photography by MARIO SORRENTI
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
Success came quickly to the Ukrainian-born model, actress, and singer, MILLA JOVOVICH — she began working professionally at the tender age of 11. Best known for playing kick-ass heroines in sci-fi and action movies, this glamour queen is actually a loving woman and an EXTREMELY ROMANTIC soul. In 2007 Milla had a baby named Ever Gabo Anderson with film director Paul W.S. Anderson. She has since found serenity and a new confidence in her approach to life, music, acting, and modeling. We asked MARIO SORRENTI, a former lover of Milla’s, to capture her intimate persona.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did the shoot with Mario Sorrenti go?
MILLA JOVOVICH — The feeling was beautiful and intimate, like we were creating a song or a poem with these photographs. I felt like I was part of the process. Before it was like, “I’m the model, you’re the photographer.” But this time there was a synergy. We were helping each other express ourselves. Mario and I have been friends for over ten years, so I’m very comfortable shooting with him. We care about each other. He’s a friend I totally trust. These are the first nudes I’ve done in over ten years, what with getting married and having a baby and everything. I got married when I was 22 and I felt like I shouldn’t do nudes anymore. Then after I got divorced the opportunity didn’t present itself. I did do nudes a couple of times with Peter Lindbergh, but it had been a long time. I had my clothing company, which took up five years of my life. I was working on films. I had a baby.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it because of your baby that you stopped modeling for a while?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes, because were so many other things I was doing. But this story with Mario was an opportunity for me to love myself again as a woman, after working so hard to get my body back in shape. But it wasn’t like, “I’ll do a shoot with anybody.” No, it was with someone I trust, someone who isn’t going to judge me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You and Mario were once lovers, weren’t you?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes, but that was long ago. Now Mario and I just love each other as people, and as friends. I could have never been this free with Mario when I was younger — I was too insecure. When you’re in your twenties you’re less comfortable with yourself. I know I was.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Why, because you didn’t really love your body?
MILLA JOVOVICH — No, it was more that I didn’t trust my ability to express myself. I constantly doubted myself. I think a lot of artists have this kind of insecurity — they’re so scared of who they really are that they’re constantly trying to reinvent themselves. I did this when I was younger, but now I know who I am. And in the photos I did with Mario I think you do see a woman who understands herself, who’s comfortable, who doesn’t have complexes.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What is so different now?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, it’s a combination of things. I’ve acted in films and on stage, I was in a band, I had a clothing line, I had a baby, I gained a lot of weight, I lost it all and got my body back — I mean, I’ve been so many different people in the last six years! Now I can take all of these people and use them. From experience, I’ve learned not to be scared of all the facets of myself. You accept who you are and what your relevance to society is. Plus, I’ve been working for almost 25 years now, starting when I was 11.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Wasn’t it Avedon who discovered you?
MILLA JOVOVICH — No, it was Herb Ritts. Actually, it was the photographer Gene Lemuel. You should see his stuff — you’d love it. He’s very underground. A real artist, and a poet. He took my first test pictures. He showed them to Herb in LA and the next day Herb hired me for the cover of Lei, the Italian magazine. I was 11. Then Avedon hired me for Mademoiselle. There was a big controversy about that. But it all took off from there — I posed for Scavullo, Peter Lindbergh, and all the guys — all when I was 11, 12, and 13. I never posed nude, but it was still controversial. Christian groups harassed Avedon, claiming he was shooting child pornography. Mademoiselle didn’t want to put me on its cover, but Avedon said if they didn’t he’d never work for them again. He really supported me in the beginning, really jump-starting my career. So it’s been a long journey. But after 25 years, I still feel like I’m just getting started! [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your modeling career never really stopped.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Not until I decided to stop it when I wanted to try other things. I didn’t do much acting when I was young. I wasn’t very good at it. There are very few children who are really good actors. I played guitar and I loved to make music, so when I was 16 I took a few years off and moved to London and started a band. I got away from fashion and films. I had to make a comeback when I was 18! People were saying I was already too old, that I was from the ’80s. I was 18 years old and already a passé ’80s model. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — But you must have fit right in at the time! Purple started in 1992. It was a moment of change in fashion.