Milla Jovovich: ‘Beauty is meaningless if you don’t know who you are’
Milla Jovovich’s riveting looks have captivated the movie world for decades, but success has come at a cost. She opens up to Louise Gannon about humiliating sex scenes, overcoming drug problems and fending off Hollywood sharks
Milla Jovovich has lived a life less ordinary. The Ukrainian-born actress and former model began working at just nine years old and appeared on magazine covers shot by Herb Ritts at 11. She’s appeared in more than 40 movies, recorded music with her friend Bono, and modelled for Chanel and Dior. She is worth £35 million, a figure doubled if you include the estimated wealth of her husband, screenwriter and director Paul W S Anderson. But that success came at a price. Childhood trauma, underage sex scenes, being preyed upon by ‘sleazy older men’ and drug abuse that nearly killed her.
When we meet, Milla, 45, is perched on a bar stool in her kitchen. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, her hair is pulled back from her make-up-free face, highlighting those pale blue-green eyes. Most interviews with this mother of three girls (Ever, 13, Dashiel, six, and Osian, one) tend to focus on her incredible looks and figure (for her new film Monster Hunter she trained for three hours a day and stuck to an 80 per cent plant-based diet). But as we chat, it is clear that she’d rather focus on her exhilarating highs and destructive lows, and how she’s found happiness and fulfilment in motherhood alongside a man who challenges her to be her best.
Raised in Moscow until she was five, Milla and her actress mother Galina and doctor father Bogdan moved to LA. Unable to find acting work, Galina took cleaning jobs. When she and Bogdan split up a year later, she put her energy into her preternaturally beautiful daughter, soon sending her out to work.
By 12, Milla was an established model and was included by legendary photographer Richard Avedon in Revlon’s Most Unforgettable Women in the World campaign. By 13, she landed her first TV role in The Night Train to Kathmandu, and also her movie debut in the erotic thriller Two Moon Junction. At 15, she was fully supporting her family and had been cast opposite 22-year-old actor Brian Krause in Return to the Blue Lagoon. The romance movie boosted her earnings to £1 million and required her to do her first – and crucially underage – sex scenes.
Her memories of that time are only difficult ones. At school she was bullied as ‘the Commie’ by classmates suspicious of her Russian roots; in auditions, knowing she was being chosen for her looks made her feel worthless. It was excruciating. ‘I was so young,’ she says. ‘I was uncomfortable, I was shy, I wasn’t a natural actress. Everything was difficult. I lacked confidence and on set I’d be shaking. It was traumatising. And then the reviews would come out and I’d be insulted and obliterated. It was so humiliating. It made me want to turn away from everything.’
And so she did. Partly in response to these bruising encounters but also to her controlling mother, Milla fell in with a bad crowd. Work slowed as shoplifting and drinking took over.
‘I thought my rebelling would prove to my mum that you can have fun and success. But there came a point in my teens when it got serious. My friends and I were doing drugs and I did too much. I thought I was going to die. I actually prayed. I said: “God, if you let me wake up tomorrow I’ll never do this again.” I imagined my mother killing herself when she found out and how pointless my life would have been.’
Her rebellion also manifested itself in her love life. Aged just 16 she married her Dazed and Confused co-star Shawn Andrews (he was 21) but it was annulled by her mother two months later. Then, at 21, she married 38-year-old Luc Besson, the director of her first action movie The Fifth Element, only for that to end in divorce within two years.
Given the tender age she was exposed to the shark-pool worlds of modelling and Hollywood, darker moments were to come. ‘Did sleazy older guys hit on me? Of course,’ she says. ‘Did I get together with them? Occasionally. Do I feel like a victim? No. I was having fun and experiencing different people. I read Balzac and Nana [the story of a high-class prostitute by Emile Zola] when I was 13. I was playing characters in my head and meeting sophisticated older men was a game. In some sense, I thought I was a courtesan. But I was little, they shouldn’t have done it and thank god I never got raped – although you could call it rape because I was underage at the time.’
Milla says she’s never chosen to tell her story as part of the #MeToo movement out of deference for women who have suffered trauma from their experiences with predatory men. ‘I don’t hold anger. It never affected me. I have always been secure in my sexuality and I was strong. No one drugged or beat me. I stand together with the #MeToo victims and will support them to the end. But I never felt my story was part of it because I wasn’t one of those traumatised women and it was their voices that needed to be heard.’ She shakes her head. ‘Maybe it’s because I’m more European, but that’s the way it was for me.’
No doubt then she was worried when her daughter, Ever, followed her into the industry. In 2016, aged nine, her dad Paul cast her as the younger version of Alicia (who Milla plays) in his film Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Next year she will play Wendy opposite Jude Law in a new version of Peter Pan. Has Milla tried to dissuade her? ‘I was against Paul putting her in the movie but…’ she shakes her head. ‘Ever just loves it. She was five when she said she wanted to act. I was determined it wasn’t going to happen. I told her she couldn’t read yet, so there wasn’t anything to consider and that year she went up two grades and said she wanted to go for auditions. I told her it wasn’t easy, and tried to put her off but she was determined.’
With both parents in the movie industry, Ever stands a better chance than most. Milla credits husband Paul – who she met in 2002 on the set of the first Resident Evil (his series of films based on a popular video game, which cemented Milla’s position as an action hero) – with her newfound family stability. ‘He changed me,’ she says. ‘He’s made me more patient. I feel lucky because he’s a role model to me. He’s smart, calm, logical… I love that.’
She talks about visiting his family in Newcastle, where he’s from, revelling in walks on the stunning Northumberland coast and the life-changing moment of discovering the bakery Greggs. No, really. ‘Have you had a Greggs’ pasty?’ she says in a tone of near reverence. ‘I was on this very strict diet after I had Ever,’ she laughs, ‘Soups, salads, no carbs, the usual blah blah blah. I was doing promotional work in Paris and didn’t touch a single baguette. I went to Italy and didn’t eat a bit of pasta. And then we went to Newcastle, I saw Greggs and bought 24 pasties. They put them in a box and I FaceTimed my trainer who couldn’t believe what he was seeing!’
Her husband is due home any minute. She tells me she is more proud of her marriage and family than anything. With characteristic honesty, she admits, though, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. ‘Relationships aren’t easy. At first there’s so much passion and sex and it’s any time, any place, anywhere and then years pass and you think, “Where’s it gone?” There have been times we could have split but we both want this and toughed it out.’ I assume, given her looks, she doesn’t need to try too hard to keep the passion alive. ‘Passion has nothing to do with looks but mystery, keeping something back. I keep a bit of myself apart from Paul. I have my music, I paint, I do things that don’t involve him that absorb me, and he has his and we like that about each other. Beauty doesn’t last and it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know who you are.’