Movieline February 1998

Milla Meter
by Dennis Hensley, photographed by Kate Garner

Russian-born Milla Jovovich, The Tall Glass Of Vodka Who Livened Up Last Spring's The Fifth Element, Grew Up Fast. And Now She Thinks Fast, Talks Fast, Loves Fast Food And Is Fast Becoming One Of Hollywood's Favorite Exotic Beauties.

In a warehouse nestled in one of the grungiest parts of Hollywood, Milla Jovovich (pronounced Mee-la Joe-voe-vich) is taking a break from the photo shoot for this magazine, wondering where her next meal will come from.

"L.A. is the place for food," exalts the 22-year-old Jovovich. "Like, right now I don't know whether I want Taco Bell, In-N-Out Burger, Carl's Jr., KFC, Carney's or McDonald's. I want it all, all at once, injected. Different tastes passing at three-minute intervals one after the other."

The Russian-born beauty's craving for variety seems to extend to her career as well. She started modeling at age 11 and has worked on and off ever since (you might recognize her recent work as the Banana Republic girl or one of the new Coach faces). In her mid-teens she dipped into acting as well, landing roles in Return to the Blue Lagoon, Kuffs, Chaplin and Dazed and Confused. Her extraordinary beauty did not outweigh her inexperience, though, and none of these movies took her anywhere. By 18, she had added music to her activities, writing and recording songs for her soulful album, The Divine Comedy, which didn't catch on commercially, but for those who bothered to listen, separated her from the superficial supermodel crowd.

When Jovovich decided to go back to acting, she was out to right the wrongs of the past. She signed on to Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, playing a bio-engineered alien who teaches Bruce Willis about the power of love and spandex, and was indeed impressive, especially to director Besson, who is now her fiance. Spike Lee must have been impressed too, because he cast her opposite Denzel Washington in his upcoming film, He Got Game.

DENNIS HENSLEY: So when did your obsession with junk food begin?

MILLA JOVOVICH: When I first got to America, I stopped with my mom at a McDonald's in Sacramento [California] and she got me a small fries. I must have held that little package for two hours, eating a bite at a time, trying to get that oily, greasy, salty flavour to last.

Q: Speaking of flavour, you and your Fifth Element director, Luc Besson, seem to have an undying taste for each other. Did you get together before or after filming?

A: I was going out with someone else and he was going out with someone else, so I fell in love with him as a person first. He opened my eyes to what it was to really be an actress. Then after we finished the film we both had some tragedies with our own affairs and I came to his place in Malibu to visit while he was editing the movie. We realized how much we missed each other.

Q: He's French. Do you two speak French at home?

A: I'm learning.

Q: I would think in romantic situations you'd want him to speak French.

A: Yeah, it's always nice to hear things that mean nothing in romantic situations. [Laughs] Sweet nothings, that is.

Q: Your marriage to Luc won't be your first, right?

A: I had a brief marriage when I was 16; it got annulled after a few weeks. It was silly. He's a young actor with whom I worked on Dazed and Confused. It was the first time I wasn't living at home and it was my first grown-up relationship. I definitely thought he was the one.

Q: Did your parents know?

A: No. We eloped and called from Las Vegas. It was all so fast.

Q: I bet the pictures were hilarious.

A: Yeah, they're funny. I have it on video, too, and on the cover I wrote, "My First Wedding", like, not even realizing what I was writing.

Q: Getting back to The Fifth Element, has that movie done a lot for you?

A: Definitely. That movie was the first time I ever got a chance to really work as an actress. My character Leeloo gave me so much magic back that I had lost from living in New York and hanging out with certain people, failing in things and getting disappointed.

Q: Did you become jaded?

A: Not jaded, just losing that magic that makes you find beauty in the world instead of seeing what's wrong with everything. Leeloo could stare at something for a million years and it would still be new to her.

Q: Leeloo spoke some futuristic Euro-Asian language. What dirty words do you know in that tongue?

A: None. She never felt the need to swear. The only time she ever feels frustrated is at the end of the film and she hasn't even learned any bad words yet.

Q: Bruce Willis hasn't had time to teach her --

A: No, thank God, not yet. That'll be part two. She'll have a kid on her hip and be cooking food with one hand, cleaning the spaceship and swearing.

Q: Were your futuristic costumes as uncomfortable as they looked?