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes, that’s when I met Mario Sorrenti and Terry Richardson. Actually, I didn’t like the work I did as a child model. I wasn’t into the late-’80s esthetic. But I really started enjoying modeling when I came back. We had an amazing group of friends — Davide and Mario Sorrenti, and Terry. And Frank B, who was still assisting Mario, had just started to do make-up. Mario took that picture of me for the cover of i-D, the crazy clown thing. That was Frankie’s first make-up job. It was like all these kids together doing stuff.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Then you had to take another break from modeling and acting.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes, when I was 26. I took another break from it all and started my own line of clothing — to try and express myself in another way. I got so much support from American Vogue and from Anna Wintour and the CFDA, and I met such a great group of people, like the Rodarte girls, and Thakoon and Phillip Lim, all of whom I’m still friends with. I started the company with Carmen Hawk, another model, and a stellar talent, who was an amazing stylist and artist. Now she’s a photographer. We had an amazing run. We did a line for Target that sold out. But we weren’t really ready for success and so we quit. When we were really small and doing everything by hand in our studio in LA it was perfect. But when we got big and people started placing large orders and we had to hire factories it all went wrong. We were artists, not business people. We didn’t understand schedules, ordering fabrics, shipping, or taxes. We just got tired of it. It wasn’t fun anymore. And then I had a baby, so I took another break from fashion and films.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But you did act in a few films during this period, right?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes, in the Resident Evil action films. It’s an amazing franchise — we didn’t expect it to blow up like it did. I lived out my fantasy of being a warrior, a superhero who saves the world. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — You dreamed of being a superwoman?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes, definitely, even as a kid. I liked reading Japanese comics and seeing ninjas swooping from tree to tree. I wanted to have that kind of control over my body, the kind dancers and martial artists have. It fascinated me. I want my daughter to take martial arts lessons.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Maybe my daughter should too.
MILLA JOVOVICH — It’s a good idea. You learn to control your emotions, to balance yourself — people can’t knock you down. You can walk into a room with confidence knowing that no one can hurt you. On the other hand, knowing that you can hurt people can make you more peaceful and more protective of those weaker than yourself. It encourages compassion. Rather than fight, you walk away because you know they don’t understand that you could actually kill them. Ballet is great too, but it’s so physically destructive to the body. At a certain age your body is just destroyed. Whereas martial arts are good for you — your body gets stronger and stronger.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s not too masculine?
MILLA JOVOVICH — No. I don’t really think there’s anything masculine about it. It’s about achieving grace, balance, and equilibrium. Creating your path. A martial artist moves in the way a fish in a school swims, never bumping into other fish. It’s great for women; it gives them an inner strength.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You were so perfect in your role in The Fifth Element.
MILLA JOVOVICH — It was a lot of work. I didn’t start off as the perfect Leeloo. I studied animals a lot. I’d mentally put a baby lion and a bird together and think, Leeloo is clumsy yet strong like a baby lion, but light like a bird. And innocent — a child really, an instinctual, beautiful, intelligent, wise child, tuned into the magic in the world. She appealed to the part of me that loves the dream-reality of Carlos Castañeda and Gabriel García Márquez.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re a born actress — but did you to study it?
MILLA JOVOVICH — I did, when I was younger, but I didn’t really become an actress until I did The Fifth Element. I was so inspired by the brilliance of Luc Besson. I fell in love with him. He cared about me so much and I wanted to do my best for him. Up until that point, I was more into music. Acting was something that my mom did, something I was always trying to escape. But I wanted to be Leeloo, the Fifth Element, wanted to become an actress so I could incarnate her, be in her world, because sheinspired me. I may not have been so interested if it had been any other character. In a way, I’m still her, and will always be her, because, once I knew her, I became her. She never left me. With every role you play you come to understand who the person is, and you realize that they always existed inside you. You just had to find them. It’s all about accessing the different facets of your personality – disappointments you’ve experienced, things you’ve closed off, repressed. You don’t want people to see your vulnerability and that you’re too scared to express yourself. You have to be comfortable and confident enough to access these things.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But you had already acted in films, like Dazed and Confused, for example.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yeah, but I didn’t really believe in what I was doing. I wasn’t good in them. I was eye-candy. Being on stage as a musician taught me a lot about performing, about going with something emotionally. Being a musician allowed me to be an actress. From the mistakes I made as a musician, I learned to let myself go in front of an audience.
