Pavement December 1994/January 1995
Milla on Top
Story/interview by Bernard D McDonald, Photos (taken in LA) by Derek Henderson
No, she's not just another pretty face. At 18, former supermodel Milla Jovovich is already embarked on her third career - as a serious songwriter/musician - and her future looks great.
Pavement is a bi-monthly New Zealand "Fashion/music/film/art/style/culture" (to quote from the cover) magazine published by Pavement Company Ltd., PO Box 309, Auckland 1, New Zealand. This issue's cover-page (which measures 27x36cm, or 11x14") is a blue-and-white picture of Milla standing next to an identical copy of herself, wearing a white tank-top cut off at the midriff and a sultry sort of look, with the words "milla in stereo" printed in large red and white type.
Inside, there are four full pages of black-and-white photos. The first two (pp26-27) consist of a double-page picture of Milla standing on a balcony with LA spread out behind her. The title "milla on top" in red and "model, movie star, musician" in white are written over the cityscape on p27. The next photo, on p29, is an indoor shot of Milla wearing a white butterfly T-shirt, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees and looking away to one side.
The final page (p31) is nine smaller photos of Milla standing on a bed in a short (but relatively modest) nightdress swinging a pillow around as though involved in a pillow-fight with someone. Across this page is the quote "I'm beautiful, so the only thing I can do is model. Why is that? Don't I have the right to do as many things as you do just because of my beauty?".
When she was just 12, _The Face_ declared that "if Milla Jovovich was 18 years old she'd be just another piece of cheesecake." Six years later, Milla is proving that the cynics - or at least those who can only maintain a flicker of 'professional' interest if a model is still in grade school - are having to eat their words. Or at least redefine their fantasy of a girl-woman who could fulfil all their Lolita longings, if only they could freeze the aging process and prevent the girl from becoming a woman. Just as the supermodel industry was beginning to manifest a new set of shining stars, Milla hit the cover of her first magazine at the age of 11, instantly earning recognition as the youngest glamour star to shoot to the top. The cult of the superwaif - or supernymph - had arrived. Milla had the world at the tips of her tiny toes. Fame, wealth, glamour, a multitude of adoring men, were all at her feet, lapping at her high heels even as she was donning her first pair of gym shoes.
Instead, just as she was coming into her stride as a supermodel, Milla side-stepped everyone's expectations. Rather than allow the modelling world to make a meal of her, Milla grew up, quickly. Proving that in our accelerating culture kids are maturing fast, Milla is already embarked on her third career, leaving a flourishing modelling career and a modest dabble at acting midstream to become a singer/songwriter. The fruits of her first labours, _The Divine Comedy_, written when she was 15 and recorded a year later, is an accomplished, mature, even worldly album, a musical outing that totally belies her age.
"Modelling, films, music... they're all branches of the same tree," says a sexily soft but unfairly disembodied voice over a phone line from Milla's mum's place in L.A. "I don't really model anymore. I haven't done that in about three years. I'm definately not closed to taking beautiful pictures and appearing in great films, but music is pretty much the most important thing to me right now."
Milla's arrival onto the modelling scene was strangely propitious. With the United States still immersed in the Reagan Administration, the fashion industry's love affair with a pre-pubescent part Ukrainian beauty possessed the kind of fervour to warm any Cold War. Born in Kiev on December 17, 1975, to a Ukrainian actress and Yugoslavian doctor, Milla relocated from the Soviet Union to Sacramento, California, at the age of five. But her assimilation into American life was fraught with more than just the usual pitfalls of growing up. "I took a lot of shit in school," she remembers. "The kids made fun of me because of my name and my background. They got freaked out that I wasn't American. I was called a Commie and a Russian spy. I was never, ever, ever accepted into the crowd. So I learned to be by myself, and to cherish the time spent in my own world."
Fortunately she didn't have to wait long for acceptance, although it came on a more global level than she probably had in mind as a kid struggling to fit in. She's said she owes everything to her mother; inevitably, this includes her entrance headlong into modelling and acting. After sticking Milla in acting classes, her mum figured modelling was a logical extension to her talents and beauty. A role in _The Night Train to Kathmandu_, a childrens movie filmed in Nepal, came before her first fashion magazine cover. Other roles followed. Milla danced in her underwear with Christian Slater in _Kuffs_; she played a teenaged bride opposite Robert Downey Jr. in _Chaplin_; a little Southern sister opposite Sherilyn Fenn in _Two Moon Junction_; and she followed in the footsteps of Brooke Shields, another child star who was immortalised as a celluloid nymphet in Louis Malle's _Pretty Baby_ (the story of a mother selling her daughter for profit) at the age of 11, by starring in _Return to the Blue Lagoon_ when she was 14. Shields starred in the original _Blue Lagoon_ at a similar age. And Milla's most recent film role in _Dazed & Confused_, Richard Linklater's homage to high school in the 70s? If you blink, you'll miss her.
