Nova March 2001

Closet Queen
by Michelle Manelis, photography by Kate Garner

Actress Milla Jovovich is obsessed with fashion. She poses for designers, makes her own clothes and has even played a role brainwashing male models, discovers Michelle Manelis

Milla Jovovich has features that are so perfect, they could have been put together in a laboratory. Yet, she walks into the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, fashion's current It-girl (the 25-year-old actress and model not only fronts ad campaigns for Prada and Donna Karan, she is also the face of L'Oréal) seems to be oblivious to the admiring glances of curious onlookers. "I'm sorry I'm late," she says, smiling apologetically before ordering tea with lemon. Wearing a full, gathered black skirt and peach tank top, this Russian-born, California-raised waif may look sophisticated - especially in this airy, pretentious setting (Sting and Robert Downey Jr. are seated at the next table) - but once she begins speaking, she comes across as someone who'd be more at home munching on a burger and fries and McDonald's.

"I made this skirt myself," she declares proudly. "I just whipped it up last night." But why? Surely she must get lots of free clothes. "I gave up smoking a month ago and I have to be busy all the time," she explains. "But yes, Prada do give me everything for free, which is fantastic. Give me free clothes, and I'll definitely wear them. I think you can make anything look good if you have an imagination. If I'm not working, I stay in my sweats, but I do something to them. I have this T-shirt, night-gowny thing that I wear, and I've sewed up one side so it hangs differently from the other. I always have to give things my own little twist. I'm pretty obsessed with my clothes."

Perhaps this is why, unlike most models turned actors, Jovovich isn't desperate to leave her catwalk days behind. "Modeling is a blessing because it means I don't have to do crap films just for money," she says. "Besides, it's hard to be a snob about modeling when you come from an immigrant background." In her last ad for Donna Karan, her co-star was Gary Oldman; in the next one, it will be Jeremy Irons. Isn't Irons rather old to be appearing in fashion ads? "I know they wanted Vince Vaughn [Swingers, Psycho], but his schedule didn't permit," she says. "But Jeremy is gorgeous and amazing even though he's older."

Born in Kiev, Jovovich cannot really remember her Russian childhood. Her mother, the actress Galina Loginova, had high hopes for her only child, so when Jovovich's father was training to be a doctor in London, mother and daughter jumped at the opportunity to visit him. Making the most of their newfound freedom, the family then moved to California when Jovovich was five.

"It was a very emotionally trying time for my parents, that's for sure," says Jovovich. "They came to America with pretty much nothing. When you're an immigrant coming to a new country, it's always difficult, unless you come with money. But we didn't. So it was really a case of being at the bottom of the barrel and starting over." Her mother resorted to cleaning houses and, due to the overwhelming pressures of their new life in America, her parents' relationship didn't survive.

"My Mom definitely wanted the best for me," says Jovovich. "She wanted me to learn everything possible and educate me. Every last dollar was spent on lessons. Acting lessons, ballet lessons, piano - anything you could imagine. I really felt a lot pressure to create something to help my family. You had to do your share of the work. But the weekends were for fun." At the age of nine, Jovovich was enrolled in her first drama class. At 10, she signed with a modeling agency. "I did my first movie when I was 11 - Two Moon Junction - and I did Return to the Blue Lagoon at 14," she says. At 15, she began her musical career by writing songs.

But, by the time Jovovich turned 16, she was bored with her earnest all-work-and-no-play lifestyle and started dabbling in drugs, shoplifting and credit card fraud. Then, in 1993, when she was still only 17, she met Shawn Andrews on the set of Dazed and Confused and eloped with him to Las Vegas. Her mother had the marriage annulled two months later.

Life changed dramatically yet again when she met director Luc Besson, who cast her opposite Bruce Willis in the leading role in the 1997 sci-fi thriller The Fifth Element. She and Besson, who is 17 years her senior, fell in love and were married at the end of that year. Less than two years later, however, they announced their separation. "We're still together in a lot of ways," she says, with a long sigh. "We're best friends and we love each other very, very much." The couple recently worked together when he directed Jovovich in The Messenger: The Story of Joan Arc. "We still make each other laugh and I can't wait to work with him again."

Staying close to her ex-husbands and -boyfriends seems to be par for the course of Jovovich. She recently ended a seven-month relationship with John Frusciante, guitarist in Red Hot Chili Peppers and recovering heroin addict. "We met because I literally stalked him," she laughs. "I've been in love with him since I was 18. I went to see the band play last New Year's Eve and it started from there. We're still friends." So why is it that she always remains on such good terms with exes? "I stay friends with everybody because the people I love and the people who love me, well, we will always love each other. I don't think I've ever had a really ugly break-up. I certainly don't have any ugly memories of a relationship. Beautiful things have always overshadowed anything else. It's really important to have a sense of humour about stuff. And my exes are all really cool guys."

Jovovich's film career, meanwhile, goes from strength to strength. She recently made The Million Dollar Hotel (written by Bono of U2) and The Claim, a movie just released about the gold rush era in California in which she plays the exotic owner of a brothel. The next film she is involved in, Zoolander, is, appropriately enough, a spoof on the modeling business. Jovovich plays a dominatrix who recruits, trains and brainwashes male models - a role she adored. "Ben Stiller plays a supermodel," she laughs. "I've read scripts that make fun of the modeling world before but this one is really on the nose. I haven't been able to look at a modeling job the same way since. Personally, I don't find it frustrating that most people think models are stupid. If I weren't a model myself, I'd think the same way. It's fun to objectify beautiful women. I objectify beautiful women as much as anybody, and I am a beautiful woman."

And she wears her beauty lightly. Jovovich is not one for spending hours in the gym; neither does she have an arduous beauty regime. She eats what she wants, and does the minimum of exercise. She is, however, planning to take up yoga. "I want to be one of those old people who are limber and skinny, who go hiking and remain really active. People like that probably die really happy, and that's how I want to go: just like that."