Lynn Hirschberg: In Black Swan, you play the wild-child devil girl. You’re both seductive and scary. Had you danced before you took the part? Mila Kunis: I had never danced in my life. I trained for four months, seven days a week, five hours a day. I had one day off on my birthday. I lost 20 pounds. I tore a ligament. I dislocated my shoulder. I have two scars on my back. And it was worth every minute.
But I will never dance again. I’m a strong believer in mind over matter, but I didn’t fully understand what that meant until this production. I was like, Well—I wear heels; I can do this. I was wrong: Christian Louboutins are uncomfortable, but I screamed the first time I put on a pointe shoe.
You have previously been known for comedy. Do you think it’s difficult for women to be considered both beautiful and funny in Hollywood? I was never raised to think that I was pretty. It’s not that I was raised to think I was unattractive, but it was just never something that was pointed out to me by my family. They would point out personality traits—“Our daughter is really quirky”—versus what I look like, because inevitably, looks go, so it makes no difference.
Your family is Ukrainian. How old were you when you moved to America? I was seven and a half when we moved to the States. We came straight to Los Angeles.
What was the first thing you remember seeing of America? A black man. It was at the American embassy [in Moscow], and all I had known were Caucasian people with blond hair, brunette hair, and sometimes red hair. You’re never really taught about anything else. I think I was frightened. And the beautiful thing was, the man spoke Russian. He explained to me that there are people in this world who are of different color. Being seven and a half, I asked him, “Does that mean there are purple people in this world?”
Shortly after arriving in L.A., you began acting. Did you always long to be an actress? No. I started acting when I was nine as a hobby because it was fun, and it allowed me to get out of school. The first thing I did was a Barbie commercial, and I got to keep the Barbie. That’s all a kid wants.
From nine to 14, I did close to 15 commercials, and I guest starred on just about every television show. I was on Baywatch twice. The second time, I played a blind girl who’s lost in the forest next to the beach and needs to be saved. It was absurd: There’s a fire, I get saved, and then I go boogie-boarding. I remember thinking, Well, if I’m blind, how am I boogie-boarding? No one ever gave me an answer.
Was there a moment when you decided to be more discerning and selective in your roles? I didn’t really think of acting as a career. I’m the first person in my family to not be a college graduate. I always associate careers with college diplomas. When I was 22, my contract with That ’70s Show ended, and I had to make a conscious decision about what I wanted to do with my life. During the show, I had attempted to go to college, but I realized that the traffic in L.A. made it too difficult for me to go to school at 6 a.m. and be back at work at 10 a.m. I asked my parents if it was okay if I dropped out. They said okay, you can defer until after your contract with That ’70s Show ends.
And then it ended. I realized for the first time that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. So I had to make acting a career—to make smart choices instead of choices made for fun.
When you watch your performance in Black Swan, do you find it strange—as if it was another life, another person? Before I started, I couldn’t even lift my arm properly. I literally had no posture, so, yeah, the first time I saw the movie, my jaw dropped. I was like, Oh, my God—I don’t suck. And it’s great that the performance has been captured on film, because I will never put on those pointe shoes again.