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.