V September/October 2002
Dial M for Milla When we last saw actress Milla Jovovich and director Wim Wenders together, he was playing out his obsessions with American trash culture, and she was playing a burned-out prostitute with a taste for high-minded literature in Wenders's film The Million Dollar Hotel. Together again on opening night of Wenders's exhibition of photographs at the Guggenheim Bilbao, the two talk about Madness, the Australian outback, and the best way to kill a zombie.
Wim Wenders: So Milla, Millaka, how is life?
Milla Jovovich: Well, life is good. I'm ironing a shirt here in Bilbao because the room service here, housekeeping, is closed because it's Monday, and, you see, people don't work here on Monday because Monday they are recovering from Sunday.
WW: But that's not so bad. When we arrived here, there was a general strike. The whole city was on strike, and they were marching through the streets, and that's when we were hanging the show.
MJ: Well, I've gotta tell you, if this city has this kind of attitude and makes people steam and iron their own clothes when they are coming to see beautiful exhibits at the Guggenheim, this hotel is not gonna last. Sorry. I'm very bitter right now. To set the scene, we've got about half an hour before Wim's show opens, and I'm ironing my boyfriend's clothes.
WW: Yes, but it's a very, very beautiful purple shirt. Do you like purple?
MJ: You know, it's not really purple. I like dusty colors, and this is sort of vieux violet. "Old" violet. I like things that are faded, that have gray in them.
WW: But not in your boyfriends.
MJ: No, no. [Laughs] But on walls or shirts.
WW: So Bilbao. What else comes to your mind? Resident Evil? Define evil.
MJ: Well, if you look in the dictionary, the actual definition of evil is "to destroy".
WW: Like Evel Kneivel?
MJ: Well, I guess so.
WW: He destroyed himself, didn't he?
MJ: I guess self-destruction is a form of evil too. But any time you destroy rather than create I think is evil, whether it be in relationships or art or anything.
MJ: Nothing should be destroyed. [Laughs] Except the zombies.
WW: What are the zombies exactly? I'm not into zombies myself. I think they stink.
MJ: What are zombies? Well, zombies are people that were injected by the T virus, and they died. And the T virus is --
WW: How do you catch that virus?
MJ: Well, through anything really. Through air, through water. It's a very advanced scientific experiment.
WW: But it only occurs in cities that start with a T, right? In Bilbao we can only catch the B virus.
MJ: Wim, you're making me really nervous. You're pacing.
WW: Okay, I sit. I sit still. First rule for an interviewer, sit still, shut up.
MJ: So. T virus. You inject these people with it, and what it does is regenerate cellular growth. So if a person dies, it gives an electric shock to your cells and pretty much reanimates the body. So people don't really have minds, but they have this urge to feed.
WW: So out of cellular growth, we have cellular gross.
MJ: I'll tell you guys why Wim is in such a great mood and he's cracking all of these jokes. We're about to go see his amazing exhibit at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Don't ask me why Bilbao --
WW: Because they have the Guggenheim here, and the Guggenheim has a big doggie in front of it, and it's beautiful.
MJ: The Guggenheim is amazing. I just wish it were in...Barcelona.
WW: But what about your doggie, as we are talking about doggies? Where is Madness?
MJ: Madness is at home. You know, she's been traveling around so much. She went to Cannes, and she went to Italy, and she went to Berlin, so I decided to leave her with grandma at home.
WW: Okay, so here goes a greeting to Madness, and now let's continue with the interview. So we know about the zombies, but what do we do with them now that they are around us with their T virus? We have to eighty-six them, right?
MJ: Well, you gotta shoot 'em in the head. Or break their neck. That's the only way to kill a zombie.
WW: You can't just, like, put them on television and make a talk show with them until they're dead?
MJ: Fact is, they don't really talk, ya know? They don't have any brain.
WW: But neither do the people on talk shows.
MJ: Wim, maybe when you make a zombie movie, you can put them on a talk show to kill them.
WW: I bet I do the Tonight Show with zombies and it will be a big success. So we get rid of the zombies. Once you shoot them in the head and break their necks you're rid of them, or do they still procrastinate or something?
MJ: You know, the problem with zombies is not the individual zombie. It's the mass of them. When there's one zombie, there's usually like 500 more, because the disease travels really quickly.
WW: How do you know they are zombies? Can they look like nice people?
MJ: No. They look really horrible. They look dead. I mean, it's the gross stuff that teenage boys like to go see in the movies.
WW: Ah, that's it. That's what it is.
MJ: Anyways, the fact is, zombies are zombies, but who cares about zombies anyways? It's just fun. Resident Evil was already out in America so --
WW: So if I see one, I'll call you. I have your mobile number. You bring Madness, and out with the zombies.
MJ: I wish it were so easy. You know, I wish we could always just call a superhero when we need one, but unfortunately --
WW: Well, now we have Paul [Anderson, director of Resident Evil and Milla's current boyfriend], but Paul as a superhero wasn't able to iron his own shirt.
MJ: You think superheroes must have someone to wash their clothes and iron their stuff, and make the suits perfect so that when they put them on, they look really great.
WW: Like when they rip open the suit, there's got to be an ironed shirt underneath.
MJ: Definitely. It's gotta be clean and nice. You've never heard of Superman smelling.
MJ: He doesn't even sweat, right?
WW: No bad breath, either. You know that I once flew with Superman?
WW: I once got into a little plane in Newark -- no, not Newark -- La Guardia to go to Martha's Vineyard. And it was a terrible, stormy, rainy day and the six people on the plane were all really shaking with fear. We're sitting in this tiny little plane, the rain is coming down, and there was no pilot. Just the copilot was there, and he told us we had to wait for the pilot. And then, through the pouring rain, came this guy, shielding his head with his pilot's jacket. He came through the plane -- or crawled through the plane, because it was rather low -- came by me, and sat down in the pilot's seat. Finally it was not raining too hard, and the pilot told us we didn't have to be scared, that he would fly us safely to Martha's Vineyard. And at that point he turned around, and it was Christopher Reeve.
WW: This is true. This is a while ago. Christopher was still a pilot. And I tell you, the people around me were more scared than before.
MJ: Nobody trusts an actor to fly a plane.
WW: Let alone Superman. But you know what? He got us there.
MJ: When my family first moved to America, my parents were working as housekeepers for Brian De Palma. He had a house off of Coldwater Canyon, and we were staying in a little house off of the garage. He would go away on location all the time, and he would have different people come rent the house. One of the people who came was Christopher Reeve and his family. He was really great, and his son I used to run around and jump on his back. It was amazing. I was probably 7 years old, and to me he was completely Superman.
WW: I bet you were a really fun little girl when you were 7 years old.
MJ: Um, I was definitely a troublemaker.
WW: That's what I meant. What is the locale we are talking about? It's in the valley?
MJ: What, this house? No, it's up in the hills.
WW: I wish I had grown up there.
WW: Because it's so beautiful there, up Coldwater Canyon.
MJ: Yea, but where you grew up is perfect for the person you are.
WW: It didn't hurt me. Let's say that.
MJ: So I wanna know -- and I'm sure we all wanna know -- less about me and more about what we are doing tonight. I would love for you to talk about this exhibit -- what inspired you to do it, how long it's taken you to do it, the cameras you used. There's the story about when you were in Australia in the outback and it was like 300 degrees --
WW: In the shade!
MJ: And you had that fifty-pound camera and the aboriginal guy is calling you "fool with a camera."
WW: "Photojara" he was calling me, because he couldn't believe that anyone in his right mind would carry such heavy equipment through the desert and climb on top of every rock, or even on top of the boiling car, just to be six feet higher to take a picture. Plus the camera was black, and you couldn't even touch it anymore because it was too hot. This guy just frowned at me and thought I had definitely lost my mind and that it was probably from the heat. But I knew what I was doing, and I was taking these large-format pictures with this huge camera to one day print them really big, because I'm a collector of places. I love places, and I'm of the firm conviction that places have the ability to tell stories as long as people still have the ability to hear them. A lot of people just don't know anymore how to listen to a place. So that's what I'm doing, and I don't need a tape recorder.
MJ: Do you think that when it comes to your art that you ever don't know what you are doing?
WW: Basically, I never know what I'm doing. I work strictly from my guts and not from my head, which is very atypical for us Germans. Everybody believes I'm lying if I say I'm not an intellectual, that I'm badly prepared, and that I do this from my stomach, but that's the way it is. And even you have a critical frown on your forehead right now.
MJ: Well, I mean, listen. I've been one of your biggest fans for a long, long time, so it's hard for me to imagine that when you set out to take a picture or to film a scene that you don't really know where to start. It seems like you have a pretty strong vision. I know for myself, so many times as an artist I feel so much confusion, so much doubt, and so much of that What am I doing? Does this mean anything? I write a song and throw it away. That's what I do with most of my music, just put it on a shelf and try to forget about it, because it represents a part of me so personal that I'm almost embarrassed.
WW: Yeah, but doubt is the greatest thing. Imagine if you weren't doubting how boring this whole world would be. And only by overcoming doubt can you sort of feel that you are on the right track.
MJ: I guess so. There's a plus and a minus for everything, and I guess what I'm learning a lot right now is to appreciate the minuses as much as the pluses.
WW: Right now I doubt you are going to go to the exhibition in these clothes.
MJ: Just to let you know, right now I'm dressed in pajamas and a tank top, and I still haven't finished ironing my boyfriend's suit. And Wim, you look really amazing.
WW: I have my world-championship soccer shoes on.
MJ: By Yohji Yamamoto.
WW: Yes, in collaboration with Adidas. And I'm ready. Can I help you? I'll finish the ironing.
MJ: Actually, I have to do the pants now, but I think the jacket might be okay. What does your tie say? Wim is very famous for his wardrobe, everybody should know. And if V Magazine ever wants to do a personal-style story, they should do Wim and his wife, Donata.
WW: And give a call to Yohji Yamamoto first, because I'm wearing only his stuff. Listen to this tie. It says: "L'image est une creation pure de l'esprit." It's written in Yohji's handwriting. "The image is a pure creation of spirit." Isn't that great? And we're agreeing. And if I see a zombie, I hold up my tie, and it dies!
MJ: I don't know. I think you need a little more power than that. I think you need a big gun, Wim. Have you ever shot a gun?
WW: Oh, yes. Once.
MJ: Did you like it?
WW: It was scary. Actually, I shot a gun because the actor made me shoot it.
MJ: Just to see what it felt like?
WW: No, because in this scene he had to shoot a gun, and he was firmly convinced that as the director, I was going to be hopeless to direct him in this scene if I had never shot a gun myself. He said, "Wim, tell me the truth, have you ever carried a loaded gun in your pocket?" And I said, "No, of course not." And he said, "You can direct the scene with me on Monday morning if you carry this loaded gun with you over the weekend." And I was carrying a loaded gun in my pocket for two days and a half. And I tell you, that makes everything that you do different.
MJ: That wasn't Harry Dean Stanton, was it?
WW: No. If it were him, I wouldn't have let him shoot a gun. It was Bruno Ganz in American Friend, and he had to shoot someone in the subway. And after I carried the loaded gun and actually carried it out of Paris and shot it at something real, then I knew what he meant.
MJ: Wim, that's crazy. You're not supposed to shoot loaded guns, like, outside of Paris. You should have gone to a shooting range.
WW: Yes. But I didn't know this, and it wouldn't have been real. I wanted to know in real life what it was like.
MJ: But he's not going to be carrying around a loaded gun in real life. He's an actor. He's going to be carrying around an empty one.
WW: No. He had a real gun because we couldn't afford the expensive stuff. But we had the blank shells.
MJ: So you had blank shells?
WW: No. I had real shells, because he insisted that I have the feeling of a real gun in my pocket so I could be a good director.
MJ: So now everybody knows the secret to being a good director.
WW: So did Paul break people's necks or tell you how to do it?
MJ: Are you kidding? I totally gave Paul a black eye during the shooting. I gave the cinematographer a black eye. You know, the funny thing about Paul is that he's so nonviolent in his normal life that he takes it all out in his movies.
WW: He doesn't look dangerous at all.
MJ: He's not.
WW: He looks like me. We are sweet guys.
MJ: Yeah, you're sweet, but --
WW: But dangerous.
MJ: Definitely dangerous.
WW: He looks dangerous, too.
MJ: Yes, and it's the ones who are so mild mannered on the outside who have all the violent passion on the inside. I'm saying violent on an emotional, artistic level and not beating-people-up violent. You know the feeling, like, when you take a ball and you throw it at a hoop and it goes through? I never know that feeling because the ball never hits it. I'm never able to put a ball through a hoop; I'm never able to toss a piece of paper into a trash can without completely trying five times. But give me a gun and I point and shoot and it hits the mark, and I've got really great aim. It definitely makes me feel really good in a Mad Max sort of way. Do you think if the situation ever came up -- let's say the end of the world was coming -- would you prefer to die, or would you prefer to live by the gun and survive?
WW: In a jungle situation, where everybody's against everybody else?
MJ: Would you say, You know what, this world is not for me, I'm gonna lay down, or would you take a gun and go?
WW: I would take a gun and defend those who are dear to me. If I didn't have those people, I don't know if I would do it then. But I'd do it for others. That's for sure. I mean, if we were surrounded by zombies? Hey! I shoot the hell out of them!
MJ: I've never been able to understand people who would just lay down and die. It's definitely the human spirit to just keep going somehow, like a disease that won't stop.
WW: How did we get here? Weren't we just talking about my cute shoes?
MJ: And they are really cute.
WW: And you in your pajamas? I think I will turn this off so you can change.