Friday, March 15, 2002
In the "Resident Evil" movie opening today, Milla Jovovich kicks the devil out of savage zombie dogs and flesh-devouring hordes of "undead" people.
In between, in telling close-ups that take full advantage of her striking looks and soft-eyed expressiveness, she portrays a character who's also meant to be complex and sensitive.
It's a cult-film dream role: She's whomping monsters, shooting guns and tenderly mourning for grotesquely brutalized comrades.
"The movie is kind of light, comparatively speaking," Jovovich said last week. "I mean, I do wear a wet mini-dress."
But, she added, her part is "so cool" it's going to make her 13-year-old brother Marco gleam with pride.
Marco, she explained, introduced her to the creepy, gory and immensely popular "Resident Evil" video games that inspired the film.
Jovovich, 26, describes herself as a poor video-game player who can't keep straight what each different button on the controller does. Nevertheless, she became fascinated by the exploration and puzzle-solving parts of the "Resident Evil" series. She soon ended up bringing friends over to watch Marco play, and they all would shout suggestions.
"Marco was like, 'Guys, shut up. I can't play. You're such nerds."'
Regardless of how "Resident Evil" does at the box office, Jovovich's standing with sci-fi action fans is going to soar.
First there was "The Fifth Element" in 1997, in which she received Bruce Willis' attention as an orange-haired alien wearing a few strips of bandage wrapping.
Now she does a star turn as Alice, a corporate security operative struggling to regain a blotted-out memory during a gruesome mission in an underground facility infected with a zombie-making virus.
There were extremely long hours on the sets in order to keep the film on its schedule and tight budget. And the stunt work she did took a bruising toll.
"I did more sleeping at lunch than eating. It was one of those things where you had to conserve your energy," Jovovich recalled.
"I'm a physical person. I'm fit. My body type is well suited to an action movie. But yeah, the dogs got pretty close. Honestly, it was a little scary at times."
In the case of the zombie dogs, the "actors" were Dobermans aimed at a squeaky animal toy held by a trainer.
When Jovovich's task was to go from point A to point B before they caught up, all she got was a head start, although she knew rescue help was standing by.
Chatty and cheerful on the phone, the Ukrainian-born, California-raised Jovovich noted with a laugh that those were the days when the film's special effects amounted to nothing more than "I run fast."
As taxing as the filming was, her anecdotes tilt toward the humorous. Jovovich says co-star Michelle Rodriguez, whose previous big credits are "Girlfight" and "The Fast and the Furious," has an all-the-time tough-girl demeanor and shuns makeup.
"When she was being as annoying as possible," Jovovich said, "I would get the lipstick out and say, 'Hey, you want someone? You want me? I'll mark you up."'
The film of "Resident Evil," whose plot was developed as a prequel to the original 1996 game, seems to be generating the kind of Internet buzz that's standard for trendy pop culture material. But there's also a lingering pent-up appetite for a creditable video-game movie, given the whacking that reviewers gave Angelina Jolie's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" last summer.
Although Jovovich hails Sigourney Weaver's performance from the 1979 "Alien" as her "Resident Evil" inspiration, she says Jolie is "awesome," "sexy" and "cool."
Still, Jovovich sees two artistic advantages to "Resident Evil" compared with "Tomb Raider":
ï¿½ The R rating is edgier than the more commercially palatable PG-13 of "Tomb Raider."
ï¿½ Unlike Lara Croft, Jovovich's Alice has no pre-existing video-game image.
"I pride myself on being choosy about what I do," Jovovich said. "I've chosen parts basically because they were interesting for me, and at the same time not what you'd expect from someone like me, such as playing somebody's girlfriend, based on having modeled and representing
"So a part might not be the most commercially successful, or the most accessible for a lot of people," she conceded.
But she had an important audience in mind for "Resident Evil" from the start, even if he can't buy a ticket for the movie by himself. She expects Marco to be very pleased.