A: The Band-Aid outfit was fine. The orange suspender outfit was a bitch. Going to the bathroom was impossible.

Q: You recently finished filming Spike Lee's He Got Game. Any uncomfortable outfits in that?

A: Well, I have this little cherry leather G-string --

Q: Who doesn't?

A: Really. And I have a see-through raincoat. I'm also constantly disguising myself with wigs.

Q: What do you play?

A: A hooker named Dakota who's from Coney Island. I hook up with Denzel Washington, who's been in prison for six-and-a-half years. He gets out on a special work release program. He hasn't been with with a woman for a long time, but our relationship goes beyond sex.

Q: So you and Denzel have love scenes?

A: Just one. He said something really great to me right before we shot our love scene. "Don't get offended if I get excited and don't get offended if I don't."

Q: Well, what happened?

A: That's something that you'll have to wonder about. [Laughs] As an actor, Denzel is very understanding and gentle. He doesn't impose himself on you.

Q: What was Spike Lee like?

A: Spike is so honest. He's got an attitude and he's got this way of talking and acting that's really offhand, but that's what makes him the way he is, and who am I to judge? He's an artist. He's good at what he does and he doesn't hurt anybody.

Q: Did the two of you ever argue?

A: We had a big fight because my character doesn't take drugs and he showed me these videos on hookers and without exception every one of them took drugs. So I called him up and I said, "Spike, can you just tell me why she doesn't take drugs?" and he got all, like, "What, you think every hooker takes drugs?" I said, "Just give me one example. Do you know one that doesn't who I could talk to?" He said, "I don't know any hookers and, anyway, it's your job. You're the actress, you figure it out." I just got so freaked out and so insecure and I'm like [mock sobbing], "He doesn't care about me or my part." Great directors know how to get out of their actors what they want, and maybe that was his way of pushing me. Even though I felt not protected by him, I think it gave me the edge to be this girl who doesn't get any nurturing from anybody in her life until she meets Denzel's character.

Q: Do you have any other movies lined up?

A: There's nothing confirmed yet. It's not that often that I get the parts I want. People are scared to take risks with me. New directors want to work with me, but I don't know what they've done before and I don't want to take the chance. I'd rather be unsatisfied with a great director than scared shitless with some new guy I don't trust.

Q: Do you live in L.A. now?

A: I live in L.A., but I also live in New York and France. I'm pretty much tri-coastal. If there was ever a time to travel, it's now when people want me. People might change their minds so I'm taking advantage of it now.

Q: You've been travelling a lot since your parents defected from Russia when you were five. Do you remember much about the journey?

A: I can remember going where they took me and being nervous because I couldn't understand anything. But it took me just a few months to learn how to speak English.

Q: You started modeling soon after and landed your first magazine cover at age 11. Was it weird to be so big at such a young age?

A: I remember thinking, "Wow, that's me," but it was like a different person. It freaked me out because nobody had ever really liked me in school. Now everybody wanted me for jobs, but it wasn't really me, it was this girl. I never took it personally, like, "Oh, I'm really great." It was more like, "OK, if that's what they want. That's pretty easy, I guess." It was a lot easier to model than to go acting or dance or piano classes, so it wasn't something that I ever respected about myself. I didn't have anything to do with it. It was the makeup people, it was the hair people, and it was me imitating my mom.

Q: Did you ever throw a star tantrum?

A: Any tantrums I threw were before the age of 16. People probably thought I was a real brat, but at the same time, who wouldn't be? They created me.

Q: What was the first thing that made you feel like you had value as a person?

A: Probably the books I read. I could spend eight hours after school reading, then I would write and draw. If somebody loved those things about me, that made me feel really good.

Q: What was your first acting job?

A: Playing Sherilyn Fenn's little sister in Two Moon Junction.

Q: A classic in the field of carny erotica.

A: It was definitely fun but I couldn't relate to it.

Q: What do you remember about making Return to the Blue Lagoon?

A: It was amazing being 13 and on a desert island for four months. I got a chance to read and run around barefoot and get away from the industry and become close to people.

Q: Did you get into much trouble as a teenager?

A: Just stupid things where my parents would have to pick me up bawling from the police station because I got caught writing on walls with my wannabe gangster friends. Past 15, I never got into trouble. After I went to Europe for the first time, I came back a little more mature. All my old friends were doing the same things and I wasn't interested anymore.

