It is a week before the premier of her latest film, Ultraviolet, and Jovovich is on stage at the New York Comic-Con in Manhattan- an effervescent flibbertigibbet of a young woman; she answers questions from the assembled fans with a bubbly enthusiasm diametrically opposed to her screen persona.
“I love doing action films because I love martial arts,” Jovovich gushes. “I think all women should learn martial arts because it’s so fun. I hate exercise because it’s awful and boring, but martial arts really gives me the chance to work on my body, to train, to discipline myself and have a great time while doing it. I’d love to keep making action films as long as I can.”
Ultraviolet – in which Jovovich plays a genetically-enhanced warrior who must protect herself and others like her from their creators who have come to fear them – is just the latest in a line of films with gun-totting, fist-swinging characters that Jovovich has brought to the screen. The actress landed one of her first major film roles opposite Bruce Willis in the 1997 science-fiction actioner The Fifth Element. More recently, she was the steely-eyed, zombie exterminator Alice in Resident Evil (2002) and Resident Evil 2 (2004).
“The thing that’s really great about the films I end up doing is that we do have a lot of training to get prepared for them,” she explains. “With Ultraviolet, I was training a year in advance. I was actually practicing the choreography while making Resident Evil 2. It was just so complex in Ultraviolet that I needed a lot of work on the sword tricks and such. You have to discipline yourself and that’s why the training is so wonderful. We did six to eight hour days, six days a week and all that discipline gets me to a place where I’m really confident about what I do.”
Jovovich acknowledges that while that may seem like a large amount of training, it was necessary in order to achieve the type of action sequences Ultraviolet’s director had envisioned.
“For Ultraviolet we did a large combination of things,” she states. “This is a very different film. It’s really the first time I’ve ever seen Western actors doing these really complicated Eastern-style martial arts. We did taekwondo, we did kung fu. We did a lot of stick fighting, except I was using guns and pipes and stuff. Through all of it we had a lot of wushu elements because the kind of fighting-style Violet does is very visual. It’s not what you would see in cage fighting. That was really crazy for me as I definitely know how to throw a punch, I know how to kick, but to have that balletic freedom to make it look really beautiful… that’s where the wushu comes in. We had all the different styles and each had wushu elements embedded in it.”
Born in Kiev in what is now the Ukraine, her family immigrated to California when she was five. By nine, she had begun modeling and made her first film appearance in Two Moon Junction (1988) at age 13. In between modeling assignments, she found time to appear in Return To The Blue Lagoon (1991), Kuffs, Chaplin (both 1992) and Dazed And Confused (1993). However, it was her role as the orange-haired alien girl Leeloo in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element that launched her into the action genre.
“Definitely Leeloo was one of the greatest parts ever,” Jovovich says. “It’s quite the movie of a lifetime for me. It was one of my favorite parts I’ve played. She’s very special in my heart. It was incredible as it was my first time working with big stars and doing a big Hollywood action movie. I was really excited.”
For all her excitement at being in a big-budget blockbuster, Jovovich’s previous film experience had not quite prepared for the work that would be involved.
“It was like going from zero to 60 in two seconds,” she admits. “When I did Fifth Element, we were doing six to eight hour rehearsal days and I was in shock. I didn’t know that people worked that hard to do all the stunts. I always thought, ’Oh, its just movie magic. I’ll just stand there and they’ll do everything for me.’ It was intense.”
While surprised by the amount of work required for action films, Jovovich quickly came to respect and embrace the work involved.
“It’s always dangerous,” she acknowledges. “There’s always the chance that something’s going to go wrong. But I think as long you work really hard and are prepared, it’s like anything. You just have to learn it like the back of your hand and then go with it.”
Although Jovovich does a majority of her own stunts, she does allow that there are some things she won’t attempt due to their complexity, or her own tendency to immerse herself in her roles.
“I didn’t do the motorcycle stuff that they wanted me to do in Ultraviolet for that reason,” she discloses with a self-deprecating laugh. “I’m the kind of actor that when I get on set I already know so much about what my character is and what is happening that I just want to go! I just want to move and do it! Don’t put an 800-pound piece of metal that moves anywhere close to me during that time because when you call ‘Action!’ I’m just going to go! I’m definitely the typical actor that stunt people have to watch out for, because I will hurt you. I’ve given every director on an action film I’ve worked on a black eye or a major bruise.”
Jovovich also recognizes that action films are not just intense stunt work and is careful to pick projects with storylines she thinks will appeal to audiences. However, a film can often change in its journey from script to screen, a pitfall she readily admits Resident Evil 2 succumbed to.
“I am definitely the kind of person that likes to work a lot on the scripts that I’m involved with and we tried really hard to make Resident Evil 2 as good as the first one,” she candidly states to a fan who expressed disappointment with the sequel. “Of course, the studio really wanted more action and more big explosions, taking things ‘up a notch.’ I think the storyline got a little swept under the carpet because of that. Unfortunately, with these kind of movies, there’s only so much control that the creative people have before it gets subverted by ‘The Man.’ We did our best and hopefully you’ll like Resident Evil 3 better. I have to say that the script for Resident Evil 3 is really rad and there’s going to be some crazy stuff. You won’t even expect some of things that are in Resident Evil 3.”
In addition to acting and modeling, Jovovich has found to release a best-selling pop album – 1994’s The Divine Comedy – as well as launching a clothing line.
“When you’re in the movie industry, the problem is that you just don’t know what you’re going to do next,” she says. “If I sat around waiting for my next film to come along I would probably shoot myself, so that’s why I have my music and my own clothing line. I’m a creative person and I like to express myself.”