OLIVIER ZAHM — To be in the moment and express emotions immediately.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Exactly. That was my first tap into knowing who I was as an artist, what I had to give. I realized there was something there I wanted to express, maybe through film, maybe through music, maybe through design or fashion. My everyday life is pretty much about that, asking myself, “Who am I?” and “What do I feel like expressing today?” There’s a constant flow of different characters inside me. Life and art — this magical world. I’m just blessed and lucky to have access to it. So many people are slapped with reality. I’m able to hold on to the child inside me, to the magic, and to see the world as a beautiful place.
OLIVIER ZAHM — The way you sing is very powerful. You should make another record.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, music is so personal and organic. I don’t want to limit myself by saying, “OK, I have to record an album this year.” I’m writing and putting my songs together as they naturally come to me, and I’ll release them online.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You don’t want to collaborate?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Sure. I love the music Maynard James Keenan and Danny Lohner wrote for me. Other people can push me to do new things on the guitar. I love to be challenged. I love to experience other worlds, not just mine. I’m alright on guitar and keyboards, but I also like to work with really talented musicians.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Why don’t you do an album with, say, Lou Reed?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, I did his song, Satellite of Love. I don’t know if he liked it. He never called me. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Who would you like to work with?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Karin Andersson. She’s Scandinavian and goes by the name Fever Ray. I’d love to collaborate with her. Maynard and I really vibe well together and have a great working relationship.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It seems like things happen organically in every area of your life.
MILLA JOVOVICH — No, not at all. Most of my life is very planned, very scheduled. Being a model, an actress, and a mother means you’re on a schedule, you have to plan ahead. Modeling and acting is all business and work. In a way it’s like a chess game. But music is what I do when I come home and the baby’s asleep. It’s just for me. I can do what I want. I don’t have to listen to anyone else.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You can play all night long even if you know you’ll be destroyed the next day.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, I usually only do that when I’m in another city, without my baby, so I can be destroyed the next day and it’ll be okay. Like that time in New York when you came over and I played guitar all night. I like the feeling of hotel rooms and empty spaces. A hotel room is inspiring because it has no personality of its own. You have to fill the room with yourself. It’s a blank canvas. At home I’m constantly running after my child, there’s phone calls, constant distractions — my whole life surrounds me to such an extent that it’s hard to have a moment of peace. But in a hotel room it’s quiet. Nothing happens! I get to sing!
OLIVIER ZAHM — Like the empty room in which you did the shoot with Mario.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Exactly. We had to fill it with ourselves. We were able to express ourselves because there was nothing else in the room and no one saying anything.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You were born in Kiev, right?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes. I grew up partly in the Ukraine because my grandma is from there. But my mom is from Moscow so I mostly grew up there. We moved to America in 1981, when I was five. But I remember a lot about Russia — hanging out with my friends, and my little dog disappearing, which was very sad. My mom was a famous actress in Russia. I remember going on set with her.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you leave because of the Communist regime?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes. My father is from Yugoslavia — from Montenegro, actually — so he could travel outside of Russia, whereas when my mother was single she couldn’t. When she married a foreigner she gained the privilege of being able to travel abroad. My father studied medicine in England and worked as a bartender at Stringfellows. He waited on Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart and has a lot of great stories about all these amazing artists getting really drunk and doing crazy stuff. Anyway, we lived in England for a year and then we moved to America and never went back to Russia. I got my papers in 1987 because I was given political amnesty. There are a lot of political refugees and revolutionaries on my father’s side of the family. Every male has spent at least 10 years in jail for revolutionary, anti-government activity! [Laughs] My great-grandmother smuggled weapons into the country during the Turkish war. They still sing songs about her. My great-grandfather’s clothes are in a museum because he was a war hero. My grandfather was a crazy Communist. He was against Tito and wrote books critical of him. My family is pretty crazy but very idealistic, especially the men. They were often away from home because of causes they were fighting for, causes for which they often paid dearly — sometimes with their lives.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are people on your mother’s side of the family more artistic?