Q: How old were you when you went through your club phase?

A: About 14 or 15.

Q: Didn't you have trouble getting in?

A: No. We were going to underground clubs that were illegal in the first place. I stopped going when I was 16. I had a great time and I did the club thing to the fullest, but I don't need it anymore. It could never have gotten better than I had it.

Q: Were you ever recognized?

A: Sometimes. Once I was recognized in the toilet at a club. The lock was broken and this girl opened the door and goes [nasally], "Oh my God, aren't you that model?" I'm squatting, not wanting to sit because it's dirty, and saying, "Uh-huh, nice to meet you."

Q: What's your idea of a good time now?

A: Putting on some fabulous outfit at home, making dinner for a few friends, then passing the mirror once in a while and noticing how fabulous I look. [Laughs]

Q: Shoes too?

A: Of course.

Q: What do your guests make of your fashion statement?

A: Well, Luc never leaves his jeans and T-shirts. I've actually bought him his first suits, because I was like, "Dude, we have to dress up if you're going to Cannes." He would look ridiculous trying to be trendy or cool. He's a real man and he dresses like a man. I've dated some guys that take more time to get ready than I do and I can't deal with that shit.

Q: What was Cannes like?

A: It's the only time you can be pretentious and not feel bad about it.

Q: Have you ever been starstruck?

A: I had the privilege to talk to Jodie Foster the other day. She got put on the phone and the person I was with didn't tell me. He's like, "Here's someone who wants to talk to you," and he handed me the phone and Jodie said, "Keep up the good work." I said, "Oh my God, oh my God." I just think she's so intelligent and she's such a good girl, somebody that kids can really look up to. She's not like, you know, the guys from Marilyn Manson.

Q: My friend saw them at Bed Bath & Beyond buying towels the other day.

A: For when they do shower. [Laughs]

Q: Before Luc, if you really liked a guy, would you be aggressive about going after him?

A: I was always insecure. Before I started modeling I was insecure because I thought I was ugly and then after I started modeling I was insecure because I thought guys just liked me because I was modeling or maybe they wouldn't like me because I was modeling. It was constant insecurity.

Q: Are most of your friends still male?

A: Definitely. I see girls driving around with four friends in the car and laughing, and I've never had that experience. I was always pretty much excluded by girls.

Q: A few years ago you released an album, The Divine Comedy, which was well-received by critics. What do you think about when you listen to it now?

A: I laugh a little because I remember being so young and dramatic.

Q: Are you working on another album?

A: Yes, but I'm changing my style. I'm not making folk music anymore. It'll be a bit more lounge-y. I like to say it's like Frank Sinatra on drugs, even though I'm not on drugs. I like the idea of Frank Sinatra taking a hit of acid and singing.

Q: Who would you most want to do a duet with?

A: Bob Marley.

Q: Did your parents ever give you a sex talk?

A: I don't think they ever felt the need to. It was the late '80s. That information was everywhere - movies, TV, books. We weren't just idiots, you know. It's weird to me that kids wouldn't know.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?

A: I'm very good at packing clothes. If all else fails, I could get a job at some place folding things correctly after customers take them apart.

Q: Do you have to watch your weight?

A: I'm sure by the time I'm 26 I'll be in the gym, but right now I'm all right. Spike wanted me to gain 10 pounds for He Got Game and it was rough because I'm at this time in my life where I'm just burning calories constantly. So I would eat about five orders of French toast in the morning. I gained five pounds but finally I said, "Dude, I'm getting sick." Spike said, "It's OK. Don't get sick over it."

Q: Shortly after Dazed and Confused came out you were on the cover of High Times magazine. How did that happen?

A: We approached them. I always wanted to be on the cover just so my friends could get it in their mailboxes and see me on the cover of one of our favorite magazines.

Q: Do you still smoke pot?

A: Not really. I don't have time. I have too much work to do to bungle up my brain.

Q: At 22 you've already cornered the modeling world, cut a record and been in seven movies. Do you ever feel like you grew up too fast?

A: Well, I may have grown up faster than other kids, but at the same time I ended things quicker. I think it's made me a lot smarter and it also made me really know what I wanted to do. I think it could have been tragic if my mom wasn't there, but she was.

Q: What makes you content now?

A: Being secure with my life. I've met a wonderful man who makes me feel happy, and I'm so much more confident with myself and my place in the world.