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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine