Interview: Milla Jovovich, actress, musician

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HER STRIKING looks made her name as a model but there’s much more to actress, musician and mother, Milla Jovovich, than meets the eye

The story goes that fame and fortune are usually acquired without much in the way of hard work. It’s about looking the right way, or knowing the right people, hanging out in the right bars, with perhaps a bit of natural talent thrown in. And desire, of course, you’ve got to want it.

Milla Jovovich was certainly blessed with a bone structure that makes camera lenses melt into submission, she grew up in Los Angeles, albeit as an adopted home after being born in the Ukraine, and she can act and sing. It’s clear that she wants it. But no one could ever accuse her of lack of effort. Jovovich is a grafter. Always has been.

At 35, Jovovich is a model/actor/singer/designer, she’s a mother of one (her daughter, Ever, is four) and one half of a Hollywood power couple. Thank God her nail polish is chipped, or she might seem superhuman.

In the glossy ads for make-up brands or fashion labels, Jovovich is all glamour, perfectly still, perfectly groomed. In person, she’s different. She’s all energy. Her voice is loud, she laughs a lot, she talks fast. Movies, her relationship (she’s married to English director and screenwriter Paul WS Anderson), LA, the double standards women have to put up with – they all get the rapid-fire Jovovich treatment. She is strikingly, stunningly beautiful – her blue eyes are piercing and startlingly light, icy blue really, the whites almost luminescent, her skin is porcelain smooth and her hair has that perfect salon finish. It shines, it bounces, it looks very, very worth it. Hollywood thin, her long legs are endless in skinny jeans, her wrists slender, exposed by her pushed-up grey jacket sleeves.

But there’s more to Jovovich than meets the eye. There is something more interesting than the primed and primped Hollywood star promoting a product. The toes of her black and white heels – far from power platforms, these are a height realistic for walking – are as scuffed as the polish on her fingernails. Jovovich, who has a reputation for being joyously unpretentious when she speaks, looks real too, not like a mannequin or a cardboard cutout, but a woman with a four-year-old daughter and a breakneck-paced career and somewhere to go when she’s done talking to me.

I take heart from those chipped nails. They make me think that Jovovich has her priorities right.

On screen, Jovovich is probably still best known for playing the orange-haired superwaif and “supreme being” Leeloo opposite Bruce Willis in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. She was magnificent. (Besson obviously thought so, they got together and were married for two years.) As Leeloo she was properly otherwordly, gloriously beautiful and androgynous. Her job was to save the world and she did it. Jovovich is good when it comes to roles that involve seemingly insurmountable tasks to be tackled with fortitude, strength and, when required, not inconsiderable martial arts skills. That’s why she rocks the part of the zombie-slaying Alice in the Resident Evil franchise (directed by Anderson). The fifth instalment is being made for release next year. And it’s why she is the perfect choice to play M’lady de Winter, a sword-wielding, gymnastically gifted mercenary, in the new Three Musketeers 3D extravaganza starring Matthew Macfadyen (Athos), Ray Stevenson (Porthos), Luke Evans (Aramis) and teen heartthrob Logan Lerman (D’Artagnan), and helmed by Anderson.

In the trailer, which also features a scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz) and a bequiffed Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom), Jovovich pulls off one stunt after another. She dodges bullets and arrows and slides along an unfeasibly shiny parquet floor as all around her explodes.

“I swear they’ve put every single stunt scene I had into what you’ve seen because I do have a lot of scenes where I don’t do any stunts,” she says. “I only have a few stunt moments in this movie. But I love that stuff. I love to do wirework, I love to train.”

But in a corset? It looks like a stunt in itself.

“It was. The musketeers are cool and strong but M’lady can do everything they can do in the corset and a 45lb dress.” She raises a perfectly arched brow.

Jovovich is a straight talker, a no-nonsense type. But her beauty is the angular sort that sells high fashion and expensive cosmetics. She might sound like the girl next door, but she doesn’t look like her. Jovovich reckons the reason she’s ended up with the action movie heroine as her go-to role is because those were the characters she grew up watching on TV, but it could well be that those feisty, capable women suit her more. They just fit.

“M’lady is a woman with no country,” she says. “She’s a mercenary type, the kind of person that you never know where she’s from or where’s she’s been or where she’s going.”

She says the criticism that the character is manipulative or immoral when she does exactly the same as the men in the movie irritates her. “She’s in politics and she’s not sentimental. She’s good at what she does, she’s worked her whole life to be as good as she is and she’s not about to throw it all away to move to the country and have babies with Athos. She has a career and she wants to get better and better at what she does.”

Jovovich sits back in her seat and shrugs her shoulders. That sounded like the logic of someone who is either speaking from personal experience or who at least understands the tension. So how much does she identify with her character’s predicament?

She smiles.

“Not much because I’ve got a baby and I’m totally ready to move to Calabasas [a well-heeled city in the hills in the southwestern San Fernando Valley and the Santa Monica Mountains]. Get me out of here.” She laughs long and loud.

“I’ve been working for 25 years so, you know ...” She sips her coffee. “It’s like when you hear of those cops saying, ‘That’s me’,” she puts on a croaky, deep voice, “‘Twenty-five years on the force so this is the last job and then me and the wife are heading to Mexico.’ And then they get shot.” She laughs again.

“But really, I’m kind of ready to move to the country.”

She has a point.

Jovovich was born in Kiev in 1975. Her father, a doctor, and her mother, a Russian actress, left the Ukraine when their daughter was five. They went first to London and then to Sacramento in California before settling in Los Angeles.

Things weren’t straightforward. She’s spoken in the past of the difficulty she felt as a child in America with a Russian accent that earned her the nickname “commie”. But what the family wanted to achieve was clear: America was a place to work hard and reap rewards – a big house and a swimming pool.

Her mother worked as a cleaner. Her father ended up in jail over a health insurance scam. But Jovovich did her bit. She worked. Her mother sent her to every kind of lesson going – ballet, piano, acting. There was pressure. Then, at age 11, she was spotted by legendary photographer Richard Avedon who featured her in Revlon’s “Most Unforgettable Women in the World” adverts, presumably forgetting that rather than being a woman, Jovovich wasn’t even a teenager. She landed her first magazine cover in 1987 and signed a professional modelling contract the next year.

The work has continued apace. There have been movies, mainstream and indie, some interesting, many unremarkable, and there was an album recorded when she was 18. She still makes music, but recently it’s been just for fun, although as you’d expect, she’s ambitious.

“I’m feeling really inspired with my music,” she says, elbows on knees, leaning forward. “I’ve been working with a friend and we’ve got a really unique, cool sound happening. I have three demos right now that are listenable so I’m going to meet with a music manager in the next few weeks and hopefully he can put us in touch with some producers that can take them and do something with them.”

She reckons that by the time she’s finished with Resident Evil early next year they might be ready to perform. “I’d like to get a half-hour set together and pick one song that’s awesome and then my friend will shoot a video for me and maybe premier at Fashion Week next year. We could play at fashion parties, maybe.”

For Jovovich, since that first Avedon shoot, there has always been modelling and fashion. She has been a “spokesmodel” for L’Oreal since 1998. Last year she designed a boutique collection for fashion label ICB and in 2012 she’s the face of the Campari calendar.

Work, work, work. Jovovich admits that it can get a bit too much.

“Last year was kind of insane,” she says. “By the time I was done I was on my last nerve. This year I said no to a lot of indies and focused on being a mom: taking my daughter to school, picking her up, karate class, hiphop classes, just chilling, making music at night and just focusing on me and my daughter and being in LA and not flying around so much.”

Jovovich says that working with Anderson is “a dream” as the couple know how to “navigate each other” because they’ve known one another for so long. They met in 2002 on the first Resident Evil and after being together for a while they split. Then they got back together and in 2007 had their baby, then got married. A Hollywood marriage that’s gone right. It’s impressive.

“Well, we did break up for a year and a half in the middle,” she says. “And we had a baby, that helped. I guess you are a bit like, right, that’s us, staying together.”

As to how they stay together, the explanation is more complex, but being typically Jovovich, she’s happy to give it a go.

“Listen, I’m just talking for the moment. I’m not saying, ‘I’m so perfect,’ but I’m trying to hold on to this philosophy: you have to be ready to understand that you’re either going to be a person who appreciates what they have and tries to make it work or you’re constantly going to be looking for the next person that’s going to excite you because every relationship at some point becomes a little like ...” she slumps back in her seat and picks up an imaginary remote control ... “American Idol?”

She laughs.

“I get home from a photoshoot where I’ve been being all like this [she pouts and preens] and Paul sees me like this and then I’m like, ‘30 Rock, yay! Can I get a Diet Coke?’ It is what it is. You have to be willing to put in the time and the energy to keep it together and keep it vibrant. And you have to also be willing to forgive each other and allow each other to make mistakes without judging each other for it. It’s about being open and saying, ‘This is what I’ve decided and to all intents and purposes I want to make this work because this is my life and this is my mate who’s supported me all of these years.’ Even when we broke up, he always loved me. I definitely appreciate that.”

For now LA is home. The family live in a house in the Hollywood Hills, but Jovovich admits she misses Europe.

“I love Europe. I was there a month ago. I could move there so easily. I just love pedestrian cities. For me, to be able to walk out with my daughter and just walk to a park or the store to get our groceries, our chicken for the evening.

“The paparazzi is always here. I’m never really alone. Sometimes I feel like I’m safer in LA than any other place when I go out alone because there’s always someone watching from somewhere. If I was to shout, ‘Help’ I’m sure there’d be a photographer right there shouting, ‘Milla! Milla! I’m here’.” She laughs. “‘Can I just shoot it?’”

She crosses her legs and leans back to tell a story which captures what it’s like to be Milla Jovovich.

“I was having a fitting at Versace for the gold dress I wore at Cannes,” she says as though she’s describing having her jeans taken up. “My ‘gay husband’, Chris, who was here said after that why don’t we take Ever to the park. Of course, he said it in front of her.”

She rolls her eyes. He’d made the schoolboy error of believing that someone like Milla Jovovich can go out without drawing attention to herself, which she says in LA is completely impossible. “He was like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ and I was like, ‘We’re going to have 15 paparazzi jump out and all the other parents are going to be mad at me and they’re going to start cursing at the paparazzi and you’re going to start cursing at the paparazzi.’”

He thought she was exaggerating but she was right. The next day she read stories online about how nice it was to see that Milla Jovovich has time to spend with her daughter at the park when she’s as busy as she is. She shakes her head.

“They think that it’s because I’m at the park that I’ve got time whereas, actually, we’ve got swingsets and slides in our garden. The reason we don’t go to the park is because of them.”

And don’t you ever want to shout at them? To tell them to get lost?

“No, because then they get the picture of me looking like this [she screws up her face].” She laughs.

“Twenty-five years of experience. If it didn’t look good when I was 18, it’s not going to look any better at 35.”

And with that, Milla Jovovich is gone.

The Three Musketeers 3D is on general release from 21 October