But if you read the right fashion magazines during the late 80s, there was no missing Milla's unmistakable, unforgettable presence. Although she hasn't modelled professionally for several years, Milla's unquestionable status as the most desired nymph in the fashion industry certainly gave her the confidence, experience and profile to ensure that her latest, and most determined, career move - into music - succeeds. She may be another in a line-up of models to take the almost too obvious step into music, but the quality of her songwriting, musicianship and singing on _The Divine Comedy_ should keep the cynics' knives reserved for other models making records. Vanessa Paradis and Naomi Campbell are probably watching their backs _and_ their bank balances.
The temptation must be powerful, but Milla isn't particularly interested in qualifying her ambitions by disowning her days as a beautiful model giving good face. Wisely, she concedes that modelling, more than her limited number of film roles, has given her almost everything she needs to forge a solid career in music. "I definately had a wonderful modelling career that brought me a lot of - what's the word? - publicity, and a lot of access to the public eye. But it was just important not to get too into that whole thing, because I did have other careers that I wanted to go to, and I knew I wouldn't be able to do that if I got stereotyped as a supermodel. Or maybe I could have, but it would have been much more difficult. I think people have an easier time with me because I've always been doing a couple of things. I was never _just_ a model, even when I was modelling."
One of the many things that impresses you when talking to Milla is her clarity of expression, coupled with an unbridled willingness to speak her mind. These aren't traits the media or public generally afford models, practising or retired, but Milla's well-documented intelligence ("Milla is a well-read and intelligent person with an unquenchable thirst for brain stimulation," declared New York's _Paper_ magazine recently) definately shines through over a trans-Pacific phone line. Despite just coming off a 40-date tour around North America with the Crash Test Dummies, and although her phone rings incessantly during our conversation even though she's supposedly 'on vacation' ("every day that I'm here is like hell, because I just have so many phone calls to make and so much business to take care of... it's just ridiculous," she apologises, sort of), her lucid perceptions turn the obvious subject matter - modelling, music, movies and some other stuff - into 45 minutes of insightful conversation...
Milla's early acting career...
"I was really young, and I think that if I was to do it all again I probably wouldn't do anything different, because at the time I wasn't ready to take on an incredible script, I wasn't ready to be an incredible actress, because I _wasn't_. I'm only just learning to be so in touch with my emotions through music. I wasn't in any way in touch with my emotions like I am now when I was 12 or 13, or even 16. I wanna be able to experience the emotional level in acting that I have with my music, and I haven't done that yet. So the next film I do's going to be really important, because I really want the chance to show myself as a great actress. If I'd had that opportunity three years ago, I wouldn't have been able to handle it."
Her _Dazed & Confused_ experience...
"I was supposed to write my own scene into the script, but they kind of screwed me over for that film. I wasn't going to do it unless they gave me that break, but they screwed me over on it. I wasn't very happy with them. But it's a funny movie. I just think it's kind of funny that I'm hardly in the film, yet they used my face to advertise the movie. They used one of my scenes in the trailer, and that's probably one of my only scenes. So it's kinda weird. Richard Linklater's a good person, but I think he's lacking in vision, personally. We're all familiar with young kids smoking pot and partying, it's not that innovative [chuckes]."
The realities of being an artist in the record 'industry'...
"Before I really started writing my own music my record company was trying to put me with people that were doing pretty much pop music, and I wouldn't take it. They were telling me, "First, you have to come out with a commercial album, then come out with something that's more artistic afterwards." And I thought, that's totally not true at all, because people, _real_ fans, are going to be there with you from the beginning. And if I want to open up with a certain style of music, I can't do something totally different with my second album, 'cos then all those people that loved my first album are going to feel cheated because they didn't see the real person on that album. So I felt it was one of those times in my life that I had to be totally true to myself and to my artistic sense of what my music's about.
"It's harder for me because I'm working with a record company that isn't used to _me_, to my type of music. They've been known for the commercial acts that they've signed, and they don't really know what to do with me, I don't think. It's been really difficult because I have only _that_ much control until _they_ take control. So, for me it's been difficult making the right decisions, because I have to make decisions with other people who I think sometimes really aren't sure what they wanna do with me, which really sucks because my album's out already. I think they've done a lot of great things for it, but they definately can't tell me I've sold 100,000 albums now just because of them. I mean, I had a career before this, and a lot of people knew me before this, so it's like, you know, through my other careers I definately helped the album's sales. We'll see what happens. I just wanna get in the studio and record my next album, because I think that's the one that's really gonna hit people."
The video for her first single, _Gentleman Who Fell_...
