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10.09.10

Hollywood's Most Ass-Kicking Actress

Milla Jovovich is loved by geeks because of the Resident Evil films, but her new movie, Stone, is a serious departure. She talks to Nicole LaPorte about acting with Robert De Niro.

In interviews with Milla Jovovich, men are always falling all over themselves, and, in some cases, trying to keep their gaze above the neck-line. Just check out her sit-down with Conan O’Brien, back in 1994, when Jovovich showed up to the late-night talk show braless.

This was long before her Resident Evil fame, and the 18-year-old supermodel was dressed in funky hippie couture: long, flowery skirt, pink T-shirt, and black Converse sneakers. As she chatted with O’Brien—whose eyes remained steadily focused on her 100-watt smile—she was like a kid who’d just downed eight cans of Coke, bursting out with strange jokes, bragging about her smoking habit, and doubling over in too-hearty laughter.

That was then. Sitting down with Jovovich recently, there was no evidence of any cocky brattiness. Now 34, and a wife and mother, Jovovich exuded a distinct demureness as she sat on a sofa in a hotel suite in Toronto, where in September she was promoting her new film, Stone, which opened this weekend. She was wearing an elegant, strapless dress and no jewelry, save for the diamond rock on her left hand (she’s married to Resident Evil director Paul W. S. Anderson) and a pair of feathery earrings. Her copper-colored hair fell to her shoulders in soft waves.

“It’s been crazy,” Jovovich said, of the fact that Stone wasn’t the only movie she was busy doing PR for— Resident Evil: Afterlife was due out in a few days, and Dirty Girl, a road-trip comedy starring Juno Temple, was also screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Meanwhile, she was due in Germany to start shooting the remake of The Three Musketeers, directed by her husband.

Three Musketeers wanted to cancel my whole Resident Evil tour, because they needed me to work, and I said, ‘Listen, no! I haven’t signed the contract yet.’ It’s important to stand behind these movies,” Jovovich said, sounding like the most responsible actress in Hollywood.

None more so than Stone, a small, jailbreak movie in which Jovovich plays a floozy girlfriend, Lucetta, whose mission is to seduce a parole officer, Jack, played by Robert De Niro. The film, directed by John Curran and starring Edward Norton in the lead, is the latest surprise in a career that has been nothing if not surprising. From teen supermodel (Jovovich was a Linda Evangelista-style goddess to the generation of girls who grew up on Seventeen in the mid- to late-1980’s) to momentary pop star to clothing line co-owner to one of the biggest female action stars in film, Jovovich has always managed to stay true (if not to the T, then to the spirit) of her oversized ambitions.

“He makes you really work for it,” Milla Jovovich said of Robert De Niro. “You don’t get it for free with Bob.”

The Week Ahead in Culture: Can’t-Miss Art, Film, Music Picks“I want to go everywhere and I want to do everything,” the Ukrainian-born sparkplug told the San Diego Union-Tribune, when she was 15 and about to appear in her first film, the forgettable Return To the Blue Lagoon. “I want to write, I want to direct, I want to read and paint. I want to travel and get married and have kids and go to college. I want everything.”

One thing left off of the list was “wet dream to geeks around the world,” which is what Jovovich became with the four Resident Evil films, the mega-grossing, sci-fi horror franchise in which she plays Alice, a butt-kicking, zombie-fighting amnesiac. GQ readers may prefer Angelina Jolie, but the Comic-Con crowd bows at the feet of Jovovich.

“I’ve always though she was the sexiest hippie chick in the world in Dazed and Confused, playing the guitar and rolling perfect joints for her boyfriend,” AintItCoolNews’ Moriarty wrote recently. “And Milla the ass-kickin’ action hero… well, if I had to get beat up by a girl, she’d be at the top of the list. Let’s just put it that way.”

Jovovich described her ongoing job as Alice (there is no end in sight for the series) as like going to “an amusement park for big kids.”

As for what it’s like to work with her husband on the series, she said, “Even if you bring the work home with you, it’s like, ‘Oh, how can we make this action scene better? And how can we add—you know, it’s always really fun conversations.”

This wasn’t at all what it was like to make Stone, a somber film in which Jovovich plays a morally questionable character willing to do whatever it takes to get her husband (Norton) out of prison.

“It’s very emotionally draining,” she said. “Even though I empathize with my character in the film, I don’t agree with a lot of what she does, and I wouldn’t want to bring her into my home… It’s hard, because you have to give (your characters) love, and you have to give them your full, 100 percent understanding empathy, but at the same time, you don’t agree, and so it leaves you very confused, in the end. You know, who are you?

She was also working with an actor, De Niro, who held the bar up high. In one scene, in which Lucetta has to call up Jack and seduce him over the telephone while he’s standing in the kitchen with his wife, Jovovich was baffled when, in take after take, De Niro kept hanging up on her. (Although her voice is not heard, Jovovich was talking to him over the phone so that he could film his close-up.)

“I finally realized I better try something else, because we were not making any headway with the way I was doing the scene, because he was not accepting it as appropriate,” Jovovich said.

With De Niro, “a lot of times you really have to work hard to get the reaction you need to tell the story that you’re telling, because he’s not just gonna go, just because the script says to. He’s got to find a real reason for it, within himself, to make it organic and make it real.”

In this case, it took Jovovich “calling him back and really begging him not to hang up on me,” for De Niro to get what he needed. He did not hang up.

“He makes you really work for it,” she said. “You don’t get it for free with Bob.”

Jovovich works just as hard for the Resident Evil movies, a job that requires being a year-round spokesperson and keeper of the R.E. flame. She is active, and responsive, on Twitter. And she knows her audience well—in interviews she uses the words “respect” and “passion” when describing the films and the videogame from which it was adapted.

“It’s based on inspiration,” she says of when the next movie will go into production. “We don’t have a studio breathing down our neck, saying we’ve got to get one out every year at the same time of year.

“It’s very organic,” she adds, smiling serenely. “And I think the fans feel that.”

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Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.