Seven months pregnant, Mila Kunis pats her belly and straps on her sunniest smile as she prepares to discuss her portrayal of a very bad mother in Paul Haggis's dark drama, Third Person. The possibility of motherhood wasn't even on the horizon when she convinced Haggis to cast her against all his private reservations.
“I honestly didn't think she could play this role,” confesses the writer-director who 10 years ago won the Best Picture Oscar for Crash, also a harrowing ensemble drama about unlikeable people doing unthinkable things. “When I first met Mila I told her: ‘You're too beautiful and I don't believe that the only job you're able to get is as a maid. I'm sorry, I don't believe it'.”
Within 10 minutes she had sold him. “I totally saw what she could bring to it,” says Haggis, relating how Kunis impressed him with her understanding of an ex-soap opera actress, shamed after losing custody of her child, who takes a job as a maid amid the fallout of a public broken marriage. “It's so exciting when that happens. It was the same with Sandy Bullock in Crash.”
Unlike ‘America's sweetheart’ Bullock, Kunis (30) has never sought public affection nor begged approval, though she has had both in spades, following roles in Friends With Benefits, Black Swan, The Book Of Eli and Oz The Great And Powerful.
“Everybody has mistakes they make in life; it's just relative to who you are and how they impact on you. It wasn't hard for me to figure out a way to get to a place where I understood this character's emotional rollercoaster ride. I may not have had a child that I had lost but it doesn't take away from the experiences that I did have in my life that were equivalent,” says the actress, whose own life has come under an unwelcome microscope since she romantically reunited with her That '70s Show TV co-star Ashton Kutcher two years ago. They first met on the small screen almost 15 years earlier, each harbouring secret crushes on the other.
In their time apart, Kutcher, now 36, became a teen idol and wed Demi Moore, 15 years his senior, while Kunis had a nine-year relationship with the former Home Alone child star Macauley Culkin. Friends of the fiercely private couple say that they were destined to be together. Last week Kutcher quietly put his $12m Hollywood bachelor pad, complete with wine cellar and spa, on the market.
Draped in a loose black cotton blouse and designer maternity torn skinny jeans, a diamond engagement ring flashing on her finger, Kunis is nobody's fool, returning all questions regarding imminent motherhood with a curt “no”.
In discussing her role in Third Person, though, her response is revealing. “I think everybody at one point in their life has a relationship that they wish went differently; that didn't go as well as planned and there are still some repercussions. In this case, the repercussion is a child and then you deal with it the best way you know how. It's all relative.” Undaunted by the challenge of playing an unlikeable woman, she adds, “I think that sometimes being unlikable makes you likeable; makes you human. I don't think that anybody ever goes into a character thinking, ‘I can't play this character because they're not likable'.”
Third Person, in which she stars with Liam Neeson and Kim Basinger, allowed her to be taken seriously. “I look at this film as an end to my twenties and it was like a massive therapy session for me. It was really selfishly, incredibly gratifying. I loved doing this movie because I actually felt like I was doing something that I loved again,” says the actress. “Reading the script and having it not be a girl-next-door character was a relief.”
Born in Ukraine, Kunis moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was seven years old. A self-described nerd with a penchant for computer games and motorbikes, she grew up with few girlish pursuits. “I didn't play with toys. I played soccer and climbed trees. My knees and legs are completely scarred. I was outside all the time.”
Arriving in the USA without a word of English, two years later she had mastered the language and enrolled in acting classes. She soon won TV guest spots and small film roles and was just 14 when she landed the part of Jackie Burkhart in That '70s Show. A year later she was cast as the voice of Meg Griffin in Seth MacFarlane's still-running Family Guy. Her pregnancy forced her to cancel her role as Mark Wahlberg's girlfriend in a sequel to MacFarlane's blockbuster adult comedy Ted (Amanda Seyfried will take the lead instead).
Kunis has never been one of those actresses who lived the pain of their characters. “I'm more on the side of, ‘hey, what are we having for lunch?'. I will live it for the 20 minutes that I'm on set that I need to live it. It's called ‘acting' for a reason... I am emotionally drained by the end of the day and I don't want to keep living it. I want a glass of wine and I want to go to bed. But that's my horrible take on it. I am not a trained actress. I did not go to Juilliard, nobody should listen to me. Ever. It's just a process that works for me.”
Her betrothed has a busy social-media profile so I ask if she plans to tweet after the birth of the couple's baby. “Have I ever (tweeted)?” she demands. “Have I ever?” Of course she hasn't. “Then, there you have it,” she smiles triumphantly, stroking her belly. “I'm not one (a mother) yet but I'll let you know how I feel when it happens.”
- Third Person is released later in the summer
The non-American actresses who found Hollywood fame
Ukrainian-born Mila Kunis is not the only big Hollywood star to have found fame and fortune after arriving in America from distant shores.
Oscar winner and star of 12 Years A Slave Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents.
The 31-year-old spent most of her childhood in Kenya before finishing her education at university in America in her later teens.
Actress Diane Kruger is German and had pursued a career in ballet as well as a successful modelling career before she moved into movies.
The 37-year-old is fluent in English and French as well as her native German and dubs her films in all three languages.
Charlize Theron (38) is South African, and like Kruger, also had a fledgling career in ballet and modelling before hitting the big screen. Her mother bought her a one-way ticket to LA when she was just 18 and she has since gone on to be one of Hollywood’s most glamorous leading ladies.
Spanish star Penelope Cruz had enjoyed a successful acting career in her homeland but her career really took off when she moved to America to film her first movie there, The Hi-Lo Country in 1998.
She’s now married to fellow Spanish actor Javier Bardem and they have two children.