Marie Claire (Australia) December 2000
It may pay the bills, but the Ukranian-born star insists modelling's not her bag. She'd much rather sing and act, and her latest venture allows her to do both.
A run-down hotel in what's possibly LA's seediest neighbourhood isn't where you'd expect to find an actress, musician and part-time supermodel like Milla Jovovich, or indeed stars like Mel Gibson and Bono, but then it's not every day that Wim Wenders directs a film based on a story written by the U2 frontman. The Million Dollar Hotel takes its subject matter from a real-life downtown LA establishment known as the Frontier, which is home to about 400 down-on-their-luck, long-stay guests, most of whom spend their days shuffling in and out of the lobby in search of drugs.
Bono has been here before, in 1987, when U2 was in LA shooting the video for "Where The Streets Have No Name". The building inspired him and provided him with the setting for what he describes as a "dysfunctional love story". But the current residents have been less than welcoming - they greeted the cast and crew by leaning out of their windows and bombarding them with syringes and razorblades. Gibson looks particularly out of place here, dressed in the conservative suit required for his role as an FBI agent and going everywhere with a bodyguard, while police and security staff hover around the hotel entrance.
Jovovich, though, fits right in. With her self-cut, spiky red hair, a jumper St Vincent De Paul would reject and stonewashed jeans, the face of L'Oreal could be a street person, albeit a rather striking one with brilliant green eyes. In fact, she's so smitten with the hotel that she's taken to spending her spare time hanging out there.
In her small trailer, the Kiev-born actress sits on the floor and whips out photos of her new acquaintances. "This is one of my friends. I hung out with her in this creepy little apartment with stuffed animals pegged to the walls. It was crazy." Jovovich is jumpy and demonstrative, half-defensive, half-open, and totally enthralled with her role as Eloise, a hooker who's being investigated after the death of another hotel resident, played by an uncredited Tim Roth.
Eloise is an almost ethereal character in what is a resolutely uncommercial film. Part of the attraction of the role for the 24-year-old Jovovich seems to have been the chance to get down and dirty. "I'm a model, and it's such a clean, all-American image that I really want to contrast that with the sort of work that I choose to do. I guess I tend to be a little more left-field in the choices I make when I want to make a movie."
And odd those choices are. Jovovich made her first film, Two Moon Junction, when she was 12, and her subsequent credits range from the decent - Dazed and Confused, Spike Lee's He Got Game - to the downright appalling - Kuffs and Return to the Blue Lagoon. Only when she appeared in 1997's bizarre sci-fi epic The Fifth Element did Hollywood start to take her seriously as an actress. "It was the first thing I'd done since I was a teenager, so it gave people the knowledge that I'm still acting and I've grown up, and hopefully I'm better than I was back then," she says. "It was the first role that meant anything; I could actually give a performance and not just run out on to the beach half-naked."
Which is all she was required to do for her first big role, in Return to the Blue Lagoon. Made when she was just 14, it's a movie Jovovich has yet to live down. "I have lots of memories of it - everything except trying to do my job," she jokes. "The one thing you couldn't get me to do at that point was sit down and rehearse my lines. I take it a lot more seriously now and I love what I'm doing. Back then it was more something that my mum wanted me to do."
Her mother, Galina Loginova, had been a noted film actress in her native Ukraine, and when she and her husband headed first to London and then LA in 1981, she transferred her ambitions to young Milla. By the time Jovovich was in her early teens, her parents had divorced, she'd launched a modelling career and was supporting herself and her mother - and resenting it. "I think any time your parents want you to do something, then at times you're not going to want to do it. That's sort of what steered me into music, because that's something I really discovered on my own, that was really mine and wasn't something my mum gave me," she says.
The move into music wasn't smooth. Jovovich's relationship with her mother reached a low point after she eloped to Las Vegas with one of her Dazed and Confused co-stars, Shawn Andrews. She was just 17 and her mother swiftly had the marriage annulled, so Jovovich took off to London, where she wrote and recorded The Divine Comedy, an album of gentle folk music. It garnered respectable reviews, but upon her return to the US in 1994, Jovovich reluctantly resumed her modelling career. As photogenic as she is, she'd rather not have to do it. "I need to model because that's my main source of income. It's not the most fun part of my work, that's for sure."
In 1996 she met French director Luc Besson, who is 16 years her senior, at the audition for The Fifth Element. He not only cast her, he ended up marrying her, in December 1997. The union lasted 16 months, just long enough for Jovovich to give her most compelling performance yet, in the title role of Besson's ambitious, but flawed, take on the story of Joan of Arc. She claims they're still close. "Are you kidding? He's my best friend and we each other dearly. We'll love each other forever."
For all her mixed feelings about her mother, Jovovich has now reconciled with her and can appreciate the part she played in her early career. "She really gave me inspiration in the beginning. She educated me and nurtured such a great feeling and appreciation for art, music and literature. She really tried to give me that curiosity. She was the first person who opened my mind to so many different things."
Jovovich's latest venture has allowed her to wear the musician's hat she so loves - she covers Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" on The Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack. She also continues to play low-key gigs in New York and LA with her band, Plastic Has Memory, although there are no plans for another album. "It's me, for better or worse. It's not getting away from myself and playing somebody else. Music is something that gives me a lot of peace and I have fun with it. It's great playing shows and having that energy between you and the audience."
Despite her precocious start in the industry, Jovovich freely admits to a nagging insecurity when it comes to acting. It's perhaps why she's drawn to older directors such as Besson and Wenders. "I think as an actor I'm very free and I can pretty much do whatever I'm asked to do, but if somebody doesn't know what they want, I get lost - I'm here for you to tell me what you want. I'm not here to write your script for you. I get scared when people ask too much from me."