Published March 2, 2009
Milla Jovovich is the action hero after the last action hero, and she has become a huge star on the ultrawide screen by alternately threatening the world and saving it in films such as The Fifth Element (1997) and the Resident Evil series. Hers has been one of the stranger career arcs of our time: From being a child star and then taking over the Brooke Shields nymphette franchise, she moved on to supermodeldom, then became an independent film actress and ultimately an unlikely kick-ass superwoman who seems to have taken over the Stallone-Willis-Schwarzenegger saving-the-world business. But when you think about it, saving the earth is kind of a woman’s gig, isn’t it?
Milla has played Joan of Arc, a supreme being, and a genetically transformed superweapon and/or savior, but this year she’s kicking butt in a more down-to-earth way, in MGM’s The Perfect Getaway, in which she plays a terrorized honeymooner who strikes back, and in The 4th Kind, a conspiracy-theory thriller set in Alaska. She’s also shooting Keep Coming Back, the directorial debut of the great actor William H. Macy, where she plays a former stripper. And she’s still the face of L’Oréal Paris, which must make great products because Milla looks as gorgeous today at 33 as she did when she first signed on with the cosmetics giant 13 years ago. Glenn O’Brien interviewed her on the phone, coast-to-coast, as ’08 ticked into ’09. Glenn was in Connecticut minding his son Oscar, and Milla was in California minding Ever, her daughter with her fiancé and Resident Evil (2002) director, Paul W.S. Anderson.
GLENN O’BRIEN: Hi, Milla.
MILLA JOVOVICH: How’s it going? Did you have a nice holiday?
GO: I’m starting to have a nice holiday.
MJ: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
GO: No, it’s not like that. It’s just that we have an 8-year-old, and we go to visit his grandparents and 12 cousins for Christmas, and it’s a really long drive, and I always get a speeding ticket. And then the bed is hard, and my arms fall asleep when I’m asleep.
MJ: Yeah, 8-year-olds on big drives aren’t fun.
GO: Oh, he’s great on drives. But the holidays are all about the kids—I get mine later.
MJ: I have a little girl, 14 months, so I know all about that. But she’s still very little, so I don’t have to deal with the whole “Are we there yet?” thing in the car.
GO: No. You have about another eight months to go. Then she’ll be the boss.
MJ: God, she kind of already is. But she’s amazing.
GO: I worked with you years ago on the Calvin Klein Escape TV campaign with Jean-Baptiste Mondino. It was a long time ago, but you can still find the uncensored version of the commercial on YouTube.
GO: Yeah. It’s the one where the guy licks your neck and you flip your shoulder straps off and say to the camera, “Take me!”
MJ: There’s so much stuff that I would never see again if not for YouTube. There is a performance of mine from when I was, like, 18, in Austin,Texas, at the local record shop, singing with my band. I mean, it’s just the cutest thing ever.
GO: Everything is on YouTube now. You don’t even have to have a reel anymore. You can just send people a link.
MJ: This little girl did a video of a song that I did a few years ago for the Underworld  soundtrack. She did this video of herself in her room at night, singing to this song, and it’s just so wonderful. I had to put it up on my website—it made me feel so good that here’s this teenager who’s totally vibing out and getting all dark to my music alone at home. I could just imagine her mom shouting from downstairs, like, “Claire, are you listening to that song again?”
GO: Is that a song that was on your album [The Divine Comedy, 1994]?
MJ: No. A friend of mine named Danny Lohner does a lot of soundtracks now. He used to play bass in Nine Inch Nails, and we’ve been friends for, like, 15 years. He occasionally asks me to do some singing for him. Last week I did a song with him for the new Underworld: Rise of the Lycans soundtrack. It’s a remix of a Cure song, so I actually got to sing with Robert Smith, which was really cool.
GO: I’m always listening to the soundtrack from the Wim Wenders film The Million Dollar Hotel  with U2, Daniel Lanois, Hal Willner, and Jon Hassell. You sing on it. That’s one of the great, underrated records.
MJ: Oh, that’s a good one.
GO: Salman Rushdie wrote the greatest lyrics for Bono to sing on “The Ground Beneath Her Feet.”
MJ: That really is just an amazing group of people who got involved to do that soundtrack.
GO: Oh, here’s my son. Oscar, come here a second. This is Milla—can you say hi to Oscar?
GO: Oscar, this is Milla. She was in that movie that we were watching yesterday. I let Oscar watch part of Resident Evil, and he’s totally freaked out now about zombies. So could you tell him that they’re just a bunch of ham actors?
MJ: Hi, Oscar.
MJ: How’s it going?
MJ: Did you get a little freaked out watching that movie?
