Paper March 2001

Because She's Worth It
by Peter Davis, photographs by Richard Phibbs

We can never get enough of multitalented Milla Jovovich. Rocker, actress, model Milla Jovovich does it all

Only seven minutes late, Milla Jovovich breezes into Victor's Square Coffee Shop, a low-profile greasy spoon at the bottom of the Hollywood Hills. She slides out of a white Marc Jacobs coat, plops down her red leather Fendi shoulder bag, and orders a chocolate milkshake. When Jovovich's sugar fix arrives, it's runny and more chocolate milk than she was hankering for. She sends it back -- twice -- and then disappointedly orders a cup of coffee.

"I'm not fabulous," the Ukrainian stunner tries to convince me, as I eyeball her gleaming gold-handgun belt buckle and sexy stockinglike shirt designed by her close friend Molly Stern. "I have a lot of things I have to think about, a lot of problems. Everything's not fabulous all the time."

Milla Jovovich not fabulous? That's hard to swallow. Only 25, she has clocked in as a model, starred in 16 movies, and recorded an album, The Divine Comedy (1994). Just over a year ago, she opened a talent management firm, Creature Entertainment, with her best friend Chris Brenner, whom she met through a childhood school pal, actor Balthazar Getty. "The thing that upsets me about articles I read about Milla is that they always concentrate on the scandal -- people regurgitate things she did when she was [younger]," says Brenner. "It never comes across how strong a work ethic she has. She gives 250 percent."

Born in Kiev in 1975, Jovovich moved with her family to California when she was five. Her mother, Gallina Loginova, is a highly acclaimed Russian actress, and at age 10, Jovovich followed in Mom's footsteps -- starring as Sherilyn Fenn's little sister in Two Moon Junction, a steamy thriller from director Zalman King. Soon after, she began modeling to pay the bills. Richard Avedon photographed her for the cover of Mademoiselle when she was 11. When editors discovered her age, they scrapped the cover -- until Avedon threatened not to work for any Condé Nast magazine again unless the photograph ran. It did, and Jovovich's Pretty Baby pose ignited a firestorm of controversy. "Selling an image to older women, saying, 'This is what you can look like' is kind of crazy," she admits. "It was the late '80s, a very conservative time in America -- you know, the Christian Coalition. I looked 22 when I was 10. It was such a taboo and people really grasped on to it."

But with her mother's guidance, Jovovich kept her head straight as other unsupervised teen mannequins ran amok in Milan and Paris. "I saw lots of girls getting into a lot of trouble," she recalls with a frown. "They had guys in their 30s telling them they were really grown up. It's awful to see a grown man taking a child seriously when she flirts with him. When a child flirts, it's not real. And actually sticking your tongue down her throat is wrong." Jovovich blames the parents of young models, not the fashion industry. "Girls shouldn't start modeling until they're 16 or 17 if they don't have anyone to protect them," she observes. "If you have great parents like I did, nothing is going to happen to you."

At 17, already a veteran of photo shoots and catwalks, Jovovich took a break from her lucrative modeling career and moved to London to focus on writing and performing music. "I didn't want to be involved in fashion," she says. "I wanted to experiment with my music and live a bohemian lifestyle. I was very underground. I didn't want to be fabulous Milla on the cover of Seventeen. I felt that wasn't me." She penned songs about her "confusions and understandings" and sang in English coffeeshops and pubs. Beginning to run out of dough, Jovovich realized she "couldn't keep up with the lifestyle I was leading without making money," so she started modeling again.

"I was never a supermodel," Jovovich proclaims. "I never pushed for doing every job and playing myself out. These days people call anybody a supermodel. The local calendar girl for Wrench magazine is called a supermodel. But I was never a supermodel like Kate Moss or Linda Evangelista. I didn't represent an era of beauty or fashion." At 18, Jovovich the singer-songwriter released The Divine Comedy, an ethereal blend of folk music and moody vocals. Her fans on the hundreds of Milla Web sites are still begging for a follow-up. "I'm writing a lot of songs right now," she promises. "I'm getting ready to record during the [actors'] strike. The new songs sound really cool and my guitar skills have gotten a lot better. I'm coming out of the box with some really cool riffs."

Jovovich continues to work steadily as an actress. Her latest project pits her opposite Wes Bentley in Michael Winterbottom's Gold Rush-era rough-and-tumble love story The Claim. "My character, Lucia, is the business head of the town," she says. "She takes care of everything from the money for the hookers to the money people are paying for rent. Lucia is a very modern woman living in a place that completely oppresses her capabilities." She also just wrapped the Ben Stiller male model spoof Zoolander, in which she plays an evil dominatrix out to brainwash models to assassinate political figures.

Next, it's off to Toronto to shoot the romantic comedy You Stupid Man, directed by Brian Burns (actor-director Ed Burns' brother), with William Baldwin. "No huge studio is going to hire me to play the lead in their big romantic comedy," she observes. "So I'm going to concentrate on making smaller comedies and have a good reel to put together." After Toronto, she jets to Berlin to star as "a weapon made to kill" in Resident Evil, a sci-fi action film based on the wildly popular video game. "It's not a stretch," Jovovich says with a chuckle, arching her eyebrow. "The character is a hard-ass and I'm a hard-ass."

She keeps that pace up even when back in L.A. "I'm so over the whole club scene," she announces, rolling her deep blue eyes. "But I'm having fun with my last big going-out stage. I'm single and having a good time. I know the next person I meet will probably be the father of my baby, so I want to push him away for just a little longer." Jovovich's past loves include Jackson Browne's son, DJ-model Ethan Browne, and fashion photographer Mario Sorrenti. She was briefly married to French director Luc Besson, who cast her in his sci-fi flick The Fifth Element and then in The Messenger: Joan of Arc. "He's an amazing man and working with Luc is incredible," she says. "He's so consumed that everybody else has to be equally consumed for him to be happy. It's always very intense. When Luc and I were together we had a great time and we supported each other."

Happy to be booked solid for the next year, Jovovich still laments that she won't be around to spruce up the house she recently bought in Hollywood. She is relieved, however, that her next roles are lighter fare than Joan of Arc. "When I do a drama, my life is a drama," she says. "It's not like I'm a Method actress, where if I play an alcoholic I have to drink every day. But it's hard to have one emotion that you put yourself in, then snap out of it. I want to have fun now. I've made so many heavy movies. I want comedies and action. If I'm going to work my butt off, at least I'm going to have a great time doing it."

Although she's intentionally MIA on the modeling circuit, Jovovich is thrilled with her two lucrative contracts with L'Oréal and Donna Karan. Her first layout for Karan paired her with Gary Oldman in Paris. In upcoming ads, she smolders with Jeremy Irons in Vietnam. Designer Karan sees Jovovich as the perfect woman to star in her cinematic campaigns. "She knows what's sexy to a man, and it's not necessarily being this perfect person," Karan explains. "Milla is not a woman who spends her time in front of a mirror. To me, Milla is an alive woman. She has a seduction about her."

Jovovich's cell phone chirps from her pocketbook. I ask her what she's learned from her years working as a model, actress, singer, and businesswoman. "To be an actor you have to know yourself really well," she explains. "That's been a major thing for me, to really understand why I do things."