Mila Kunis Kicks Some Butt in ‘Payne’ Actioner
by Paul Fischer
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Beautiful and funny Mila Kunis may be best known as the self-involved and outspoken Jackie Burkhart on That ’70s Show but the luminous actress established a prosperous career in acting before even graduating from high school. A native of Ukraine, Kunis also provided the voice for the character of Meg Griffin on the popular animated series Family Guy and has appeared in the films Get Over It (2001) and American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002).
Born Milena Markovna Kunis on Aug. 14, 1983, in Kiev, Ukraine, Kunis moved to Los Angeles with her parents, Mark and Elvira Kunis and older brother, Mike, at the age of seven. After learning English by watching American television shows, Kunis enrolled in after-school acting classes at Beverly Hills Studios while attending Hubert Howe Bancroft Middle School in Los Angeles. Discovered by a manager while performing in an acting showcase, the young actress was soon cast in children’s programs and television commercials including campaigns for Barbie and Payless shoes.
Making her small-screen debut in 1994 in an episode of Days of Our Lives (NBC), Kunis soon landed small roles on a number of television shows including The John Larroquette Show (NBC), Baywatch (syndicated), and Walker, Texas Ranger (CBS). She went on to appear in recurring roles on Nick Freno, Licenced Teacher (The WB) and 7th Heaven (The WB). With her dark hair and exotic looks, Kunis portrayed a young Angelina Jolie in the critically acclaimed 1998 HBO bio-pic Gia about the life of supermodel Gia Carangi. Lying about her age, Kunis landed the career-breaking role of Jackie Burkhart on the Fox sitcom That 70’s Show (1998-2006) while still in high school; though the role required Kunis to be at least eighteen, she was only fourteen at the time of her audition.
Regardless, Kunis was cast in the role of the fast-talking Jackie, and worked on the series while attending Fairfax High School. Kunis received two Young Star Awards for her role on the series. Lending her distinct voice to animated television, Kunis was also cast as the voice of Meg Griffin on the popular Fox series Family Guy (1999- ). Though the series was cancelled in 2002, its popularity with viewers and performance in DVD sales led to the show’s resurrection in May of 2005.
After receiving her high school diploma in 2001, Kunis soon branched out from her work on ’70s by appearing in a number of films. She landed a supporting role in the teen flick Get Over It (2001) with Kirsten Dunst, starred in the horror sequel American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002), and played the role of Tina in Tony and Tina’s Wedding (2004) opposite Joseph McIntyre. Kunis also appeared in the music videos for Aerosmith’s single “Jaded” and for The Strokes’ single “The End Has No End.” In 2006, Kunis Appeared in the films After Sex and Moving McAllister opposite Jon Heder and Rutger Hauer and lent her voiceover talents to the Xbox 360 game Saints Row. Kunis also co-starred in last summer’s comedy hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall. She also continued to receive moderate tabloid coverage of her ongoing romance with former child star, Macaulay Culkin.
In her latest film, Max Payne, she co-stars opposite Mark Wahlberg in this dark adaptation of the video game as assassin Mona Sax. The actress also wrapped Mike Judge’s Extract. Mila spoke to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Paul Fischer: I guess one doesn’t necessarily expect to see you crop up in kind of a kick-ass action movie. This is not something that we’ve seen much of you. Was it something that you fought to do, or was it offered to you?
Mila Kunis: I fought to do it. I mean, I fought to do it as much as I could possibly fight, you know? I respect John so much for taking the chance and fighting for me, because there’s a whole list of other actors that would have been the more obvious choice. And I read for it twice, and John went to battle for me. And I love him for it.
PF: What was it about this, that really appealed to you?
MK: I’ve respected Mark for many, many years, and I’ve always wanted to work with him. So that was definitely a huge attraction to doing—you know, doing a movie that could so go either direction. As long as you feel like you’re surrounded with strong actors, you feel a little safer. And I respect Mark, and I respect his choices. And so I was more than sure that this wasn’t gonna be one of those really bad movies. And so that being said—I’ve always wanted to play someone who kicks ass. I mean, who doesn’t want to hold a gun.
PF: Did it kind of remind you, in some ways, of why you wanted to be an actress? This whole idea of fantasy?