MJ: You know, it’s all makeup. You know what, Oscar? We might shoot another Resident Evil, and if we do, you should come on set so you can see how they make the zombies. You can go to the makeup trailer and check it out.
O: Well, only one zombie freaked me out.
MJ: Which one was that?
O: Um . . . the guy with half a face.
MJ: You’ve got to see how they make all that stuff. They use corn syrup for blood and all this other makeup . . . You would totally laugh as soon as you saw it being done. You’d never be scared of movies again, because it’s all really funny. When we shoot the next movie, you’ve got to come down and take a look, okay?
MJ: [laughs] Cool. Nice talking to you, Oscar.
GO: I think the zombies were just an excuse. He didn’t really want to go down to the basement to get some vegetables.
MJ: When we shoot the next Resident Evil he’s got to come on set to check it out.
GO: Yeah, he could have been one of the zombie kids who ate the anchorwoman.
MJ: The zombie kids were a little freaky.GO: So are your biggest fans nerd guys who are into science fiction, or are they girls who feel empowered by a beautiful woman action hero?
MJ: I think both. I mean, the great, funny thing about the Resident Evil franchise is that it has really struck a nerve with a lot of young people, both male and female. You know, it’s the kind of film that girls will go see with their boyfriends, which is not very common for the action-horror genre. I went to England, and the family that lives next door to my fiancé Paul [W.S. Anderson]’s sister is Indian. They have five girls between the ages of 6 and 12, so the poor mother has been having kids, like, every year. And I knew that the family was kind of depressed because every time they went to their church, all the people would look at the mother like, “Oh, I’m so sorry you have four girls and now you’re pregnant with a fifth girl . . .” There’s just this cultural thing where they favor boys, and so I wanted to empower these girls. The older ones had seen the Resident Evil movies, and they all wanted my autograph and stuff, so I went next door and was taking pictures with the kids. And then before I left I said, “You know, women are so much cooler than guys because we can do more martial arts. Martial arts are pretty much made for women because we’re quicker and we’re smaller than men, and so we’re faster. You girls really should take martial arts.” And so now Elizabeth, Paul’s sister, told me that four of the girls have signed up for martial arts classes. [laughs]
GO: Oh, that’s great.
MJ: It is so cute. I don’t want them to go through life feeling like they play second fiddle.
GO: I guess it’s really kind of new, the female action star. I mean, we’ve had heroines before—in the ’60s there was Emma Peel on The Avengers—but you’ve taken it to the next level.
MJ: Yeah, definitely. The Resident Evil series was based on these very popular video games that my little brother loved to play. That’s why I was even interested in doing the film version—I had a 13-year-old brother who really loved Resident Evil and just thought I was the coolest person in the world to be in the movie. When he played, he would always play as Jill Valentine—he would always play as the girl. So it was also the one game where even the boys would play the girl.
GO: How kinky.
MJ: You know, that says a lot about why Paul [who directed the first Resident Evil and wrote and produced the entire series] decided to make thewoman the lead in the movie, because it really was a girl that was the lead in the games, even though you have guy options.
GO: Well, I don’t know anything about the Resident Evil game. Is Alice, your character in the films, also in the game?
GO: Does that upset hardcore Resident Evil players?
MJ: You know, maybe in the beginning it did. But I felt like it was important to not be too tied to a preconceived world as we were making the films. Paul wanted to create another Resident Evil world so that he could have more freedom creatively with the characters. When characters from the game pop up in the movies, we are very loyal to who they are. But for the lead, Paul wanted to take more liberties—and that’s impossible to do with an existing character because the games are so prolific with histories and explicit about exactly what the characters do, what weapons they use, and everything. I mean, people get really obsessed with that kind of stuff, so you’ve got to be careful.
GO: These games are virtual worlds. Grand Theft Auto, Second Life—they’re like religions.
MJ: They are, and I think a lot of people try to take advantage of that for films. I mean, video games are perfect to make into films because they are so visual. Yes, they’re action and horror. Yes, they’re fun popcorn movies. But I think something that is really special about the Resident Evil franchise is that everybody involved really loved the games and really wanted to make the best possible movie. I think that the fans see that passion, which is really important, because they do take it all very seriously.
GO: Were you a physical, athletic-type person before you started making these movies where you do these amazing stunts?
MJ: I’ve always been athletic but I didn’t start
doing martial arts until I was a teenager. When I did The Fifth Element, I really seriously started training, which made me feel so much better than I normally did. I mean, when you’re doing martial arts, you feel like you can master certain skills and be so much more in control of who you are, so that really appealed to me. Before that, I rode horses and was just generally athletic. But I really connected with martial arts. I’d always had a fantasy as a kid of being a ninja warrior, so it definitely answered that sort of need in my psyche, too—a need to be superpowerful.
