Wednesday 17 January 2018

Survivor role is no act for M'lady Milla

Milla Jovovich is perfectly cast to play The Three Musketeers' sassy de Winter, finds Evan Fanning

Evan Fanning

THE glitzy premiere is looming and a long day of promotion is running behind schedule, so I'm asked if it would be a problem to do the interview in Milla Jovovich's bedroom. There is only ever going to be one answer to that question.

I'm shuffled along to the sixth-floor of the plush London hotel the 35-year-old is calling home for the night. Jovovich's door is open and she beckons me in, apologises for a (non-existent) mess and takes a seat by the window.

Two hours later she is on the red carpet, dazzling in a black and gold gown that shows off her long legs and provides newspaper editors with the glamourous shot they need for the next day's edition. But for now, barefoot and wrapped in a maroon cardigan, she sits on a chair, with her legs tucked under her, and discusses her career and role as the devious and delicious M'lady de Winter in The Three Musketeers.

Two large suitcases lie open on the floor, packed high with neatly folded clothes. So it's true what they say about living out of a suitcase. The perils of life on the road for a Hollywood star.

In fact it's a window into life on the road for a Hollywood power-couple, which is what Jovovich is one-half of these days. She met her husband, the English director Paul WS Anderson, after she was cast in the first Resident Evil movie -- the lucrative franchise (the fifth instalment is on the way) that cemented Jovovich's reputation as a female action hero.

Now they are working together again with an action-packed reimagining of the swashbuckling adventure. "I'm very proud of my husband," she says almost unprompted after I sit down. "He went outside his comfort zone and really made the most unbelievable, modern, beautiful, luscious film you can imagine. It's definitely the best Three Musketeers film we've had to date. But I am a little biased."

She talks of her character, M'lady de Winter, of being a very strong, independent and modern woman battling to survive in the chauvinistic 17th-Century world she inhabits, but then again it's a very modern telling of the tale, complete with some class of flying boat/hot-air balloon, a plentiful supply of explosions and action scenes that play as a cross between The Matrix and Mission Impossible.

One scene in particular sees Jovovich acrobatically manoeuvre her way through a narrow corridor laced with dangerous piano wire while wearing a corset and little else. In another she evades a hail of bullets dressed in a 17th-Century ball gown.

"To do those scenes in a corset or in a big, 30lb skirt is one of the most challenging things I've ever done," she says. She later says that they are some are the most traditional scenes anyone has ever done. She may have a point. Bruce Willis's grubby vests are no match for Jovovich's decadent dresses.

This manifestation of Alexandre Dumas's novel might make traditionalists wince but the rescue act comes in the form of the sharp script and outstanding performances from a cast that includes the brilliant Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom and Matthew Macfayden.

And then there's Jovovich as the sassy and unscrupulous M'lady who, through a combination of stealth and seduction, manages to play everyone off against one another for her own gain.

"She's got the drive of somebody who wants to be the best that they can be. At that point in the 17th Century it was hard for women to follow a career and be the best at something, so she is quite unique in classical literature."

So Jovovich plays de Winter as a strong, independent survivor. There was really no other way. Survival is a fundamental part of the Jovovich story. It's embedded in the DNA.

Born in Kiev, her father was a renowned paediatrician, her mother the actress, Galina Loginova. She and her parents left for America when she was five but discovered the American Dream was more elusive than had been made out. Her parents worked as cleaners, including for a time in the house of the director Brian de Palma, while in the evenings the young Milla was groomed by her mother to be a model, and began working when she was 11 when she became the youngest model ever to appear on the cover of a women's magazine.

Her father was later jailed for insurance fraud but in the meantime his daughter had learned how to survive on her own. She had forged (and, temporarily, quit) a successful modelling career, realised an album and picked up several acting roles, including her first acting lead in Return to the Blue Lagoon.

She gained more notoriety in Richard Linklater's stoner coming-of age comedy Dazed and Confused. It was also a coming-of-age for the then 16-year-old Jovovich who eloped to Las Vegas with her co-star Shawn Andrews. The marriage was annulled two months later.

It was four years before her next acting gig -- as Leeloo alongside Bruce Willis in Luc Besson's sci-fi thriller. It was the start of her action-hero career. It was also the start of another marriage. In 1997 she wed Besson (who is 16 years her senior) but they split two years later.

The Fifth Element launched Jovovich as the kind of actress capable of taking on formidable and physical roles. She played Joan of Arc in Besson's critically panned tale two years later before, in 2003, landing the role of Alice in Resident Evil, the film adaptation of the hugely successful computer game directed by her now husband, Anderson. Personally and professionally she hasn't looked back.

"I've been doing action films for over 10 years now," she says. "I love that people really want to see me do this kind of movie. I think it's a wonderful niche to have in Hollywood and I'm very grateful for it. "

The industry can be fickle but Jovovich seems content with her place in it and with her life with Anderson and their four-year-old daughter, Ever.

"I'm still here, right?" she says when I ask how she feels about an industry that tends to start alienating woman as they push towards 40. "For somebody who's had a 25-year career there are always going to be times when you're hot and when you're not. My mom taught me that to be in this industry you have to have a really thick skin and you have to be ready to hear 'no', to have the door slammed in your face and not take it personally and keep going."

But being a mother is what seems to really get Jovovich excited these days. I wonder what she would she do if her daughter one day said she wanted to be a model?

"That's fine," she says. "She just needs to put the work in and be educated about it. I want to be able to drill her about who the best 20 photographers in the industry are. I want to know that she has a great education about art and about framing. If she wants to be an actress, I want to see that she wants to go to acting classes and take drama in school.

"For me it was different. My mother really wanted me to learn what she knew because we were immigrants and we were really trying to fight to survive. But for my daughter, life is very privileged so if she wants to do something before she finishes high school she better work for it to prove to me that she has the follow-through to finish it."

Big decisions lie ahead. School means that it's more difficult to take their daughter on adventures to far-flung film locations. She has worked almost relentlessly (her IMDB profile shows five films are due for release in the next 15 months) while she also has plans to release more music, but that may have to change.

Unsurprisingly, Jovovich seems to have the future figured out. Another way for her and her family to survive.

"It's definitely getting more difficult [to go away on long film shoots]," she says. "I'm having to look at the next five years of my life and I figure I have to make some big changes. That's where my husband comes in. I'm so proud of him. We've gone through so much together in the last 10 years. He's really coming into his own as a director and is getting the respect he deserves. He's got the next five years of his films planned so it kind of makes it easier to focus on having another baby, having a family, not travelling so much and being able to concentrate on school for them.

"For them?" she says, correcting herself. "I only have one child. But you know for my future children I really take a bit of a back seat to my husband's career and support him. I've been working since I was 11 and I'm still relevant at almost 36 so I figure I've had an amazing career and I can't really ask for anything more."

'The Three Musketeers 3D' is in cinemas from Wednesday

See review below

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