"We've reshot the video because I don't like the video I had [directed by Lisa Bonet of _The Cosby Show_ fame]. That video just didn't turn me on. I really wasn't crazy about it when it happened and I was really upset that was the one we had to go for. So I made them give me two days to reshoot it, with people that I like, and I think it's gonna be good. Actually, it was amazing shooting it yesterday on the beach. In one of the shots they wanted to have a tarantula crawling on a girl's stomach. And you wouldn't have seen my face or anything, so you don't know it's my stomach. But one of my biggest fears is spiders. And I got one of my friends to come with me to do it, because I said I'd pay her $50. She freaked out when she saw the spider and she wouldn't do it. So in the end I did it, I had this tarantula crawl on my stomach. It was pretty damn big. It was the size of a small mouse, with eight legs and furry and stuff, but it's not poisonous. But the amazing thing is, it didn't feel like a spider, it was like the legs were padded. It was cute, funny. I enjoyed it actually [laughs]. I just figured if it was going to be in my video it would be too embarrassing to go, 'Well, I was too scared to do it.' 'cos if it's going to be in my video then I have to do it."
Supermodels - don't believe the hype...?
"People _need_ that. That's a very natural urge for people to put beautiful women on a pedestal. They've been doing it for thousands of years. Beautiful women have always been worshipped. Now, through television and magazines, everyone in the world knows who this or that beautiful woman is. But I think in the 20s, 30s and 40s there were actresses to fill in that 'glamour' need, that need for beautiful women who lived this incredible life, like a fairytale. Now the actresses aren't glamorous. There's not one actress that could model, there's not one actress out there that fills the need in women for that glamour. So they have to depend on models. I think women - and men too - need to have that aspect of life that is glamorous, that is super-beautiful, that is just about the surface, all about beauty and fashion. Now that actresses can't fulfil that anymore, models have taken that role. When actresses were doing that, modelling was an embarrassing thing to do. When Lauren Bacall was huge, if you were a model you were an embarrassment, your family would disown you, you were little more than a prostitute selling your face and your body for money. Now things have changed."
In a society obsessed with beauty, Milla finds it frustrating and hypocritical that beauty is turned into a limitation, something that has its place, so long as the people who are beautiful _know_ their place. Prominent factions of the feminist movement have been guilty of denigrating women for their beauty, for actively cultivating their own beauty and making money from it. It's a 'victim' mentality that suggests that being physically beautiful and taking advantage of the beauty/fashion/glamour industry to make a good living is subscribing to the patriarchy's control and exploitation of women's bodies, and by association set's the women's movement back a few decades.
"There's nothing wrong with making money off being beautiful, but there _is_ something wrong with making money off being beautiful and also doing other things, like making money off your brains and your creative forces," argues Milla with due irony. "But I think it breaks the stereotype of, if you're beautiful and making money from it, then you shouldn't be doing anything else. It's really hard for people to accept that. I guess for people the fear is that they think if a girl is beautiful and is a model and is doing other things, that they have it all. And it freaks the hell out of them, because maybe they don't have it all themselves, or they don't think that they do. So they don't want to know that this other girl is not only beautiful, but she can do other things. It makes people very insecure about themselves
"It's all very psychological I think. People wanna believe that if they don't have the looks, then at least they have the brains or the talent. But for somebody to have looks _and_ a brain _and_ talent, I think people don't like that, because it makes them feel like 'Grrrrrr!!!' But why feel that way? It's not a girl's fault if her parents married each other and had a beautiful child. You can't put that sort of fault on the child, being beautiful. Just because she's beautiful doesn't mean she can't have as many choices as another person who's not as beautiful does. 'I'm beautiful, so the only thing I can do is model.' Why? Why is that? Because you're not as beautiful, you don't want me to do anything else? Don't I have the right to do as many things as you do just because of my beauty? I'm not talking about me, I'm saying 'my' as a general term.
For me, I haven't modelled in a while, and you know, I'm not really into that part of the business. I love taking great pictures. I think I'm breaking myself back into it. I need some practice. I'll get some tips from Nadja."
The obvious question: who's Milla's favourite supermodel?
"Oh! It would have to be either Nadja or Kate Moss. I just _love_ Kate Moss. I think she's amazingly beautiful. I think she's just got this alien beauty about her that's just so unearthly. It's like she's the child of a human and an alien. And also Nadja, she's just perfect, a perfect specimen of a beautiful woman. She's just got a lot of attitude, which I love.
"You know, I'm not scared to say I have a favourite supermodel! [laughs] I don't look at magazines? I'm too artistic for that? Please! I'm _always_ looking at magazines! [laughs] I think that world, for what it is, is a really great world. Those girls are making a lot of money, they're set for life. And if they're smart, which I think a girl like Nadja is - you can't be a supermodel and be totally stupid; it takes smarts and it takes character and it takes personality, it takes a _lot_, to be a model - then they've got it made. I think for an everyday, average model you don't have to have a lot of brains. But to be a supermodel, to come into that status, you have to have a personality, you have to know how to move, you have to be so in tune, so comfortable, with your body. Like, let's say Kate Moss: nobody would have thought she was beautiful 50 years ago, but it's what she exudes in her pictures - character. You have to be able to _make_ yourself beautiful."
Whenever she can, Milla, who now lives in New York, treks across to London to see her boyfriend, Stuart, the bass player in Jamiroquai.
"It's my first real relationship, so it's definately an experience. It's wonderful being so close to somebody, because we're on the level of being best friends, you know. We try and see each other at least every two months. It's hard, but we both have careers and we both have something we're striving for. So we've definately gotta do our jobs right now so we can make enough money that we can lead our lives the way we want.
"We've also written a song together! It's gonna sound so beautiful, it's gonna be incredible. It hasn't got a title yet, but it's got a great drum beat and a great groove to it, that's for sure! It may also be my next single. I mean, my first single off my next album."
A certain English magazine quoted Milla talking about her lyrics: "They're about my trek through life: love, sex, relationships..."
"No, there's nothing about sex. I don't write anything about sex, please. You're probably talking about _The Face_ article. First of all, that article was so ridiculous. I had a choice of whether to meet this guy somewhere, but invited him to my house. I felt like letting him into my life because I really like _The Face_, and I thought they were a great magazine, and I'd been on the cover of their magazine a long time ago, so I felt I wanted to let him into my life and do a great interview. And I think they wrote such a typical article, totally taking what I was saying out of context. First of all, changing around my answers, totally misquoting me. It was just such a typical article that I don't know if I want to work for _The Face_ again.
"To compare me with Kate Bush... I mean, _come on_! You could draw comparisons to Kate Bush, but can you really say that I sound like Kate Bush? Yeah, there's a feeling, I suppose. But we're two totally different artists. They were stupid. It was a great picture, they should have written a great article. They took the stupidest thing I said and made it the main issue of the article, when the reason why I said it was because of a question he asked me. But he would of course not put that question in so it would sound like I was talking about sex out of the blue, when _he_ asked me if I write about sex. And I'm like, "Sex? Please, I don't write about sex." I got really angry when I read it because I just felt like, God, be more innovative, you're the English press, be more... I don't know, _different_ from the rest. Don't be so typical and try to bag on somebody or try to be stupid.
"For _The Face_ to put Kylie Minogue on the cover... Oh my God! The greatest artist of our time, huh! The most innovative artist of the year, Miss Kylie Minogue. I mean, _please_! I've nothing against Kylie Minogue, but please, I wouldn't buy her album."
After a momentary discussion about _Neighbours_, Milla unexpectedly bursts into song, and it's none other than the entire theme to another 'famous' Australian soap, _Home & Away_
"When we were living in England, everyday at one o'clock we were at the TV, watching _Home & Away_; you know, rooting for Sarah and Angel. We found this teen magazine and they had all these pictures of the cast of _Home & Away_, and we put them up in our kitchen, if front of our sink and garbage disposal. I'm sure if I went to England it would take two episodes to catch up with everything. But you know? It really broke our hearts when Bobby died.
"But I don't really watch TV. That was probably the only soap opera I've ever got into in my whole life, and that's because it was so _bad_. First, we'd watch it and just laugh because it was so bad; then, suddenly, we started _sickly_ getting _into_ it, going "what do you think about what happened today?" And, "Oh my God! I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow!" [laughs] You know, like totally overdoing our interest in it. "What do you think's gonna happen to poor Sarah?" At the same time that we're joking about it, we're interested too."
This last comment of Milla's also aptly captures the essence of everyone's interest in the future careers of the supermodels. Sure, like Naomi in a pair of Vivienne Westwood heels, we're all expecting them to fall flat on their faces. The career path of any beautiful woman who makes her mark with her looks is, perhaps unfairly, fraught with pitfalls.
Under mass public scrutiny is an uncompromising arena in which to change careers, and Milla seems remarkably aware that, even though she's just 18, this is probably her one chance to make it in the music industry. While Vanessa and Naomi have chosen the easy route, opting for production line pop songs and in the process proving that maybe some women _should_ be seen but not heard, Milla's as savvy as she is sultry. "I don't think people would fall for it if I came out with a pop album," she told _Paper_. Due to release her second album before she's 20, Milla knows she's jumped the gun in life. Nothing's gonna hold her back. Even her looks.
"Everything happens for a reason, and there was a reason why I've done as much as I've done for my age. If there was such a thing as destiny or fate, I understand why I started this young. I don't regret it in any way, it's only going to help me in the future to be more smart and more knowledgeable about life, about people, business, everything. I think I've been really lucky I've been able to start as young as I did. I'm 18 years old now and I've found my calling. I've found what makes me happy."