Paper Summer 1994
by Mickey Boardman
Eighteen-year-old model-turned-actress-turned-singer Milla Jovovich is an incredible moron. An oxymoron, that is. You know, like a Conde' Nast publication with integrity: total contradiction. She was a lip-glossed haute couture vamp at 12, but today has a deliciously mish-mash fashion style. She's been in a random array of mindlessly commercial films, but reads books, for fun no less. And she's a teenaged singer with bills to pay who refuses to make a chart-topping international mega-hit record and instead records in a dingy dungeon of a studio with a pack of acoustic polka minstrels. ("I don't think people would fall for it if I came out with a pop album. I really don't," she says.) She's a performer who would perform even if she didn't get paid. I wouldn't be shocked if that sassy Miss Milla saw a red octagon and commenced to go! girl. But then she seems to have already worked up quite a history of doing exactly that, which isn't the wise thing to do -- ironic considering Milla is a well-read and intelligent person with an unquenchable thirst for brain stimulation. "I don't think I would have been able to write my songs if I didn't read," she says.
Having emerged shaken but intact from a reading bout with Ayn Rand, she wrote a tongue-in-cheek song called "Can You Shrug Your Shoulders Like That?" [Note - I think this is in reference to "Can You Bend Your Back Like This?"] in honor of Rand's philosophy. She's now knee-depp in Aldous Huxley and his musings on mescaline and the mind-at-large. Rather esoteric reading for the avergae 18-year-old, but Milla can't wait to finish the book she's reading just so she can read it again.
Talking to Milla, who is so full of energy she seems like she'll burst into flames at any moment, made me feel about a thousand years old. She's at that age where she's still intoxicated with the discovery of her limitless talents and still young enough not to be jaded and cynical. I was that young, once. She also admits her only vices are cigarettes and pot -- which made her quite a hit here, where Pot is Hot.
Maybe it's the volatile Ukrainian blood pumping through those vivacious veins of hers. It's still potent even though she left the U.S.S.R. at five with her parents to move to L.A. Her Ukrainian heritage is one topic that can transfrom the good-time cool girl into a sentimental innocent exuding neough vulnerability to get you all teary-eyed and sappy. And it can happen out of the blue: As we were waiting for the delivery of Milla's hot dog - loaded with sauerkraut, no bun thank you - she told me about the hot dog vendor she'd just met on 23rd Street who turned out to be a native of Kiev, Milla's hometown. As she spoke Russian with him, he became emotionally overcome and reached out to her, literally and figuratively, as each served as a bridge to the past they'd both left behind. Milla recalled the incident fondly but admitted to feeling the inevitable sadness attached to nostalgia of this kind. (Her hot dog, in case you were wondering, never arrived, having been canceled by her manager who insisted Milla eat some "good" food - the concept of which sent both of us into peals of low-brow laughter as we contemplated menus of poached salmon and okra root puree while I guzzled Coke after Coke and she puffed away on cigarettes.)
Milla got into modeling to pay the bills and inadvertently slipped into a front-line position in the perennial talk-show topic of little-girl supermodels: kiddie porn and eating disorders, the reality behind the glossy covers. It's nearly impossible to shake the assocaition with modeling and all the extreme traits associated with it, like gorgeous but stupid, anorexic dimwit, self-absorbed, talentless twit bitch. It really shocks me just how many women are ready to dismiss Milla as a bitch with their male counterparts ready to label her hot - all without the benefit of having met her or heard her record.
At 12 she first flipped past my pop-culture guzzling peepers when she appeared in Interview, ironically in a photo in which she looked even sultrier than she does now in person - but then again I was a lot younger too. In a tank dress and requisite painted face, a barefoot Milla vamped for the camera. I've kept one eye on her career, hoping to see her regularly since then. Unfortunately, for a long time she joined Miss Fairuza Balk on my list of Halley's Comets of the Cinema - appearing once every seven years to great hoopla (at least on my part) and remaining unheard from the rest of the time.
She popped up in a Disney Channel movie entitled Night Train to Kathmandu and the much-maligned Return to the Blue Lagoon, but her most significant film appearance is undoubtedly her small role as Michelle in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, which expanded the boundaries of just how small a small role could be - especially considering her image was used on the poster and other advertising materials. The explanation given for the brevity of Milla's screen time was that on the last day of shooting, when the schedule called for filming the bulk of her role (which the producers had offered to let her create), she was told that the day before had actually been the last day of shooting. Surprise. And she still made a big impression on audiences with just one word of dialogue, "no", and one line of a song - which apocryphally comes from a song on Milla's debut album The Divine Comedy (SBK/EMI).
As the mistress of her own artistic destiny, Milla hasn't avoided the show-biz quagmires that have littered the path of her film career; she's hit them head on and rolled over them, gaining speed and belief in her musical calling in the process. Offered a development deal at 14, she quickly learned how much input certain producers expected from their artists. None. When they presented her with some bubble-gum pop cover tunes designed to be released as singles with a five-week life span on the international dance charts, Milla suggested they use her poetry for the lyrics - which met with less than an overwhelming response. After years, not to mention tears, Milla's in the driver's seat going full speed ahead, writing songs, playing guitar and even amassing an impressive array of technical knowledge about recording. I don't know where the road she's taken leads, but I feel secure in the notion that Milla will stop only when she's run the car into the ground. She'll definitely never run out of gas.
"They're giving me the freedom," she says. "I'm not gonna question it, man. I just wanna ride this thing so hard until somebody forces me to stop and even then, somehow, I'll slide out of their fingers. I'll never put myself in the position of doing something that doesn't make me happy."
Everything seems to have fallen into place for Milla at once. She moved to London whe she lives with her boyfriend, the bass player in Jamiroquai. She hooked up with her band, whom her best friend Jimmy discovered on the streets of Paris, literally. After a young life that many might hastily call capricious and whimsical, Milla has found her niche and she fits divinely. Milla reminds her critics, "People forget that what I was doing in the past...I was like 11 or 14. I was a little girl. I'm an adult now. I'm 18 years old and I've found my calling. I've found what makes me happy." Her apparent career changes have been motivated bot by whim but were actually a methodical zeroing in on the right arena for her talents. And music is the area she plans to remain in.
"Whether it's good or not or anybody likes it or not, it's how I express myself best," she says. And I must admit that Milla's musical talent still amazes me a little. Her voice is rich and mystical, very Sky Cries Mary but without the bells and glockenspiels. Milla describes her music as "folk, because it has all these acoustic instruments - but it's not because it's new." Her music is the first topic that has left my metaphor-maniac self unable to produce even one witty combo comparison - like Milla is Julie Christie meets Olga Korbut with a splash of Stevie Nicks. Whenever I though I had a comparison while listening to her album, she would do some crazy thing with her voice and confuse me. Her voice sounds powerful and classically trained, though Milla insists it's what holds her back most. "When I write a song I never think about my capacity to sing it, I just write. Then afterwards when I'm in the studio I think, 'Why the fuck did I write this song? I'm never gonna get it right."
The Divine Comedy and Milla herself have been remarkably well received, considering she has more openings for potshots than any other artist I can think of: Former model. A wafer-thin and sultry Ukrainian. Free-thinking mistress of her own destiny who sings chanty nymph-style songs in the type of operatic Tori Amos style that either sounds amazing or too lame not to parody. And still the small mountain of press she has received has all been remarkably positive, save a few "critical reviews" obviously penned by the type of embittered write who holds his breath in anticipation of released from people like Milla. "Maybe it's just 'cause I'm such easy pickings," she notes. "[They say] 'It'd be too easy to rag on HER.'"
All the better since she had absolutely no expectations for this record to do anything. Her hopes are pinned on her follow-up album, which she feels anxious to dive into recording. In the meantime, she's concentrating on polishing up her live show since she doesn't want to disappoint her fans. All this hasn't been the easiest thing in the world considering the enthusiasm with which her record company is pushing her career. Milla, however, plans to take things nice and slow. "I need to tell them to slow down this machine." She nixed an appearance on Saturday Night Live and has opted for small intimate performance spots like Cafe Sin-e in the East Village over bigger, splashier appearances. Ditto for promoting her album, which she approaches with more pragmatism than insecurity. "This album needs to be discovered, not bombarded. I don't wanna overstep my reach."
Milla keeps on learning and growing in her music. Her first video, "Gentleman Who Fell", directed by Lisa Bonet, found Milla wearing more dresses than she cared for and had a little more performace footage than she would have liked. The song is about a man who tells Milla he's all these things and he's really none of them. Bonet claimed to know that feeling courtesy of her ex-hubby, rocker Lenny Kravitz. Seeing the video was also strange for Milla considering it was the first time she ever saw herself on screen as herself. In the future, she plans to include more visual input and allow enough time for her to get things done the way she thinks is best.
Then again that's par for the course for Milla. The future also holds the promise of a collaboration with a young singer-musician Milla has grown fond of: Nick Green. Describing him as a combination of Nick Cave and David Bowie, Milla and Green have shared the bill on several shows and she would love to work with him.
And so Milla is chomping at the bit to get back into the studio and get to work on her second album - they've already laid down the demo tracks. And in typical Milla-style, she's not content to rest on her laurels and bask in the warmth of positive media regard. So it's back to London to her dingy dungeon-style studio and her polka mistrel band. It shouldn't be long before we see what comes next for the Ukrainian acting/modeling/singing/highly literate oxymoron.