InStyle (UK) July 2002

Modern Milla
by Grace Bradberry

She's conquered acting, fashion and music, but Milla Jovovich always did it her way -- and the no-holds-barred star still refuses to play by the rules

Milla Jovovich, tough-talking star of this month's Resident Evil, famously beautiful model and top recording artist, is springing up and down on a trampoline, swinging her arms and smiling with all the innocent glee of a six-year-old, lost in her own happy world. But when the photographer's camera stops clicking, a sudden mood shift occurs. The smile vanishes, her face darkens, and she walks silently to a chair, where she buries her head in Stephen King's Gunslinger. It's like an eclipse, complete with the sudden chill.

According to Jovovich, however, the reason for the change isn't personal -- it's business. The less chit-chat between pictures, the sooner she'll be back home with her boyfriend. But, truthfully, her dark mood seems a little too convincing -- and sustained -- to be entirely fake. Now 26, she spent the first five years of her life in the Ukraine, and her temperment mirrors her homeland's extreme climate -- she can be light, sunny and open, or dark and closed off. There is apparently no middle ground, and she can swoop from one to the other in a moment. So it's oddly appropriate that she is about to learn the trapeze, having bought the film rights to a short story by British author Colin Thubron. She has decided to train with a net instead of a harness. It's not really a surprise. Jovovich is unharnessed in every sense of the word.

She is given to what she calls "controversial" behaviour, including her appearance on the cover of pot-smokers' fanzine High Times. Until the recent purchase of a Lexus, her greatest extravagance was her collection of vintage guitars. She has a predilection for kick-ass roles, and for doing her own stunts. Resident Evil is based on a video game that she had often played with her 13-year-old brother. Determined to get the part of Alice, a zombie-fighting commando, she told director Paul Anderson -- the English creator of Mortal Kombat, and now her partner -- that she would need "minimal training", then threw herself into karate, kick-boxing and combat-training. While making The Fifth Element six years ago, she so alarmed co-star Bruce Willis that he cautioned her not to break her head open for the sake of a film. "You know, I never do things that are stupid," she says. "Well, not in my professional life. Ha ha."

That life began with child modelling (at 11, she was nearly thrown off the cover of US magazine Mademoiselle when it was discovered she hadn't yet hit puberty) and before she was 15, she had starred in Two Moon Junction and Return to the Blue Lagoon. At 16, she was in the cult hit Dazed and Confused, and a few years later, The Fifth Element, when she met and married her director, Luc Besson 17 years her senior (it was her second marriage; she had eloped at 16 with her Dazed co-star Shawn Andrews, but the marriage was annulled). They separated just over a year after the film was released, and before their second project, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, opened to mixed reviews. There are those who might call such behaviour foolish, but Milla isn't one of them. When it comes to men, she has very definite ideas.

She no longer dates actors -- "there's too much weirdness there" -- but is not averse to a little flirtation, purely in the interest of the film, of course. At the beginning of the Resident Evil shoot, she treated her co-star, James Purefoy, to what she calls "a date -- he was really cute and I was lonely, so I said 'Okay, I'm going to come over -- do you like seafood?' I had this restaurant make a platter of shrimp, oysters, clams and crabs. I brought a bottle of Champagne. Everything was on ice. I've gotta say, it was very impressive. It was like a dream date for him, I'm sure -- the woman who brings everything. We had such a great time and we were talking about the film, and flirting and dancing and drinking Champagne and caviar at his house." Another actress might be wary of going so far to bond with an attached co-star (Purefoy is married to actress Holly Aird), but Jovovich is a woman who embraces risk.

"Guys love me when they first meet me because it's like, 'Oh she's independent, she's busy, it's not like she's going to be all clingy'", she says. "But then they end up hating me for it because they're never number one." Her work takes that prime position. This may explain why most of her relationships begin on set, but peter our later. "Unfortunately, what happens is that after the movie's over, I go on to something else, get really into that and that's when the whole jealousy thing happens," she concedes. "Suddenly, they don't have me 100 per cent any more and they start to get freaked out." She will not attach Luc Besson's name to this but it sounds very much as though she is discussing her marriage. Her relationship with Paul Anderson has survived partly because he knows when to keep his distance. In November, her guitarist and songwriting partner, Anno Birkin, was killed in a car crash. "It was the most horrible thing and I was grieving," she says. "Paul was wonderful. He didn't bother me all the time. If he hadn't been so great, he probably would have been pushed away. At some point, I said, "Where's Paul. I want to see him.'"

