Mila Kunis - The black swan who spread her wings

Mila Kunis is following her breakout as a ballerina with a role opposite a talking teddy. There's no career masterplan, she tells Stephen Applebaum

Mila Kunis is a big believer in things happening for a reason. Take her acting career, for example. The raven-haired beauty never set out to be an actress and yet today finds herself not only in the enviable position of being in high demand in Hollywood, but also of being financially secure enough, thanks to her TV work on That '70s Show and the cult animated series Family Guy, to take risks.

Last year, the BBFC received more complaints about her girl-on-girl sex scene with Natalie Portman in Black Swan than about anything else in 2011. Her latest film, Ted – the politically incorrect directorial debut of Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane – in which she acts with a sweary, bong-smoking CGI teddy bear, is unlikely to have the same impact but is edgy nonetheless.

Cast as Mark Wahlberg's girlfriend, Lois, Kunis's humour and emotional honesty, round out what could easily have been a two-dimensional stock part. "If there's anything I try to bring to every character, it's honesty," she says. "I'm a very open person. When I go into meetings, it's not like I put up a wall and try to be something I'm not."

This is easier now than it was in the past. As a young girl growing up under Communism in Chernivtsi, in the Ukraine, she had to hide the fact that she was Jewish for fear of persecution. Even so, her parents made sure that she was raised knowing who and what she was, and the price that her family had paid during World War 2. "My grandparents were in the Holocaust [they survived, but other relatives weren't as lucky], and I'm very much part of that story," she says.

Born Milena, she was seven, and her brother 13, when the family moved to LA, for "a lot of reasons". Asked if anti-Semitism was one of them, the otherwise composed 28-year-old suddenly baulks. "That helped. Correct. I wasn't going to go there, but you can go there," she says firmly. "But yeah. My parents wanted us to have a future, and at that point, 1988, in Russia, there really was no future."

There is a moment in Ted where Lois's sleazy boss struggles to pinpoint her origins. Is she Baltic? Czech? Kunis's exotic features often create similar confusion in real life, although people usually think she's either Italian or Greek, she laughs. As for being Jewish, "Most people don't even know, and most people don't believe it [when I tell them]. It's the strangest thing; I'm trying to convince people I'm Jewish half the time. Sometimes they're like, 'Ha? Are you sure?' They don't give up and it gets to a point where I'm not going to even discuss it."

Ironically, when she was 10, Kunis auditioned for but failed to get the role of a Russian Jewish girl who moves to America in the film Make a Wish, Molly.

This was just three years after she'd arrived in America barely able to speak English. To help her learn, her parents decided to send her to an acting class. It was there that she met the woman who became her manager. Her parents, knowing the insecurity that actors face, really wanted their daughter to be a doctor or a lawyer, but agreed to let Mila pursue acting as an after-school activity. By the time she was 14, she had a regular job on the popular sitcom That '70s Show, with Ashton Kutcher – whom she's now thought to be dating – and Topher Grace.

Despite her early success, Kunis didn't see acting as her future until her 20s. "I thought when '70s was going to end, chances are I was going to be done and I was going to go to college and be whatever, and live a normal life. When I made the conscious effort to make this my career, that's when everything changed."

She started looking at roles differently, and started thinking about "making something long lasting". "I just want to stand by everything that I do," she says, "and do films that I'm proud of, that I feel like I did for the right reasons. Whether they ever come out, or whether anyone ever sees them, it doesn't matter."

The Judd Apatow-produced comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, brought her to a wider audience but it was Darren Aronofsky's dark psychological thriller, Black Swan, that proved to be the real game-changer, respect and status-wise. Physically and mentally, it's the toughest film Kunis has ever done. She dieted down to 98 pounds, hyper-extended her shoulder, tore a ligament, and scarred her back. She describes filming the movie's notorious bedroom scene with Portman as "nerve-racking", but insists that stories about them needing tequila to get through it are "completely false. We shot that scene in half a day. The end."

The actresses were already friends when they shot Black Swan, which made the "situation a lot easier to get through", she says. "But sex scenes are always going to be a little uncomfortable. Imagine me saying, 'Hey, nice to meet you. Now take off your clothes and let's have sex. With a hundred people watching.'"

Before Black Swan, the actress could go out and be virtually anonymous. Usually it wasn't until she opened her mouth, and Family Guy's Meg Griffin's voice came out, that she was rumbled. Now Kunis gets recognised without saying a word (she's a face of Dior, after all), which has encouraged her to pay more attention to her appearance in public. "It's terrible if you're in a T-shirt and baggy shorts and people come up to talk to you," she says. "I feel that I have to be more aware of the attention and at least try to live up to a certain image. It's weird but also flattering."

Things could get a lot weirder because her profile is set to rise even higher on the back of roles in Oz: The Great and Powerful, Hell & Back, and Blood Ties. Kunis is clearly a girl who likes variety, but does she have a plan? No, is the answer.

"The thing about this industry is it's not like chess. You can't really think five steps ahead. If you could you would be the master, and that's impossible. There is no plan. You take it one day at a time. You just try to make smart decisions."

'Ted' opens on 1 August; 'Oz: The Great and Powerful', 'Hell & Back' and 'Blood Ties' are all released next year

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea