Because she's worth it

From L'Oreal to LA: ROGER MORTON meets Milla Jovovich, Hollywood's new darling
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In the popular imagination, Milla Natasha Jovovich's life is like a set composed of Versaces, L'Oreals, Vogues, Newsweeks and Cannes premieres. She's the whirlwind who sweeps up Kate Moss's exs, marries famous directors, tries alternative boho pop careers, does New York-Paris-London and lounges around the French Riviera as she talks exclusively with Dazed & Confused.

The reality is different. Born in Kiev, the only child of a Russian actress and Yugoslav physician who moved to Sacramento when she was five, Jovovich, at 23, is a curious mix of LA wild child and Slovak intensity. In the anodyne L'Oreal world of Jennifer Anistons, Andi MacDowells and Heather Locklears, Jovovich is the odd one out, the kooky misfit who refuses to be categorised as "just another supermodel". She's managed to juggle being an international cover girl and an estwhile pop star (her band, The Divine Comedy, scraped into the Top 40 a few years back), with being a credible actress (if one can forgive her for Return to the Blue Lagoon). And all without conforming to diva stereotype.

Jovovich is used to being different. Like Leeloo, the characer she played in the Bruce Willis sci-fi blockbuster The Fifth Element, Jovovich was something of an alien when she arrived in the US speaking only Russian. During her pre-Berlin Wall collapse schooldays she was the subject of "a lot of jokes and fifth-grade communist humour". She goes back to Russia every few years and now she says: "Democracy didn't do anything for that country, that's for sure, except to expand the belts of a few big guys. It's sad."

Jovovich was never a big-time child star, but she got close enough. She was on national magazine covers at the age of 12. At 15, she'd banked a million dollars. Her Hollywood brat "wild child" days were over and done with before most kids have really got going.

"I grew up in Hollywood so definitely I had that phase," she says. "But it was good because everything for me came quickly and ended quickly. Now I'm a bit more serious." You mean your rock'n'roll days are over? "Well not totally, but I'm a little bit smarter and I don't put myself in dangerous situations."

At 16, in an attempt to "establish her independence" and to help get a credit card, she married her then boyfriend. Mum annulled it later. Between 16 and 18 she lived in London, dating ex-Jamiroquai bassist and father to Melanie "All Saints" Blatt's child, Stuart Zender. ("Stu-ey was just sweeeeet.") At the time a serious music career was looking likely. She wanted to go for the acoustic Joni Mitchell feel with just a guitar and voice. "It was just a little ahead of its time," she sighs.

As Jovovich free-forms across a range of subjects, the significance of her "immigrant family" background becomes more apparent. Her stamina, she reckons came from her father's "Montenegrian Northern blood". From her mother she got the acting. Gallina Loginova was a renowned actress and beauty whose career was blocked by the tight controls of the state movie industry and by her eventual move to the US with husband Bogdanovitch (Bogie) Jovovich.

"My mum, and a lot of Eastern European families are very pushy with their kids," says Milla. "Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad, but the kids never lack attention. That's one thing I had a lot of as a child. I was an only child. Whichever weird way it came through, I got a lot of love."

Milla was discovered by model agency Prima, and her mother clearly gave her daughter serious encouragement. "I was young," she reflects. "But I guess you just choose which life you want, and that's the life my mum sort of wanted for me. Being immigrants in a country, I guess it's harder for people to understand the pressure that families put on children, but it's a different life, it's a different philosophy, different country."

She finally realised she was pushing herself too hard, and in too many directions, during The Fifth Element. There was some forced growing up, a painful split with sometime Kate Moss paramour, model/photographer Mario Sorrenti followed by her "intense involvement" with the film's director Luc Besson, whom she married in Las Vegas last year. "The personal things in my life at the time were so pressing," she says, "and Luc took me out of it all and gave me so many beautiful things to educate myself with. My character Leeloo is so pure and fascinated with reality that after I shot that movie, I swear I haven't been bored for the last four and a half years."

With The Million Dollar Hotel (written by U2's Bono and starring Mel Gibson) now on her CV, as well as the lead role in Besson's Joan of Arc, Jovovich's film career continues on the up. But post-marriage, Jovovich's attitude to the movie world seems relaxed. Keeping her options open, she still plays the occasional live gig in New York. "I love playing out," she says. "It's when I feel the most my age, when I'm hanging out with my friends playing music. Movies are great but it's just, I dunno... the photographer Diane Arbus didn't figure out what she wanted to do until she was in her late thirties."

For today at least, Jovovich is "a newly, freshly unemployed actress". Tomorrow it could be babies or balloon safaris. At 23, she is lucky enough to be able to fight against being defined. She's particularly sensitive to being known as Luc Besson's wife. Either that or she is currently super- protective about her personal life. That's not a place today's conversation can visit.

Keeping Jovovich on any subject for long is not an easy task. The phone goes. She pulls at her million dollar face. Fidgets. Or sighs. Strangely, she seems happiest talking gently about the family drama surrounding her father. Bogdanovitch was given a 20-year jail sentence in 1994 after being found guilty of masterminding a health insurance scam. "He just got out the beginning of this year," she whispers. "But yeah, he's good. He's getting his life back together and that's wonderful. He's a really amazing guy. So I'm glad that he's able to advance further in his life and not get stuck there.

"There's this really beautiful song by this band Smog about prisoners, and the chorus is, `We are constantly on trial'. It's about this warden who takes his convicts to go swimming. The song meant a lot to me for obvious reasons. But I was watching the movie Contact, and for some reason I tried synchronising that song to the part where Jodie Foster comes into the pod and everything's spinning underneath her, and suddenly the chorus became so meaningful.

"I realised that being in prison and being in space is the same thing. Because you're alienated, you're completely shoved into a different reality, where the human spirit is tested. I watched Jodie Foster and she's seeing the stars and the beauty, and suddenly it became so sweet and I couldn't believe it, that ... my father was a spaceman."

A hush settles as her lateral space cruise comes to its conclusion. Los Angeles pauses. In her tripped out, soul-searching post-teen way, Milla has just said something both funny and fundamental, and you realise that, yes, freedom probably is a prison, and yes, an interview about her acting career and relationship with Luc Besson probably is missing the whole point of Milla Natasha Jovovich.

A longer version of this article appears in the June issue of `Dazed & Confused'.

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