MK: Yeah. It’s why I wanted to do films when I finished ‘70s, is because I wanted to be able to try different things and do different things, and experience all sorts of life. And play pretend, in the best possible sense. And you can’t play pretend more than this type of movie.
PF: There’s also an inherent degree of darkness about this.
PF: Do you find it easier to leave characters and leave this kind of thing behind at the end of the day?
MK: Not as easy as probably leaving a comedy behind at the end of the day. But—you know, there have been harder things to leave behind. You know, it’s still just a character.
PF: What did you do to prepare for this, physically?
MK: I did a lot of gun training. Just a lot of weapons training. And that was pretty much it.
PF: Oh, that’s fun.
PF: And I presume that—you know, pointing a gun at Mark Wahlberg was satisfying.
MK: Life could be so much worse.
PF: What can you do? You can’t complain about that.
MK: Right? No. It’s a sexy man, kneeling down before you on his knees. It’s great.
PF: Very empowering, I would have thought.
MK: Oh my God. So much more than I think anybody will ever understand. It’s incredibly empowering, holding a weapon. Holding a giant gun, holding a giant baton, and Mark Wahlberg is on his knees in front of you. What else do you need out of life?
PF: That’s an incredibly phallic sort of a thing.
MK: It is. It’s absolutely phallic.
PF: Did you think of that when you were doing it?
MK: Absolutely. Oh, yeah. I mean, I thought of it. I don’t know if he did. But I did. I was like—oh, for sure I did. Yeah.
PF: You were born in the Ukraine.
PF: How old were you, when you moved to the States?
PF: What brought your family over here?
PF: So it was just getting away from the Soviet Union.
MK: Yes. My brother and I, my Mom, my Dad, my grandparents.
PF: Do you remember what you were experiencing in the Ukraine?
MK: No, I don’t. I was lied to, and I was told we were moving down the street. We didn’t move down the street. I don’t remember much. I’ve said this before—I don’t know how much I created into a memory, and how much of it—you know, my parents told stories, so now it’s a memory—and how much of it truly was a memory. I remember having a perfectly fine time in Russia.
PF: It is Russian freedom, is it lack of religious freedom?
MK: I mean, I think it was everything.
PF: You’re Jewish?
MK: Jewish. Yeah.
PF: So, when you grew up in the States, was acting a kind of a release from any of that repression, or was it just simply something for you to escape into?
MK: I think it was truly just fun. I mean, it was really nothing more than that, at the age of nine. It was just—I didn’t realize what it was. My parents never put pressure on it. If it was up to them, I’d never do it in the first place. I would never have done it. They did not want me to do it. They didn’t want me to have anything to do with this. They didn’t get it. They just didn’t understand it. So because I never had pressure, I never knew what it was. It was like—it was a responsibility of, “Well, if you get a job, get up on time and do your work, and you’re done.” But I never looked at it as a job. It was just—“Oh, this is a great way for me to get out of school, and I get to play with kids my own age. And—you know, do something different.” Like, it was just so much fun to do something different. And then at 18 is when it was obviously truly a conscious decision of mine to make it a career.
PF: When did you realize that that should be something you should do?
MK: Because I wanted to quit. At 18—I couldn’t quit, because I was in a contract with ’70s Show. So my thought was, “Okay,” I was gonna let the contract run out, and I was gonna go—I was planning to go to school. Finish ‘70s Show, and get, like, a real life. And at 18 I was like—okay. I don’t think this is my life. I don’t think I’m cut out for this. I don’t enjoy this, I don’t like anything that comes along with it. So I quit for two months. Which doesn’t sound like a lot. But at the time, it was more than enough for me to realize—I mean, I quit pursuing other projects. I couldn’t quit ’70s. So I went to college, and I shot ‘70s. And in those two months, I quickly realized that I love what I do.
PF: When the show ended, was there a huge sense of relief?
MK: It was bittersweet. I don’t know if “relief” is the right word, because it’s something that—when ‘70s ended, I can’t explain to you how much Laura Prepon and I cried. It was like—I’d say Laura Prepon, Debra Jo and I—and all the boys. You think you’re tough, and you think you’re ready for it. Because it was exhaust—it was one of the things, we’re like, “We’re done. We’re done, we’re done, we’re done, we’re done. It was a great experience, but we’re done.” Weeks leading up to it, we’re like, “This is no big deal.” The last week of production, I cannot explain to you how hard it was to get through a scene. You just start crying. It had nothing to do with anything other than the realization that you will never have this, ever again. Something that you have every day for eight years.
