If the Moscow-bred Jovovich—now 21 and starring with Bruce Willis in the new sci-fi thriller The Fifth Element—has survived the perilous transition from preteen sensation to triple threat, she has one woman to thank for getting her there in one piece: "My mom was there 100 percent, no matter how much I was a brat," she says. What with an oversized ego, a passion for all-night parties and a 1994 appearance on the Women on Pot cover of High Times magazine, Jovovich was a teenage terror. "I was so young starting in this industry," she says. "I did my first shoot when I was 11, acting like a sexy 20-year-old woman.... Everything went to my head." Her mother, Galina Loginova, 46, a movie actress in Moscow before the family moved to the U.S. in 1981, seconds that notion. "Milla did stupid things, definitely," says Loginova, who lives with her daughter in their antique-packed Hollywood Hills home. "But she came through all right."
For the last year, the task of taming Jovovich has fallen to French director Luc Besson. He interviewed 200 actresses before picking Jovovich—whose credits included minor parts in Chaplin and Dazed and Confused—as the female lead for The Fifth Element. Jovovich plays Leeloo, a bioengineered ingenue who is revived after 5,000 years and who joins Willis, a 23rd-century cabbie, to save the world from apocalypse. By the end the gung ho starlet was black-and-blue under her futuristic Jean-Paul Gaultier-designed duds. "Even Bruce, who is very used to stunts and everything, was sometimes obliged to say, 'Milla, c'mon, it's fake. It's a movie, don't break your head for it,' " says Besson.
Jovovich, who speaks fluent Russian, knows what it's like to be a stranger in a strange land. Though her family had been relatively well-off in Moscow, she says, "there is only so far you can go in Russia." When Jovovich was 5, her father, Bogich, a doctor, moved the family to Los Angeles. Jovovich was smitten: "I could have died and gone to heaven in Toys 'R' Us. And I discovered french fries." School was another story: "I got a lot of crap in school. Nobody ever let me forget that I was a commie."
The sweet revenge of success came quickly. At 12, she modeled for Revlon's Most Unforgettable Women in the World campaign. And she left public education behind for the small, private Excelsior High School. Her wild-child phase peaked in her senior year. One day, Loginova (who separated from Bogich in 1991) came home to discover that Jovovich, not yet 17, had moved out of their home and into an apartment. "It was a shock," she says. But not as much of a shock as when Jovovich's 21-year-old actor boyfriend called from Las Vegas to say they had married. The union was annulled two months later. "I was just lost," Jovovich admits. Says her mother: "She didn't know how to break away from the chains of being a child."
Despite a fling with Besson during shooting, the man in her life today is Mario Sorrenti, 25, a Kate Moss ex and fashion photographer whom Jovovich met on a blind date two years ago. Sorrenti is learning guitar to back Jovovich on her second album—"a mixture of rock and hard core and space and Frank Sinatra," she says. "It gives me a professional excuse for us to spend all this time together." But music also appeals to her headstrong streak. "Music is, like, my thing," she says. "It's my words, it's my melodies. Acting is a challenge to me because I have to be totally open to somebody else." And modeling? That's getting tougher, what with the competition. "They're 14, 15, 16," she says of other models. "You feel so old next to them."
MARIA SPEIDEL in New York City and LINDA FRIEDMAN in Los Angeles