Razor June 2002
by Bret Love, photography by Mark Anderson
"You can wear lipstick and still be tough."
More than any other phrase that emerges over the course of our hour-long conversation, the above one sticks in my head, seeming to sum up Milla Jovovich's working-class-meets-high-class personal philosophy perfectly.
She opens the door, welcoming me into her posh suite at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons. The first thing I notice: the twenty-six year old supermodel-turned-actress is a study in contradictions. Her hair -- shoulder-length with straight-cut bangs and auburn and blonde highlights -- has that slightly tousled 'I just got out of bed' look, yet her minimalist makeup us applied perfectly. Her full lips are accentuated; her dazzling eyes -- shimmering pools of aqua -- lure me in, holding me in her gaze. Her clothes are thrift shop chic. A low-cut, pale pink peasant blouse over a knee-length black skirt shows just enough of her lilac lace bra to tease my attention, but those eyes ultimately steal the spotlight.
Her accessories add an air of refined class to the natural beauty she possesses, from the large amber stones on her swanky silver bracelet to her beige leather heels that only enhance her Amazonian stature. With Milla (pronounced Mee-la), beauty is all about the little things, the vaguely feline slink of her stride to the delicate way her impossibly long legs cross sensuously as she speaks, for example. Her personality is animated, with a hearty laugh you can't imagine coming from such a lean frame.
She immediately apologizes for being tardy. I will later learn that she was not simply 'fashionably late', Milla's excuse: she chose to drive herself to the interview rather than allowing her publicist to send a limousine. Prepped for the worst by a writer friend who had interviewed Jovovich when she was just a teenager promoting her first major film role in Return to the Blue Lagoon, he recounted horror stories of her than diva-like behavior. From dumping an ice cream cone that didn't suit her tastes onto a hotel's fancy sofa to answering questions with monosyllabic responses, I wasn't sure what to expect. The Milla that stands before me has little in common with the earlier spoiled brat.
Milla herself knew exactly what she wanted to be from a surprisingly early age. "I was never one to be shy about reciting a poem, singing a song or showing people what I could do. I was definitely a performer at a very young age."
By the age of nine she secured her first major acting gig in The Night Train to Kathmandu and within two years had become the hottest young model in the fashion industry. An incredibly hectic time, to say the least, Milla looks back on it all fondly. "On the positive side, I was very comfortable dealing with an adult world, and I knew by the age of thirteen what I was gonna do for the rest of my life. Most young people don't figure out until after college what they want to do! On the one hand, it prepared me for my life," she reasons, "but on the other hand it was really confusing because I wasn't really sure what I wanted. Was this something that I chose for myself, or something that my mom chose for me? There's a lot of natural self-doubt about who you are, but I'd never trade my life for anything. I'm totally happy today, knowing that I have it together."
That's not to say that life was exactly peaches and cream for the multi-talented adolescent. By her mid-teens, Jovovich had become introverted and insecure, rebelling against her mother and turning away from acting and modeling in favor of music. Inspired by the moody, ethereal sounds of gothic rock bands like Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance, the teenage Jovovich shunned the superficial pleasures of the spotlight in favor of a search for her inner self. "I was a very dark child," she recalls. "I was writing all these really dramatic songs on the guitar. I listen to them now and crack up, because I was thirteen and I'm like (sings), 'I love you with everything I have!' Now, it's like, what was I thinking?! It's so funny -- I was this little drama queen. I'm sure my mom was freaking out laughing. I'd say, 'Mom, I wrote a new song about ho dark my existence is.' She'd say, (adopts Russian accent) 'Milla, what are you talking about? What is so dark? Why don't you lighten up?'"
Instead, she turned all her attention to music. After small but well-received roles in the 1992 film Chaplin and 1993's Dazed & Confused, Milla decided to get serious about becoming a musician. She eventually moved to Europe to write songs and record with her band, signing to the SBK record label (a subsidiary of Capitol Records). Her debut album, The Divine Comedy, was released in 1994 to virtually unanimous critical acclaim. A largely acoustic folk-rock affair, the albums philosophical lyrics and earnest melodies were far removed from the trite pop music one might expect from a model/actress taking a stab at a music career. Milla earned favorable comparisons to alt-rock icons like Tori Amos and Kate Bush. Touring to support the album proved a grounding experience for the eighteen year old. "I performed at every bar in England and watched guys drinking beer rather than listening to me, with no applause afterwards. I had to go through these ropes and virtually humiliate myself to learn to appreciate what I had in my life. So when I got back into acting it was because I really wanted to do it, not because my mom or anybody else told me I should. That made all the difference..."
Jovovich returned to Hollywood in the mid-nineties with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. After endless hours of soul-searching, the more mature Milla welcomed the opportunity to assume the persona of other characters. She was fascinated by the prospect of being someone else for a change and the perfect outlet for this newfound sense of exploration crossed her path in the role of Leeloo. Leeloo was the title character who held the fate of the universe in her hands in director Luc Besson's 1997 sci-fi/action epic, The Fifth Element.