She also admires his English reticence and self-control. "When he's angry, it's like, 'I'm so angry!'" she laughs, putting on a somewhat effete English accent. "He's a sexy geek. Usually, the geeks are the best in bed. They love to service," she confides and bursts into laughter. "They're also the smartest and most interesting. I like people who weren't that popular in school because I never was. My two friends were a couple of Russian girls who were friends of our family. I'd be scared to have popular kids -- everything comes to them easily and they don't try so hard." Even now, she says, "I have only a couple of friends and I don't go out that much. I'm not a party girl."

She believes that American men are prone to assuming that most models are creatures of litte brain, whereas, "European men appreciate women not just for their bodies, but for their minds. They understand that women are beautiful, strong, intelligent -- all those things. In America, it's like if you're beautiful, you can't be intelligent, and if you're strong, you can't be beautiful." It's probably no coincidence that both Besson and Anderson are older than Jovovich, though, this time, the age gap is only 12 years. "I feel safe with an older guy. I wake up in the night, he'll take care of me, rather than a guy my age who doesn't know where his head is coming out of."

It's difficult to imagine Jovovich ever being vulnerable -- it's equally hard to imagine what kind of woman she would have been without the hard knocks of her background. When the family first moved to California, they were virtually penniless, so, "We all had to work." Her father, a doctor, and her mother, an actress, worked as housekeepers to Mission: Impossible director Brian De Palma and Jovovich still seethes at the though of her mother cleaning floors. "He could at least have given her a shot for a small part. It was just insane to me that somebody could be such a misogynistic weirdo." There's little doubt that the mother's frustration was channelled into the daughter's career. If Milla could fake the sexual confidence of a 20-year-old as a child, it was because her mother was pulling seductive faces from behind the photographer. "Sometimes the photographer would get mad, but I always did what my mum wanted because she was the one I had to go home with." When she was 15, her father was sent to jail for eight years for his involvement in a health insurance fraud. A substantial chunk of her adolescent earnings went towards his legal fees, "I mean, my father is a wonderful man. He's just made some bad choices when it comes to the people he trusts." The next year, she left the US for England, where she lived for a year, read voraciously -- "I had so many pretensions of being this super philosopher" -- and wrote songs for her surprisingly well-reviewed album, The Divine Comedy.

You can see how Jovovich would have mesmerised and mystified men from the beginning. There's her face, her delight in shaking people up, and her refusal to play by anyone's rules; not the film industry's, or the beauty industry's. She smokes and never consciously diets because when working she naturally eats very little -- say, a burger grabbed on the way to the make-up chair. Yet despite this taste for toxins, she has flawless, dewy skin. Other contradictions follow. She is the face of cosmetics giant L'Oréal, but allows her mother to cut her hair. Indeed, it was Milla's mum who recently gave her a fringe -- "L'Oréal wanted me to have my hair longer, but I don't like having everything one length. It hides my face too much." On most days when not working, she grabs chunks of hair, and twists and pins them to her head.

Thanks partly to the munificence of Miuccia Prada, the actress shops infrequently. A typical outfit: blue and brown Miu Miu cardigan, Miu Miu bra, paisley camisole of unremembered origin and hip-hugger jeans bought on the street in Tokyo. Jovovich has innate style, which is why Mrs Prada, as the actress insists on her calling her, is so very generous with the clothes. The two women would appear to be kindred spirits in other ways, too, sharing a love of speed, and a need to pack as much as possible into a day. "Mrs Prada has a slide going from her office to her lobby. I said, 'Oh, that's a really interesting piece of art and her secretary said, 'No, eet ees slide!' She slides from her office to her lobby, gets in her car and goes. I want to be her when I grow up."

When? This is a sobering though: Jovovich, twice married, professionally triple-barrelled, a woman who swings through life without a safety net, not yet grown up? Perhaps it might be better to say, she gives adulthood a new name.

Resident Evil opens on 12 July (UK)