How Milla Jovovich Went from Walking Marc Jacobs to Luc Besson’s Silver Screen

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Milla Jovovich has lived many lives. She was a cover star at age 11, became a supermodel by her pre-teens (shooting with the like of Herb Ritts and Gene Lemuel), dipped her feet in controversy when she took on Brooke Shield’s nymph-like role in the sequel to Blue Lagoon at 15, “retired” from the runway a year after, released a critically acclaimed folk-rock Ukrainian album, and became an alien superhero—all before she turned 20. It’s almost hard to imagine cooler teenage years.

The thing is, very few things are as simple as they seem. When Jovovich talks about her early childhood modeling days today, it’s less about excitement and enviable moments and more of her feelings of isolation. After immigrating to LA from the Ukraine, the young girl was still learning English. Focused on books, movies, and her own internal world, as she began working, Jovovich became friends with the hair and makeup artists on set—friendlier faces than the kids who mocked her at school.

Jovovich’s young career transformed when Richard Avedon discovered her in May of 1998. A year later, she was on the cover of Mademoiselle, starring in Revlon ads at 14, and fronting mass publications by 15. Runways and Versace campaigns came later. She was even named the highest-paid model in the world in 2004 by Forbes.

But her magical transition point came by way of French director Luc Besson, who Jovovich later briefly married. The creative was searching for the star of The Fifth Element, the outsized, visually arresting sci-fi odyssey that he had been dreaming of since he was 16. Besson had secured Bruce Willis as his male lead and Jean-Paul Gaultier to design the costumes. Over 8,000 actresses auditioned for Willis’s counterpart, Leeloo, an otherworldly being who has arrived on earth to save the planet, and 2,300 read before the director. Eventually, Jovovich got the role, a pivotal part for the 19-year-old.

The Fifth Element was such a life-changing experience as a person and as an actress,” she once said in reflection. “To prepare for that character is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.” It opened the door for Resident Evil, a love of martial arts, and an approach to female roles in film that could only be described as badass.

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