PF: When Family Guy came back in, were you surprised that there was that kind of reaction to that show?
MK: Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s the first time it’s ever happened. A show is cancelled for two years, and then all of a sudden magically brought back. I mean, it was completely unbeknownst to any one of us. I found out—I was watching, like, E! Entertainment News, or something. I can’t even remember the full story of it. And it was like, a ticker down—and I was like, “What do you mean, Family Guy’s back?” And I kind of looked at it. And I studied it for a second. All of a sudden my phone rings, and it was Seth Green. And he was like, “Did—is our show back?” And I was like, “I didn’t get a phone call. Did you get a phone call?” He’s like, “No.” And he was like, “It’s on the news that our show’s back.” And I was like—“But it was canceled for two years! What are you all talking about?” Two hours later we all got the phone call of, “Would you want to be a part of the show again?” And I was like, “Oh my God.” So yes, essentially I found out from, like, Ryan Seacrest, initially. But then the phone call came in. And I was pretty shocked.
PF: How involved are you in the creative process?
MK: Not very much. Of Family Guy? Not at all.
PF: So you don’t take home the writing.
MK: Not in the slightest. I wouldn’t dare. No. Oh my God, no.
PF: Is it as easy a gig as it sounds?
MK: Yes. It’s easier. Whatever you think it is, it’s easier. Absolutely. It’s silly how easy it is for me.
PF: How long do you think it will run?
MK: I’m hoping for the rest of my life.
PF: There’s a rumor, of course, that—with the success of The Simpsons Movie—
MK: Family Guy movie? Here’s the thing. The thing about cartoon films that I learned—I was a big fan of Simpsons. I was like, “Why won’t they put a movie out?” And I didn’t understand it, ‘til I was in the show. It takes so much longer to put a cartoon together, and make it into a film, and make it relevant to when it comes out. It’s like, six years. It’s incredibly time-consuming. Because you have to first process it, write it. However you write it, you process the drawings, and all the stuff that goes into it. By the time it’s done, the world is a different world. So half of your jokes are null and void. So you have to go in and redo the jokes. What’s great about the South Park stuff is the fact that their turnaround is two, three weeks. Ours is very similar to Simpsons. I mean, Simpsons—God bless ‘em for doing it. It’s incredibly exhausting to put a movie out.
PF: You just finished working with Mike Judge, which seems to be a perfect marriage for you.
MK: Yes. Love him. Absolutely.
PF: How similar is your sense of humor to his?
MK: Mike and I get each other. We get each other very well. I mean, I e-mail him every day and we talk about, for the rest of my life, I will do a Mike Judge movie.
PF: Who do you play in the movie?
MK: A kleptomaniac who’s a pathological liar.
PF: Oh, so this is typecasting, obviously.
MK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. It went by my natural personality. Funny how you should know that. See, you’re funny! You get my humor. Where is Wahlberg? Thank God. Oh, Jesus.
PF: I’m Australian, you see.
MK: I love Australian people.
PF: I have the same sort of sarcastic humour.
MK: Right. I don’t—how do people not get sarcastic—I don’t get how you don’t get sarcasm. It’s the oldest form of humor.
PF: People who are stupid don’t get sarcasm. So, Wahlberg doesn’t get your humor?
MK: No, I’m kidding. I hope he does. I still haven’t figured it out. After how long have I known him? For a year? I still haven’t figured out if he finds my humor funny, or if he finds me funny. Like, I’m not sure if he’s laughing at my jokes, or just at me. Like, I’m not quite sure.
PF: Do you know what you’re doing next?
MK: I just wrapped Extract on Friday. And the SAG strike is so fickle, and so in the air, that all projects are kind of on hold for the time being. So, no. Nothing immediate. Nothing ‘til after next year.
PF: And you’re hoping to support the election, I guess, and telling people to vote.
MK: Oh, I want to go to Ohio. I don’t want to be here right now. I want to go to Ohio. Yes, I do. I’m all about this election. I think you need to get out and vote, for sure.
PF: Hopefully we’ll win.
MK: Oh my God. From your mouth to somebody’s ears. I don’t even know at this point, whose.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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