Milla Jovovich: kick-butt queen
Model, actress, muso ... the multi-talented, fashion favourite Milla Jovovich.
From Sunday Life
It's a sticky, oppressive Los Angeles afternoon but Milla Jovovich looks remarkably cool and fresh. It's as if she has been designed that way, and aircon simply isn't required to deflect the sweltering heat outside the five-star hotel where we are meeting for tea. Wearing grey skinny jeans, a cream jacket by The Kooples and black-and-white sling-back heels, she has wide, expressive, greyish-blue eyes and wavy brown hair. She sashays like the model she once was across the corridor to greet me.
Jovovich has enjoyed success as a high-profile model, musician, fashion designer, businesswoman and, of course, actor, recognised chiefly for the sci-fi and kick-arse action roles that have defined her movie career so far. "My whole life, since I was a kid, I've been saying I don't want to be pigeon-holed," she says, smiling. "Now I'm 35 and I think the opposite - it's okay. People love me doing action movies, and that's awesome. I am very serious about my career and I still get to do my independent films and record my music on the side. It's all good. I'm very happy."
"As a kid I never got off on seeing big, muscular men with guns" ... Milla in Resident Evil: Afterlife
Since her 1993 breakthrough role in indie slacker movie Dazed and Confused, alongside Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey, the actor has co-starred with Bruce Willis in 1997's The Fifth Element (directed by her second husband, Frenchman Luc Besson) and played the title role in 1999's Joan of Arc (also directed by Besson). She is also the heroine of the high-grossing Resident Evil franchise, directed by her third husband, Paul W. S. Anderson. The fifth film in the series will be out next year.
Those high-octane movies, combined with Jovovich's startling beauty, have led to comparisons with Angelina Jolie. "I just love watching beautiful women kick butt. It's so inspiring," she says, laughing. "You know, as a kid I never got off on seeing big, muscular men with guns. But women doing martial arts seems very natural."
There is the inevitable action in the latest collaboration between Anderson and Jovovich: a new, 3D version of The Three Musketeers. But this dynamic reboot of Alexander Dumas's much-loved novel set in 17th-century France is also exciting, stylish and funny. It tells the story of hot-headed young D'Artagnan (played by rising star Logan Lerman), who joins three rogue musketeers as their guard. True to their motto, "All for one and one for all", the friends are embroiled in power struggles and intrigue as they are pitted against the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and the treacherous spy Milady de Winter (Jovovich).
Flawless ... at the 68th annual Golden Globe awards.
"For me, one of the most interesting elements about Milady de Winter is that she's this unbelievably modern 17th-century woman," says Jovovich, who was attracted to the role because of de Winter's relevance to 21st-century women. "Imagine how hard it is for a woman to get a leg up today in the corporate world, or any field. De Winter is a woman navigating a man's world when normally women were dependent on their father, son or husband. You couldn't even have your own finances. She travels unattended to different countries, she is a spy and she is the best at what she does. She doesn't want to marry and have kids and move to the country."
What was it like to be directed by your husband? "I love to work with Paul and he knows he can depend on me 110 per cent. I made a movie called Stone [a psychological drama with Robert De Niro] recently that was difficult and very emotionally demanding. I would come back to my hotel room after work and just cry and cry and cry. I couldn't get the character out of my head. But Paul and I make fun movies that aren't emotionally draining."
With an arresting personality and natural exuberance, Jovovich has a presence that fills the room. She seems to be an interesting mix of feminine and masculine - a devoted, hands-on mum (to three-year-old Ever, her daughter with Anderson) as well as a tough, confident actor.
Jovovich was born in Ukraine. Her father was a Serbian doctor and her mother a Russian stage actor. When she was six years old, her family moved to London, then to California. At age 11, Jovovich was "discovered" by celebrated fashion photographer Richard Avedon and the rest, as they say, is history. She has appeared on hundreds of magazine covers around the world and featured in ad campaigns for Banana Republic, Donna Karan, Gap and Versace, as well as becoming a face of L'Oréal cosmetics.
Unlike many model-turned-actors, Jovovich defends her former profession. "Modelling is one of the only fields in which women get paid more than men," she says. "In a sense, models are like the courtesans of a few hundred years ago - apart from the sex! Courtesans had a beautiful life. Models are there for their image and their wit and their talent. It is really the only industry where women are more respected than men, but you have to have something interesting to be successful as a model."
I've met the actor several times over the years and she has come across as driven and ambitious. This time she tells me she still loves acting, but the drive that once fuelled her hugely lucrative and successful career has been redirected, with equal passion, towards her marriage and family.
"Paul and I are great," says Jovovich, her eyes lighting up when she talks about her husband. "I'm very strong - a firecracker - and he is very calm, chilled and even-keeled. He has taught me so much about ironing out my personality, thinking before I speak. He has been a huge inspiration, helping me to grow up and take more time with myself and how I react to things.
"And Ever has given me an independence I've never had before," she says of her little girl. "I was always a slave to my insecurities, but when you stay up all night with a sick child, all you want is to take the pain yourself and make them be okay. When you have been crying all night because your baby is crying, there's nothing worse. Now, if I don't get that part or I have to get on stage, it's cool; I'm not nervous, my attitude is, let's go. My child's okay, that's all that matters."
Jovovich says marriage No. 3 - along with motherhood - has provided a sense of stability she had never experienced before. She met her first husband, actor Shawn Andrews, while filming Dazed and Confused in 1992. Andrews was 21, Jovovich just 16; the marriage was annulled two months later.
In 1998, aged 22, she married Luc Besson. The dynamic couple captured the headlines by skydiving directly after the ceremony. That relationship ended in divorce six months later.
Jovovich and Anderson met on the set of the first Resident Evil film in 2002. Was it love at first sight? "No. I was young, twice divorced. I thought, 'I want to date, I want to have fun.' " They finally tied the knot in August 2009 in an intimate ceremony in their own backyard. "We would love to have more kids," she says. "Not next year, because I am going to record a record, so we are thinking that maybe the year after we will try again."
Philosophical and positive, Jovovich has no regrets when she looks back at her first two marriages, although the actor admits that as a teenager, she totally ignored the advice of her pragmatic Russian mother. "She always said, 'Stay away from actors; they're too vain, lots of insecurities', and it's true. My first marriage was just rebellion. I knew it wouldn't last."
Her second marriage, to Besson, was more complicated. The age difference between the couple - "I was 22, he was 16 years older" - was, Jovovich suspects, the main reason the marriage started to go wrong. "It didn't work probably because he was so much older. He was an incredible person, and I was an incredible girl, but the timing wasn't right."
Third time lucky, Jovovich's relationship with Anderson looks to be for keeps. They have been together for almost a decade and theirs is widely acknowledged as one of the strongest partnerships in Hollywood. "To make a relationship work is hard," says the actor, who is refreshingly open and uncensored.
She is clearly smitten with her daughter - and family life in general. "I love being a mother. I am strict, but Ever needs and appreciates that. I don't yell at her. I just get down on her level when she is doing something I don't approve of. If she starts whining, I sit with her and we talk until she calms down.
"Paul is an incredible father and he is so in love with his daughter, but he does need to go away for work. When I go away, I take Ever with me - a child needs their mum always. When Paul gets home after two weeks away, he's not going to start disciplining her, so I am the one who has to keep up the strict rules. Paul and I are really great in the sense that we have a very united front. We both understand that if we have a discrepancy, we don't ever talk about it in front of her. We take a note of it, talk about it later, so she never sees us in disagreement."
Finding a balance between work and parenting is as challenging for her as it is for any mother, says Jovovich, who has quite traditional values. "I want to be with my daughter as much as possible. I want to take her to school, pick her up; she's got karate class, she's got dance. I want to be with her for it all."
When I ask if Jovovich has had any thoughts of stepping back from acting to focus entirely on family life, she responds, "I don't know. I would love to do [another] clothing line, maybe interior design. That would be perfect, my daughter will be in school and I can be at home, drawing and working."
I suspect that she is torn between strong maternal instincts (she has always been very close to her own mother) and a powerful work ethic that was instilled at an early age. "I am very reliable and that comes from starting work so young and it comes from my parents. My dad always said one of the rules of life is: 'If you want to succeed, you have to focus and work hard. Whatever you put in is what you get out.' I grew up believing that, yes, I could cheat others, I could tell my mother I practised the piano, but in the end I would only be cheating myself if I didn't practise.
"We moved to [the US] in 1981 and my parents and I had a deal that we would work very hard to be successful. At 13, I was successful as a model and gradually I rebelled as a kid. I was making my own money. I would go to clubs. At 16,
I moved out. I eloped. My mum was very upset and worried. In the end, I knew where to stop. What I did was nothing compared to the things you read about young girls doing today.
"You know I come from a long line of warriors," says Jovovich, who attributes her sense of purpose and resilience to her strong (and fascinating) DNA. "My great-grandmother smuggled weapons into Yugoslavia against the Turks. We have a very political background. My whole family are revolutionaries."
That warrior mentality is perhaps, consciously or subconsciously, what attracted Jovovich to those heroic female roles: ranging from Joan of Arc to Alice in Resident Evil and Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers. Is it all clever camera angles, I wonder, or can she genuinely kick arse? Jovovich flashes a beguiling smile. "None of the fancy martial-arts moves you see in my films are possible in a real fight. When you're in a street fight, you're on the ground.
"But I do have my sticks by my bed. They are special sticks made of ash wood, which is as hard as steel. It is like being hit with a steel pipe, and if anybody tries to break in and I get those sticks in my hand, I could do some damage.
"Of course, I think about what I would do if someone broke into my house. I have a child. First, I would try to get out with Ever. I wouldn't confront anyone unless I had to. But ... I would probably be more prepared than most people to deal with them. All my friends say if there's an apocalypse, they're coming straight around to my house!"