GO: Are you, like, a black belt in something or—
MJ: [laughs] No, no. Unfortunately, I don’t train enough on an everyday basis to be a black belt, but if I put my mind to it I think I could definitely move very quickly in that world. I really want my daughter to get into martial arts, so when she’s 2, I want to start training with her. I want her to feel like it’s something that she and her mom do together. I feel like one of the single most important gifts that I can give her is the gift of being totally in control of her body. And self-defense is so important to know in today’s society. It’s not just that you might get mugged. It’s more for confidence. It’s the way you hold yourself when you walk into a room. Every step you take is more sure and you’re much more aware of your surroundings. So, I think it’s a really important thing—-especially for women.
GO: That should be part of every model’s training.
MJ: [laughs] Models would be able to do much cooler stuff in pictures, that’s for sure.GO: At the fashion shows last fall I saw so many girls fall on the runway. I guess maybe they never wear high heels in real life, but, you know, I think if they had more athletic training, they would probably just glide in those six-inch platforms.
MJ: Girls who are dancers tend to be much better models than girls who just got picked off the street. Dance is a discipline, just like martial arts. No matter what you do, you have this sort of confidence that no one can take away from you—every time you step somewhere, you’re sure of where you’re going.
GO: Were you always confident? When I first met you, you must have been 20 years old, and you seemed like a very well-adjusted person. I mean, I don’t want to be judgmental about a whole profession, but for
a model, you seemed to be very well-balanced.
MJ: Well, I feel like confidence is something that ebbs and flows. I mean, I was given a lot of love and attention from my family growing up, so for sure I had a natural confidence. But because I started working so young, there was always that stress and that worry of, “Am I good enough? Am I making the right choices? Am I living up to the potential that my mom and my dad thought that I had?” I think that the confidence was always there on the outside, but on the inside I was having a lot of doubts. But the fact that I could introduce myself into a situation with this seeming act of confidence—I think that helped. I think a lot of kids who don’t have that confidence tend to be really insecure and sometimes end up just taking the wrong path, or trying to make up for it in other ways. So I feel like if I give my daughter anything, I want to give her that feeling of confidence. I was in acting classes from the age of 9, dance classes, music classes—my mom put a lot of energy and attention into me, so no matter what happened in my life, I always had this basis of discipline. So I really worked hard for everything I had from a very early age.
GO: Of all the things that you’ve learned, what was hardest for you? I mean, whether it was kickboxing or interviewing . . .
MJ: I guess the most difficult thing for me was living up to my mom’s expectations. I was always scared that if I didn’t do things in this certain way, then my mom just wouldn’t think I was great. That’s something that was difficult for me growing up. And it made me rebel against her when I was a teenager and move out of the house and do some pretty stupid, dangerous stuff just because I was trying to prove that I was independent and my own person and that I didn’t care what she thought, when in reality, I very much did.
GO: Oh, Oscar just came with a hamburger for me. So what’s with you having a dog named Oliver Cromwell? You know, Irish people don’t go for that.
MJ: Are you Irish?
MJ: And Oliver Cromwell was the hammerer of the Irish, so all of my Irish friends are offended.
GO: What if I had a dog called Adolf Hitler?
MJ: It’s not like that.
GO: Kind of.
MJ: Well, not really.
GO: A dog named Stalin?
MJ: Well, I would think that sort of Irish history is pretty distant at this point . . . Calling the dog Oliver Cromwell was sort of meant in jest, because I was reading a book on the Stuart dynasty, and, you know, Oliver Cromwell obviously played a huge part in completely annihilating the Stuarts.
GO: Yeah, I guess he wasn’t all bad.
MJ: When we got this puppy, I knew he was going to be huge, and it sort of popped into my head as a name—like the Lord Protector, Cromwell. And he so looks the part, but he’s also very friendly. He’s not like the real Oliver Cromwell at all. But, I really didn’t mean to offend anybody . . .
GO: We forgive you. So when Sarah Palin was running for vice president, did you think about that Alaska connection with Resident Evil: Extinction ?
GO: Apparently Palin belonged to a religious group that believes that in the end-time the good people are going to go to Alaska for salvation, like you did in that last Resident Evil.
MJ: Seriously? That’s hilarious. Sarah Palin kind of turned me off so badly that I just wasn’t following much about her.
GO: Well, that was kind of in the fine print of Sarah Palin.
MJ: I mean, of all people to be in line for the presidency . . . I was like, “Oh, what a great role model.”
GO: Well, now that you’ve made it to the top rung of being an action hero, have you thought about running for governor of California?
MJ: [laughs] No, but I hear that the governor is looking into making movies again. I can’t wait to see Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screenagain. I think everyone would want to go see his movies.
GO: You should go toe-to-toe with Arnold.
MJ: Well, it would be kind of hard, because, you know, Arnold is amazing. No one can beat Arnold. But when I make action films, I’m pretty serious about them . . . I don’t know. We would probably have a pretty epic battle.
GO: You’re making a movie now with William H. Macy?
MJ: Yeah. Bill Macy is going to be directing his first feature film this year.
GO: Have you worked with him before?
MJ: I haven’t, but we met through this project and we became friends. He’s one of my favorite actors in the world, so I was very honored when he called me. I hope he doesn’t have as many problems as so many people are having right now with getting movies off the ground. But he’s very passionate about it. We went out to lunch a couple of weeks ago and, now that I’m a mom, it opens up this whole new world with people with children. Half of our conversation was about schools and bringing up kids, this philosophy and that philosophy. He and Felicity [Huffman, Macy’s wife] are really into the RIE [Resources for Infant Educarers] system. Have you heard of that?
GO: No. What’s that?
MJ: It’s this philosophy that’s based on allowing kids to reach their potential without too many of your opinions involved, where you support them but at the same time you let them deal with things on their own. It starts from when they’re babies. You don’t force them to walk. You don’t force them to do things. You really let them naturally do what they’re going to do. They have RIE preschools and they’ll have groups of parents there and the babies will be playing on the floor, and they’ll have some sort of confrontation. And rather than jumping in and solving the problem, you let the babies deal with it. You only jump in if it escalates.
GO: To violence!
MJ: [laughs] But you give your kids the opportunity to make decisions, which is really interesting.
GO: I bet you’re an RIE parent without even knowing it.
MJ: Yeah. When I was pregnant I read so many different books on parenting and philosophies on bringing up kids, and I guess I haven’t really connected with one completely. I find pieces from a lot of different ones that I relate to.
GO: Well, the thing I learned was to let go. I was thinking, My God, he’s never going to get out of diapers. And then, like, the next day he was totally in control. It just happened.
MJ: Russians are pretty serious about potty training. We’ve had Ever on the potty since she was, like, 4 months old. The pediatrician is like, “Don’t do that.” But I come from a different place. We just believe in starting super-early with all that stuff.
Every time she drinks, every time she eats, like half an hour after, she’s on the potty. I just have to be super on it. And my mom was super on it. I’m telling you, now, at 14 months, Ever will come up and be like, “Uh-uh-uh.” And I’m like, “Oh, potty?”
GO: That’s perfect.
MJ: She’ll literally tell us. I mean, it’s not all the time, but she does it. And now it’s like a game, because she’ll do that, and then I’ll say, “Potty?” and she’ll go, “No,” and run away. And then we’ll, like, chase her around the couch . . . She’ll probably hate me in 10 years. [laughs]
GO: I’m having the same thing with the dog now—“You have to go out? No? Yes?”
MJ: [laughs] Before we got Crommy, I’d only had little tiny dogs. But we always knew he was going to be a big boy, and I felt like I really wanted a big dog, because we live on a big property with a backyard and a lot of space for him to run around. And with a big dog like that, you’re not going to use a pee-pee pad. You’ve got to get him out. So we would be waking up a few times a night to let him out so he wouldn’t go in his cage.
GO: I tried the pee-pee pads, and they just wound up getting shredded into little tiny pieces. The best thing about a dog is that the kid can sleep with it instead of climbing in bed with mommy and daddy.
MJ: The hardest part of all of this is not spoiling the kid. It’s so damn hard to not get that cute little doll, because, like, I want to play with it, too. My husband is like, “Oh, thank God we didn’t have a boy, because there’s this train set that I’ve always wanted, and these Star Wars spaceships . . .” They say, “Don’t spoil your kids,” but it’s one thing spoiling your kids, it’s another thing spoiling yourself.
GO: It’s an excuse to spoil yourself. I’m going to go play with my electric trains now . . .
MJ: [laughs] It’s an arduous, convoluted road, parenthood—with so many twists and turns that you really never expected.
GO: Wait till you get this one: “Can I have a babysitter tonight?”
MJ: [laughs] Oh, my God.
GO: It’s like, “What? I’m not good enough? You want a babysitter?” That hurts a little bit.
MJ: Ever is so into me right now . . . It’s going to be so weird when she’s not.
GO: Wait until you have two kids.
MJ: I was reading in some parenting magazine that statistically you take thousands of photographs of your first kid, and then with your second kidyou take about half of that. And then with your third kid, you, like, pawn off your first and second kids’ photographs and tell them they’re theirs. “Yes, this is your baby picture.” “But that looks like my brother.” “No, it’s you.”
GO: Well, at least you can easily retouch the baby pictures now.
MJ: Yes. “That’s really a heart. That’s not a policeman on his T-shirt.”