My career was threatened over me not wanting to do the cover of a magazine.
By an executive. Oh, that's not even true. A person higher than an executive. It was like, If you don't do this magazine, you'll never work in this company. I went, "Great." It was the first time that I had someone on the phone tell me that I will never work in this industry again.
Did you laugh?
I said, "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
It wasn't Playboy, but it was a magazine I didn't want to do. It's very simple. I just didn't want to do it. I said I would do that one and that one, just not this one. And this person couldn't accept no. In my twenty-nine years, I've never met someone who lied as much as this person did. You know when little kids look at you with chocolate all over their face, and then you say, "Why did you eat that chocolate?" And they say, "I didn't eat chocolate," and you say, "But you have it on your face." It was worse than that. There are good, honest people who work their asses off and don't reach nearly as much success as this person does.
It seems like you just got something off your chest.
I never spoke about it, and I did as little interviews as I possibly could. Because why support a project that didn't support me back? People in this industry lie so much, they believe their lies. That's what I learned on that movie. I learned people are a******* and people lie. I think that was the turning point of my career. Where I said no!
Wow. "People are a$$holes and people lie," says Mila Kunis on a lovely Wednesday morning in a café in the Hollywood Hills. What she's talking about is her experience during the production and then the promotion of Max Payne, the 2008 action film she starred in with Mark Wahlberg. This all erupted suddenly, when that movie happened to come up during a conversation about some of her recent roles. She didn't want to talk about it. Then she paused. And then she started talking about it. She squinted and slowly moved her head from side to side in a way that only means ... motherf*ckers! What Kunis is right now is worked up. Which is a fascinating thing to watch. Because onscreen, Mila Kunis is a master at being worked up — as Jackie on That '70s Show, as Wahlberg's girlfriend in Ted, as the voice of Meg Griffin on Family Guy. In real life, it's just as captivating. Even over eggs.
She's wearing shorts and a T-shirt and very little makeup. When she took off her sunglasses while offering her hand, she revealed eyes that are not the giant smoky eyes you are used to seeing in photographs. They are big eyes, but they are not mythically big, not the anime eyes you were expecting. She's just come from running errands. In fact, the Sexiest Woman Alive is at this moment not even the most glamorous woman in the café. She's in between work right now. She's finished shooting Oz: The Great and Powerful. She'll start shooting The Angriest Man in Brooklyn two weeks from now. She likes to talk. She answers questions directly and substantively. At times forcefully. But always affably. If she doesn't understand what you're getting at, she will give you the side-eye, but it comes off as genuine, not derisive. Seth MacFarlane, who cast her as the voice of Meg on Family Guy and directed her in Ted, has said she has a voice that you could hear over a jet engine, but that's an exaggeration. At least at first. At first, her voice is almost meek. It cracks. It's a kind voice. And possibly a little tired. Until she gets going.
So I spoke with Seth about you. And he mocked me at least once.
I used the word wonderful to describe your voice.
What I meant was textured and interesting and great for an animated show. And he started laughing. He said, "Wonderful would not be the word I would use to describe it. Overpowering maybe."
He's such a d*uchebag. I keep telling him, "Sarcasm does not translate well in print." And he is so f*cking dry. I've known him since I was fourteen, and I find self-deprecating humor great. I tell him, "You can mock away because I know who you are. In print, though? You're going to come off like an a******. So be careful."
Do you think you're funny?
I think I stumbled upon doing funny things, but I'm not funny. I just know how to deliver a joke. There are people who naturally exude humor and are constantly saying funny things, and there are the people who know how to deliver a joke. It's a learned skill. Through twenty years of doing this, I practice it. I think that the second you think that you're funny is when you stop being funny.
How do you learn to deliver a joke?
Practice. Eight years of a TV show. You learn a lot. Jokes come in threes.
That's all you need. You have to know the rhythm of a joke. And you can learn the timing of a joke, but it doesn't mean that you're going to become Lucille Ball.
Are your parents funny?
My dad is dry and sarcastic, and my mom just laughs at everything.
She got her start by being funny, at least in the Hollywood sense.
As a teenager she was the funniest part of a successful sitcom (That '70s Show). Then a supporting part in a small but successful romantic comedy (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Then things took a gritty turn, a meaty role in a bigger movie alongside a huge star (The Book of Eli, Denzel Washington) and a startling performance as a crazy and manipulative diva in Black Swan, which happened to involve kissing another woman. Then another romantic comedy, a starring role with Justin Timberlake in the successful Friends with Benefits.
It's been a busy career so far, but its trajectory is perhaps not unusual for a beautiful, talented actress in her late twenties. What is unusual is the story of her life before she was cast in her first commercial at age nine (after being discovered at a child-actor showcase by the woman who still manages her).
She was eight, in 1991, when she immigrated with her parents and her brother from Ukraine to escape anti-Semitism and the turmoil that came with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her family moved into a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Los Angeles, at the corner of Sweetzer and Melrose, right in the heart of West Hollywood. Mom, Dad, brother, grandfather and grandmother, her other grandfather, and her. They lived there for about four years as her parents worked jobs quite different from the professional careers they'd abandoned back home. It's not the usual tale of a young Hollywood star. Who wouldn't want to talk about it?
I've talked about it for so long. If you can find something in it that I haven't disclosed ...
You seem bored by this. Do you find it not very interesting?
I find it incredibly interesting, but I want you to go walk down Fairfax. And every. Single. One. Of those people has a similar story. My immigration story is being made into something bigger than it needs to be.
Do you think it's being fetishized a little bit?
Completely. It has nothing to do with me. I feel awful talking about it, because my parents should sit down and talk about it. They're the ones who went through hell and back, who gave everything up. I didn't do anything. I was eight years old, and I tagged along. And my parents made me feel safe. I didn't make those decisions. So I can't take responsibility for it. Every immigrant has a story. "And in 1991 during the fall of communism..." Everybody has a story. Let me just repeat: I was eight years old. I didn't know what was happening.