Milla Jovovich: Milla's crossing

From sci-fi to horror, Milla Jovovich is playing ever-darker roles. Tiffany Rose asks the straight-talking beauty why
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The Independent Culture

Milla Jovovich is a bit fidgety today, and she can't fathom out why. She thinks that it's probably a combination of too much nicotine, too much talking, and not enough food.

Milla Jovovich is a bit fidgety today, and she can't fathom out why. She thinks that it's probably a combination of too much nicotine, too much talking, and not enough food.

As she marches into the ritzy suite of the Loews Beach Hotel in Santa Monica, she resembles a buzzing bee contemplating a place to land. Clad in a torn, stylised navy T-shirt that Oxfam would reject, and a pair of worn denims, Jovovich is in the midst of a promotional tour for Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the sequel to the horror film Resident Evil, which, globally, scored over $100m at the box office.

The supermodel-turned-musician-turned-actress, with an enviable body and symmetrical features so perfect she looks as if she could have been created in a laboratory, has packed a lot of living into her 29 years. Jovovich started modelling at the age of nine and was an international cover girl by the age of 11; retired from the catwalk at the ripe old age of 15 to pursue a rock'n'roll career; tied the knot in Vegas at 16 (annulled two months later); got a multimillion-dollar contract as the face of L'Oréal; and married for the second time to a French director old enough to be her father, which, surprise, surprise, ended in divorce. All the while, she was proving her acting talents on the big screen.

"You don't mind if I smoke, do you? If you're allergic, I don't have to," she enquires, almost apologetically, in her raspy, world-weary voice.

Her tall and seductive frame is both graceful and powerful, a sinewy bundle of nervous energy offset by a seductive inner calm. Her eyes, a piercing blue, scan the room for any object resembling an ashtray. I push a glass half-full of water her way, hoping that it might solve her dilemma. It doesn't. Flopping on to the sofa, Jovovich says: "I hate putting it in water - it reminds me of what my lungs look like."

Shaking her head, she natters away. "You know, I've cut down a lot. Every year, I cut down, because I'm getting older. But I've met way too many women who've kept their beauty and raw animal sexuality, and they still smoke. So, unfortunately, they're not a good influence on me!"

Jovovich shows no signs of packing it in now, as she chain smokes throughout the interview, occasionally using her free hand to shoo away the clouds that have a habit of settling just above my anti-smoking head.

Ask any model whether she considers herself beautiful, and she'll quickly point out her flaws. But pose this question to Jovovich, and she'll provide you with a 300-word explanation of why she doesn't take her looks for granted, and how it's all about the goddess within. "My mum raised me in a way that was very down to earth about what to expect from my looks," she says. "She always told me that pretty eyes are a dime a dozen, so don't ever think that just because you're pretty, it means anything. So I grew up very aware of that.

"To be proud is ridiculous to me. My mum would always say: 'We made you who you are, and the only thing you can do now is work hard, because no one can take that away; but your beauty, God will take away no matter what.' So I've always known that this is temporary, and I'm fine with it."

Cocking her head to one side, Jovovich stubs out her cigarette. "I laugh when I see teenage girls who suddenly realise that their looks have an effect on people. I'm like: 'No, honey, you're just a product of your mum and dad, but you are nothing and you're an idiot if you think otherwise. Unless you work, read and educate yourself, you are nothing. In Russia, we don't mince words too much."

Born in 1975 in Kiev, Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, Jovovich doesn't recall much of her homeland except vague images of playing in the park. Her only dim memories before her family defected to the West are of watching her mother, the former Soviet actress Galina Loginova on set. At the time, her Serbian father, Bogich Jovovich, was training as a doctor in London, and when Milla was just five, Galina was granted permission to visit her husband and seized the chance to leave the USSR.

It wasn't long before the family relocated to California for a better life. "It was an emotionally trying time for my parents," Jovovich sighs. "When you're an immigrant coming to a new country, it's always difficult, unless you come with money, but we didn't have any. So it was like being at the bottom of the barrel and starting over."

Her mother's days as a respected actress in her native country were replaced with cleaning houses, in a bid to provide her daughter with the opportunities she had never had. It was only a matter of time before her parents' marriage collapsed under the strain of their new life.

"My mum always wanted the best for me," she says. "Every last dollar was spent on ballet lessons, acting classes, learning the piano, anything you could imagine. So I felt a lot of pressure to create something to help my family."