MILLA JOVOVICH — No, my mom was really the first to be an artist. After the revolution my grandmother and her mother were taken out to the desert and dropped off. They made it back home somehow but all their furniture had been sold and they had to live in a basement somewhere. It was a crazy life. But from the age of seven my mom would take the train by herself to her violin lesson. She knew she wanted to be an artist. She was accepted into one of the best film schools in Russia. They accepted two applicants out of 800. She was really strong. She moved away from home at 16 and followed her dream to be an actress. Then she sacrificed that dream for me, to give me a better life in America, to give me more opportunities.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Couldn’t she continue to act in America?
MILLA JOVOVICH — She had an accent, and she didn’t have an agent.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you still feel Russian, having left Russia at such a young age?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Definitely. I still speak Russian. I speak it with my daughter. I read her Russian stories and poems. My roots are very important — they make me who I am.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you feel nostalgic for your past?
MILLA JOVOVICH — My whole life is centered around nostalgia. I mean, that’s why I love Gabriel García Márquez so much: his books are all about memory, and about how the best memories can cause the most pain. Bad things are almost easier to think of than good things, because the good things, the beautiful things, are gone.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can this feeling of nostalgia help your acting, say for a scene in which you’re required to cry, for instance?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, I have to be in the moment in any scene. I have to believe in what I’m doing; that’s the most important thing. That’s what Leeloo taught me: to believe, to see the world through the eyes of a child, to have empathy and compassion for who you are. To be an actor means being nonjudgmental and to have compassion for people. If I play a bad girl, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad girl, but I do have to understand that the character believes what she’s doing is
the right thing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Was it difficult for you to assimilate into American culture?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, I did feel isolated. My best friends, my parents’ friends’ kids, were all Russian. In the ’80s in America, being Russian was definitely not the norm.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did people assume you were a Communist?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yeah, a Communist or a Nazi — no one knew the difference, and it didn’t really matter!
OLIVIER ZAHM — Really? Were people that ignorant?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yeah. Kids at school would call me a Commie Nazi. I didn’t even understand the difference. [Laughs] I just knew they were making fun of me. But because of my mother and father, who are incredibly disciplined and have very strong work ethics — which they drilled into me from an early age — I never felt overwhelmed by my situation. My mom always told me I was going to be an artist or an actor. I went to art classes, dance classes, and took piano and guitar lessons. School was like an afterthought. Kids made fun of me but it was such a small part of my life. For what our family had to achieve, we had to advance very quickly. I knew I had a job to do. I could see my future beyond school and the kids who teased me. I never came home from school crying. I didn’t have time. My days were totally filled up. As soon as school was out I had this class and that class, one right after the other! My mom would give me books to read. It was important to her that I read the classics. I had to fulfill a future for my family. The most important thing was what my parents expected from me. Moving to America meant I had to work hard and achieve something to help my family move forward.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have brothers or sisters?
MILLA JOVOVICH — I have a half-brother named Marco. He’s 20 and lives in Miami with his mother. We didn’t meet until he was nine, but when we did we just fell in love. He’s an incredible guy. We’ve traveled the world together. His mom, who is Argentinian, is really great. We live on opposite sides of the country, but we phone all the time and visit each other every summer and at Christmas. I’ve taken Marco on sets with me. We went to China and Mongolia and Tokyo together. We went to Paris and Germany together. I really adore him. He was always such a sweet sensitive guy. I do have very strong family ties.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your image is that of a glamorous movie star — very magnetic — but you’re actually very complex. Is it that you choose to show only certain sides of your personality to the public?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, I give people what they want for the job I’m doing. Maybe if I make another record I’ll show another side of myself to people. But with acting and modeling you play a role — you wear someone else’s clothes and you give them what they want. But I still have plenty of time to show people different sides of myself. That’s what being an artist is all about. Hopefully, someday people will perceive me as a fully rounded human being, not just bits and pieces. I still have a lot of work to do.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do the fashion and movie industries encourage this one-sided perception of models and actors?
MILLA JOVOVICH — It’s not just them. But if I had only been an actress, and had been totally dedicated to being one, I’d have tried to do different kinds of films. Now I’m auditioning for films in which I can work with really great actors. I’m starting another chapter of my life. People will see different sides of me because I want them to. I was very private before; I wanted to hide. Now that I’m more comfortable with who I am I can take risks. I love being a superhero, and I love to model — but musically and acting-wise, I think I’ve yet to show people who I am.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You sound very optimistic.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, I’m more focused now than I was before. I’m flexing my muscles a bit, as an artist. Also, after you have a baby you don’t give a damn about what anyone thinks. As long as your baby isn’t sick or hungry or crying, and is sleeping well, everyone can go to hell. [Laughs] Your child is the most important thing. Now it’s not so important if I land this job or do that thing. The important thing is to be a great mother. And then if I get the job, great! I know my place in the world: I’m a mother. Everything after that is the cherry on top. So I don’t try so hard to be an artist now. I just do things because I want to do them. It’s not about impressing people.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Sometimes when you stop wanting something so much, it comes to you.
MILLA JOVOVICH — You’re just more relaxed. I used to be so nervous on stage, but now it’s fun. I just get up there and freakin’ do my thing. If people don’t like it, I don’t care — it’s my thing. I am who I am.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, now that you’re a mother and in love with Paul, you’ll have to stop breaking the hearts of all us men!
MILLA JOVOVICH — Oh, I don’t know about that! I think I can still destroy a world or two. [Laughs] It doesn’t have to be in a sexual way. But now it’s not about destroying, it’s about making magic with people — like what happens when Mario and I work together. It’s about creating worlds, not destroying them.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s about love.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yeah, about making a connection with people and creating something. Most of the people I hang out with are ones I create things with. I have very few friends who I just go shopping with or have lunch with. I do stuff with my friends — we create, we experience magical moments. That’s the real beauty of life: tapping into emotions, drawing a picture, writing a poem or a song, taking a photo, making a movie.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you receptive to love?
MILLA JOVOVICH — Yes, but I’m guarded. Self-protective. But it’s rare that I really connect with someone. I have many acquaintances — “Hi, hey, bye bye!” — but the people I let into my world, who I want to play music with, who I want to sit and talk to, are very few, and usually they’re people I have some sort of creative synergy with. You simply enjoy some people’s company more than that of others. I’ve lived my life in an organic way. When I’m inspired, when I’m passionate, it works. When I’m not, it doesn’t. Like the company Carmen and I had — when we were inspired, it worked; when it became a job, we were like, okay, we can’t do this anymore. Same with film, same with modeling, same with music. That’s why I’ve jumped around and done different things. It has to be natural and spontaneous.
OLIVIER ZAHM — This seems more of a European approach to life, and less of a business-like American one.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Well, maybe I need a little more of the American thing in my life. [Laughs] Every artist needs a businessperson. Artists can create all they want to, but they need business people to market their stuff, brand it and put it out there. Very few people can put the two together. An artist needs someone — like it’s all in Chinese and the right person puts it into English. [Laughs] Wow! Now I understand it! It’s important to have both aspects and I certainly need more of the business aspect. But I do feel blessed. I’ve had incredible success, in my life and in my career.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Thanks very much for this interview, Milla. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again soon.
MILLA JOVOVICH — Oh, yeah. That’s what I love about us — we’re definitely two of the same type of souls and always seem to end up in the same places!
[Table of contents]
Shirin NeshatRead the article
Daphne GuinnessRead the article
Terry ReidRead the article
Fantastic Mr. FoxRead the article
Aurel SchmidtRead the article
Jack WallsRead the article
Rene RicardRead the article
Brendan FowlerRead the article
A-Ron Judah BondaroffRead the article
BEST of the SEASONRead the article
by Olivier Zahm
Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
by Sabine Heller
by Massimo Torrigiani
Nate Lowman and Clarissa Dalrymple
by Olivier Zahm
Victoire de Castellane
by Olivier Zahm
by Katja Rahwles
by Bruce Labruce
by Malerie Marder
by Stefano Pilati
Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere Pre-Collection
by Hanna Liden
by Marlene Marino
Rodarte by Rodarte
by David Sherry
by Ryan McGinley
by Karl Lagerfeld
by Stefano Pilati
Paul SevignyRead the article
by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin
by Mario Sorrenti
by Paola Kudacki
by Raymond J. Dumas
Psychomagic Alejandro Jodorowsky
by Olivier Zahm
Origins of the Tarot of Marseille
by Olivier Zahm
Helmut Newton’s Dentist
by Olivier Zahm
Terry Richardson’s Life Story
by Olivier Zahm
The Wilderness of the North
by Dash Snow
by Olivier Zahm and Camille Bidault-Waddington