An immensely challenging role -- she was a gibberish-spouting, childishly curious alien clad in bandages that barely covered her private parts, with a personality that ran the gamut of emotions from wide-eyed wonder to devastating anguish -- Milla made it her own, stealing the spotlight from Bruce Willis. It was a brilliant performance, leading to 'serious' roles as a prostitute opposite Denzel Washington in Spike Lee's He Got Game and as Joan of Arc in Besson's The Messenger, both colorful landmarks in her evolution from supporting actress to leading lady.
"With movies, I'm always sort of jumping over the edge," Milla says with pride, "trying to do characters that are very different from me and things nobody would expect me to do. So I'm constantly having to sort of make a fool of myself. When I go on auditions, I never let them kick me out after one reading. Especially if they want me to leave, I stay, just to make sure that what they have on tape is me doing the best I can do. If I see that they think I'm not really right for the part, I say, 'Look, I wanna do that one more time.' Finally, I'm in a position where I can do that."
While her professional life continued to progress at a remarkable pace, Milla's personal life was marked with failed relationships and loss. Already divorced after a brief marriage in 1993, her two-year marriage to Besson began to fall apart on the set of The Messenger. Though neither star nor director would comment on the subject in-depth, Milla admits that their intense passion for one another was burned-out by the intensity of the film's subject matter and the difficult shoot. When her second divorce was finalized in 1999, Jovovich began on-again, off-again dating Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. A longtime fan of Frusciante's music (he has also released several critically-acclaimed solo albums), Milla admits that it was she who pursued him. She ultimately realized she wasn't cut out to be a rock star's girlfriend. Though not currently in a serious relationship, Jovovich says she has come to an epiphany about her love life.
"I'm a very passionate person," she admits. "But because I have so many different things I want to do, I have to work constantly and put the time in if I'm going to be good at them. So it's hard for me to imagine going out with somebody I'm not working with, because I don't know when I'd have time to see them or what we'd talk about. If they can't write music with me, make a film with me or take my picture -- that's what I'm always doing. Once in a while I go out to dinner and hang out with my friends, but a lot of my friends are people I work with. I love to have those kinds of relationships with people, where it's inspiring and you say one thing, I say another, and boom -- we've got a movie. I love doing creative things like that. I can't imagine myself dating, like, a doctor."
Though Milla insists she's neither a fan of horror movies or of zombie movies in specific, she admits she was thrilled at the idea of having a key role in Resident Evil. "I played the game with my brother and we got so addicted to it. I said to him that we have to make a movie of this because I am this girl! I could totally be in a miniskirt with a gun, go down underground and shoot things. It is soooo me! He's thirteen and he just thought that was the greatest idea: 'Oh my God, that would be so amazing! All my friends would think you're so cool!' So I found out that Paul had a script for it and I went full steam ahead. I said, 'Look, there's nobody else for this part. I'm telling you, I'm your girl. I play this game five hours a day!' Of course," she adds with a laugh, "I still had to do three callback auditions."
Days were excruciatingly long -- Milla performed her own stunts from hand-to-hand combat, jumps and a gravity-defying kick that would send Keanu Reeves reeling -- and the set was a tough one. The results were well worth the pain, painting Milla as a tough and beautiful slayer. Not many actresses could pull off a role matching a Jean Paul Gaultier-designed mini-dress with a machine gun, but Jovovich handled the dichotomy with rare aplomb. Before Resident Evil had opened in theaters, producers were so confident in its success they had already begun work on the sequel. Picking up where the first film leaves off, the sequel begins with Milla surfacing to find the world overrun by the undead. No matter how much money the movie brings in, in Milla's eyes it's a success: her teenage brother loves it.
In addition to her spokeswoman duties with L'Oreal, Milla is also always writing new songs for future albums and has wrapped three films due to be released within the next year. In the independent comedy Dummy, she plays a delusional punk-rock musician completely out of touch with reality who curses like a sailor as she struggles with the fact that she can't sing to save her life. In You Stupid Man she co-stars with William Baldwin and Denise Richards, playing someone very much like herself in what she describes as a "sweet romantic comedy." The project she seems most excited about is No Good Deed, a crime thriller in which she stars opposite Samuel L. Jackson as the manipulative girlfriends of a bizarre gang of criminals left alone to watch over a kidnapped detective (Jackson).
"It's a heist movie where I play a part different from anything I've ever done. I finally get to play a sexy, sophisticated woman on screen which is really exciting because I've always been dirty, or an alien, or fighting, or a prostitute, or who knows what. I'm always doing these left-field roles, so this was great because I got a chance to play a femme fatale sort of character."
So is there anything left that she dreams of doing but hasn't done yet? "Producing," she responds, not even pausing to think. "We just got the rights to a book I adore called Falling, and it's a dream part for me -- a trapeze artist. My partner is friends with Guy Liberté of Cirque Du Soleil, so we're trying to get him to train me to play this part. This is very much pushing the cart before the horse, because we don't even have a script yet, but I am taking a crack at writing it. So that's kind of my pet project..."