I learned there's no payoff to acting supercool and smart and having nothing real on the inside. For a long time now, I've learned to enjoy life and be more open and generous."