September 12, 2004
The first thing you notice is the firm handshake.
Well, the firm handshake would be the first thing you notice if not for the eyes.
Milla Jovovich’s killer eyes are no doubt responsible for her being where she is today.
Which is sitting in a luxury suite at a beachfront hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., and discussing her starring role in the highly anticipated sci-fi/ zombie sequel ‘‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse.’’
The eyes also explain a long, successful modeling career that shows no sign of decline. In fact, at an advanced age for a model (28), she recently was named by Forbes magazine as the highest-paid model in the world. She is a longtime spokeswoman for L’Oreal and the current cover subject for Maxim magazine, modeling a tiny bikini that she designed as part of her own line of clothing.
The Ukrainian-born actress/model/entrepreneur, who came to the United States with her family in 1980, admits to being hyperactive as a child and unable to slow down as an adult.
She began her acting career at 9 in a Disney TV movie, started modeling at 11 when noted photographer Herb Ritts shot her for a fashion spread in a European magazine and has left a string of 150 magazine covers and more than a dozen movie roles (‘‘The Fifth Element,’’ ‘‘Zoolander’’ and ‘‘The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc,’’ to name just three) in her wake.
But it was her role as Alice, the zombie-fighting heroine of ‘‘Resident Evil’’ in 2002, that elevated her relatively undistinguished acting career to the level of bankable actress.
Based on a series of video games, ‘‘Resident Evil’’ was the story of a high-tech scientific experiment gone awry. A virus wiped out almost all the inhabitants of a secret underground complex called The Hive. An even bigger problem was that they didn’t stay dead.
In the sequel, which opened Friday, Alice awakens from a coma to discover that the virus has infected the rest of the city, and she must not only battle the zombies that walk among us, but the security forces of the evil corporation that invented the virus and now wants to maintain damage control.
Oh, did we mention that the company turned Alice into the $6 million woman while she was asleep?
With her long legs stretched across a coffee table, a cigarette in her hand and a twinkle in those magnificent eyes, the actress explains why getting buff is not always a good thing, how she feels about nudity and why she never put much faith in a pretty face.
Q: I heard you trained in the martial arts for four months to get ready for this role. How tough are you?
A: Not very tough anymore. I’ve stopped training.
Q: Could you beat me up?
A: I could probably get in one good punch and then run away fast enough that you couldn’t catch me.
Q: I’m a journalist; I’d probably be unconscious.
A: (laughing): Then I guess I could beat you up.
Q: How tough were you when you were training?
A: I was pretty yoked. I was all muscles, and it wasn’t very attractive.
Q: What do you mean?
A: Let’s just say that, in normal times, I’m flat as a board. So, when I started training, I turned into a boy. If I shaved my head, you wouldn’t be able to tell I was a girl. And my arms were so big, I was embarrassed to wear a T-shirt without sleeves.
Q: And yet you weren’t afraid to appear nude in this movie.
A: Well, I thought it was beautiful. It wasn’t a sex scene. The situation is that the girl is inside a tank of water. It would look cheesy if she was wearing underwear. She wasn’t trying to seduce a doctor or anything like that.
Q: But you had the power to reject the nudity, didn’t you?
A: Of course.
Q: Is that the model in you?
A: I’m not sure. Growing up, I was a rebel. When I was a teenager, I thought it was cool to take my top off for the camera because it was the ’90s and nude photography was the new art. Now, I don’t like to do nudity for a magazine, but I have no problem doing nudity in an $80 art book because people have to shell out some bucks to see it.
Q: So we’re just haggling over price?
A: No, it’s just that I feel an art book is not like a magazine. It’s not something you put your can of Coke on. It’s not disposable like a magazine. An art book is special, and part of being special is that you have to pay a lot of money for it. I don’t want my body being disposable. If my body is going to be shown, I want it to be shown in a beautiful book.
Q: How do you get to the point of being so carefree about showing your body?
A: It just never bothered me that much. However, when I got to be 22 and married (to French director Luc Besson, from whom she is divorced), I changed my attitude. I was a mother to my husband’s stepchildren, and I didn’t want to embarrass my husband.
Q: Do you remember your reaction when you read the script for ‘‘Resident Evil’’?
A: I remember having the same feeling reading the script as I did when I played the game with my younger brother.
Q: I didn’t realize you were familiar with the video game before did the movie.
A: Oh, yeah. My brother was the one that pushed me to do the movie in the first place. He was 13 at the time. It didn’t matter to him that I had worked with some of the top directors in the business. He said that if I was the chick from ‘‘Resident Evil,’’ I was a god.
Q: Did you think it would be so successful?
A: No way. I did it for my brother. I thought I was making a small action film from Europe. I was glad it wasn’t a big commercial film. My modeling is commercial enough; I was happy to do another small, noncommercial film. It was the first film I ever did just for the fun of it. A hundred million dollars later, I’m in a sequel.
Q: Is a sequel anything but a big payday for you?
A: I’m not going to lie to you. I got paid very well. More than a big payday, though, I kept thinking how cool it was that my mother could show her friends that I was in a double CD box set. That is something to be proud of. Not every actress gets to have a franchise like ‘‘The Lord of the Rings’’ or ‘‘Alien.’’ There aren’t many girls out there who have sequels to action films.
Q: Do you think women like to watch women action heroes in movies?
A: I was shocked at how many women saw the first movie. But I shouldn’t have been shocked. I love to watch Angelina Jolie in an action movie. Why shouldn’t someone want to see me in an action movie?
Q: Why do you end up cast in so many sci-fi movies?
A: I don’t have a typically American look, so Hollywood studios don’t always know where to slot me. I guess they see me as a crazy sci-fi chick.
Q: Does that frustrate you?
A: Look, we’re immigrants, and it’s always been a struggle. I don’t know any other way but to fight.
Q: When was the first time you realized that your eyes weren’t like the other kids on the block?
A: Eyes like this are a dime a dozen in this business so I don’t get too impressed with myself.
Q: How did you learn that?
A: My mother (a former actress in Russia) told me when I started modeling not to depend on my looks. She said that works when you’re young, but you have to be prepared for when people get tired of your looks. I’ve seen so many young models who think the world owes them something because they’re beautiful. I’ve never believed that. I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve got.