It is widely assumed that her mother lived vicariously through her daughter, and by the age of 11, Jovovich's Lolita looks won her a contract with a reputable modelling agency. Acting lessons soon followed.

Reaching across the table for another cigarette, Jovovich recalls the bad days when she was called a Commie in school, and she couldn't speak a word of English. "I remember being about five and bringing my colouring books to show these American girls, who were probably about 11," she says. "I thought they were so grown up. But they refused to play with me. They thought I was weird and that it would be more fun to torture me, so they started chasing me."

By the time she was 12, Jovovich's drama lessons had paid off and she made her film debut on the Disney Channel's The Night Train to Kathmandu. Later that year, she got her first major movie lead in Return to the Blue Lagoon, (the sequel to the Brooke Shields hit). Supporting roles soon followed, in Two Moon Junction, opposite Sherilyn Fenn, and in Chaplin, with Robert Downey Jr. At 15, singing became her passion, which led to a deal with EMI and the release of her first album, The Divine Comedy, to critical acclaim.

Just a year later, Jovovich was bored with her all-work-and-no-play lifestyle, and started to dabble in drugs, shoplifting and credit-card fraud. "I did that stupid shit when I was 15," she sighs. "I went to parties and took drugs, I hung out. I was young and lived in Hollywood, and that's what you did to be cool, and I wanted to be accepted. Then I realised it was all fake.

"When the lights came back on, everybody looked like shit. It was scary, with people twitching and doing stupid things with their bodies. I didn't want that in my life." Not only can you hear her humility, but you can see the honesty in her eyes.

Jovovich's life took a turn for the better when she was cast in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, during which she fell in love with her co-star Shawn Andrews and eloped to Las Vegas. Her mother, who, at the time, appeared to completely run Milla's life, had the marriage annulled two months later.

Life changed dramatically again when she met and married the director Luc Besson, 17 years her senior. He cast her as the leading alien in the 1997 sci-fi hit The Fifth Element, opposite Bruce Willis. Less than two years later, the couple announced their separation.

Today, she says, they're best of friends and have mutual respect and love. In 1999, they launched their dream project, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, with Jovovich in the role once portrayed by the screen icons Ingrid Bergman and Jean Seberg. Other screen credits include The Million Dollar Hotel, penned by U2's Bono; Michael Winterbottom's The Claim; and Resident Evil, based on the popular video game, in which Jovovich was directed by her then boyfriend, Paul W S Anderson.

Jovovich has a secret wish: she has always wanted bigger breasts. She insists that her bosoms have always been enhanced with plenty of padding and sticky tape on film. "I've just finished playing this super-hot comic-book character called Ultraviolet, and I got to build up my chest," she announces, not caring who's listening. "But I'd never consider doing it for real. I'm too much of a scaredy cat. And I've heard too many horror stories, and guys claim they can spot fake tits a mile away. But if I had a baby and my boobs dropped, then I'd be, like, 'Why not get a lift?'."

In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Jovovich resurrects her role as Alice, a survivor who awakens from a nightmare to find her worst fears realised - the bloodthirsty undead are threatening to ambush the city. Genetically perfected by a team of scientists to be the ultimate fighting machine, Alice joins forces with the police and citizens to try to escape the quarantined and soon-to-be-nuked metropolis.

Science-fiction fans won't be disappointed by the second-rate feel of the movie, directed by Alexander Witt, and written by Paul W S Anderson, who himself was genetically perfected by a team of scientists to create bad movies that make tons of money. Anderson outdoes himself here, crafting a script that's not only jam-packed with violence, gore and nudity, but has a scene featuring zombie hookers.

Needless to say, Jovovich shines and carries the film, despite the storyline. Which begs the question - what attracts a lovely girl like Jovovich to bloody up her face in these sinister roles? Jovovich shrugs. "I can be dark. I can be very depressed like everybody else. You can't enjoy your happiness, if you don't experience depression. But I've always been on a quest for something. I can get very metaphysical and hypothetical at times. Like, I can sit for hours all night and talk about ideas and what if the world ends tomorrow. I definitely need an outlet for that.

"But also, nobody's going to put me in a romantic comedy right now. So, it's not that I look for these parts, they seem to find me. I think it's more that people see me as dark, than my affinity to the darkness!"

And with that, she grabs her packet of cigarettes and waltzes out the door.