Frank March 1998
Actress-singer-model...heard it all before? But Kiev-born Los Angelino Milla Jovovich, aka Mrs. Luc Besson, is cast from a different mould. James Servin meets the model with a scene-stealing performance in The Fifth Element, and a critically acclaimed album under her belt.
Milla Jovovich knows how to get noticed. As a wise-cracking, cigarette-dangling model whose memorable TV commercial for L'Oreal Rouge Pulp is a paean to pouting, she breaks the cookie-cutter mould. As a pot-advocating, mandolin-toting folksinger on to her second CD, she stands out from the organic guitar-chick crowd.
And as an uninhibited actress, she's gone from squeaky clean foreplay in "Return to the Blue Lagoon" via lean, mean, alien machine in "The Fifth Element" to a Coney Island hooker in Spike Lee's forthcoming "He Got Game". In this latest role, Jovovich has outraged American cinema-goers by having sex with Denzel Washington - interracial love scenes are so unpopular over there that black women have been shouting 'Don't do it, Denzel' at the screen during previews. And all this before she's 23.
Every once in a while, a performer comes along who encourages the general public to learn a new name. The public responds with varying degrees of cooperation: Sade was the most successful in teaching the seemingly unteachable, Bjork less so, and Me'Shell NdegeoCello should just call it a day. Milla Jovovich (Mee-la Yo-vo-vitch) is a name to be reckoned with. Will the public ever be able to pronounce it correctly ? Jovovich knows what she's up against. 'Oh, God,' she groans, 'one name that's too foreign-sounding is bad enough, nevermind two. I should have been called Linda Jovovich or Milla Smith.'
Lanky, energetic and startingly beautiful, Jovovich has cheekbones you could slice bread off, perfect cherubic lips and the eyes of a naughty cat. When she speaks, she's a charming, tough swaggerer with an Audrey Hepburn overlay. Born in Kiev in 1975, Milla Jovovich landed in LA at the age of four. By 15, she had a triple-attack career in place: she posed for magazines, starred in films, and got herself a record deal. Three years ago, Jovovich released a mandolin-enhanced, folky CD called "The Divine Comedy". Far from the usual bubble-gum throwaway by a new face, it made the critics take note. And, although Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman co-starred in "The Fifth Element", Jovovich was the one who carried the film, with an athletic performance that bodes well for her future; at the very least, giving Weaver and her "Aliens" a run for their money. Today, at the ripe old age of 22, she maintains the freshness of a new arrival.
It's 9pm in a club called Luna Lounge on New York's Lower East Side. A speaker groans and shrieks. Through the din comes a distinctive, slightly grainy voice, firm and insinuating: 'Good thing we had a sound check tonight...Rrrrrrrright ?' The band plays a 'noir'-ish, grungy tune and Jovovich begins to dance. 'I need to thrash,' she says. Her eyes closed, head swaying, she follows her bliss in a little swami dance. 'I cut Jesse's [Dorsey, the lead singer's] hair,' she says. 'Doesn't it look dope ?'
Her marriage to director Luc Besson is the penultimate move in a chess match the pair seem to have been playing since they met during her audition for "The Fifth Element". Jovovich read for the part of Leelou, the gangly, brainy, emotional future-ling, 'wearing nice clothes, high heels, and make-up'. Besson turned her down. Months later, they met by chance at the Chateau marmont hotel. 'I was sitting by the pool, looking scruffier, wearing jeans,' Jovovich recalls. 'He thought he should take another look.'
After completing the film, Besson proposed. It was Jovovich's turn to say no. 'I wasn't over my last relationship and neither was he,' she explains. 'We needed time before we could take each other seriously.' Then, last year, back at the Chateau Marmont, Jovovich decided to pop the question herself. 'I said, "Oh, by the way, should we have an indoor or outdoor wedding ?" He flipped out.' They were wed, amid some secrecy, last December. For the record, Jovovich is wearing a pretty serious-looking diamond ring. 'One canary, one white,' she enumerates, with some satisfaction, 'two carats each.'
Back in Luna Lounge, Dorsey is making an announcement: 'We have a very special guest on vocals. Madam Milla, s'il vous plait.' Jovovich steps up to the stage and sings. Her voice, a pleasing, reedy instrument, drones the chorus: 'Down...down...down...down.' She sways, eyes closed. It's odd seeing a girl in a grey Miu Miu sweater, black Prada skirt and high heels playing in an alternative venue, but Jovovich seems to relish her contradictions. 'She's authentic,' Dorsey says afterwards. 'Milla is in touch with her soul, something that's lacking today in art and music.'
Jovovich says she'd like to be Susan Sarandon or Meryl Streep. 'They don't make movies all the time but when they do, their work hits you in the stomach.' Her favorite Streep film is "Sophie's Choice" ('She just nailed the Eastern European character so well'). Not doing too many movies or records is important to Jovovich. Modelling give her the freedom to be selective. The new CD she's working on won't be out, she recons, until 1999. For now, she's happy with her most recent film work. 'I've had the best of both worlds. Spike gave me freedom; Luc knew exactly what he wanted from me, he created a character in his head that I had to become.' Sounds good, but which strategy works better for married life ? Jovovich smiles: 'I always tell Luc that we're not on set, and to "stop directing".
Modelling, she says, is easy compared to the other careers she's delved into: 'With acting and music, my ass is on the line...but I'm not modelling for prestige; I'm modelling to pay the rent.' Gently reminded that, being married to a famous director, she can hardly be worrying about the landlord pounding on the door, Jovovich is unrepentant: 'Bills pile up. My mum wants a new place in LA so she can entertain, and I can't refuse her anything. I'm not completely dependent on my husband - I'm not that type of person to depend on a man for anything; I want my own things...I mean...it's the 90s.' Millenial prediction: Milla Jovovich gets everything she wants.