SANTA MONICA, California – It’s one of the penalties of celebrity, and Mila Kunis is still trying to come to terms with it.
It happened in spades when she and Justin Timberlake were in Manhattan last summer, shooting outdoor scenes for their new film, Friends with Benefits.
“Shooting in New York was a nightmare,’ director Will Gluck remembers. “Picture 5,000 people outside the frame line in Central Park, yelling out, taking pictures, being pulled back.”
Being mobbed by fans is a test of any movie star’s endurance, and it’s particularly tough for Kunis, whose popularity is sharply on the rise. Gluck was impressed by the way she coped during the rigours of the Manhattan shoot.
“If you can just imagine them acting behind our crew with literally thousands of people behind them. Amazingly, they stayed in focus. I don’t know how they did it.”
Talk to Kunis now, and you understand how she coped. Behind the friendly, outgoing demeanour, there’s genuine toughness. She knows that this fan thing is part of the territory and she must accept it. The same goes for the intense scrutiny of the tabloids and the Internet, and the prying presence of the paparazzi.
“You know what it is? I don’t like it. I can’t do anything about it. What am I going to do? I can’t do anything. I really can’t. I’m not complaining. I feel incredibly humble to be in a position that I am in. But that being said, I stay at home a lot.”
Public scrutiny has intensified since the winter release of The Black Swan, in which she and Natalie Portman, playing rival ballerinas, had a sizzling bedroom scene together. This month, she told LA Confidential Magazine the situation could turn her into a hermit: “If you leave the house, you’re screwed, and if you don’t leave, you’re screwed.”
However, having started in show business at the age of nine, the Ukrainian-born actress has learned the value of resilience. That’s also an attribute of the character she plays in Friends with Benefits.
In the film opening July 22, she’s Jamie, a successful young woman who finds a kindred spirit in a hotshot magazine editor named Dylan, played by Justin Timberlake. But because of previous failed relationships, they’re both wary of emotional commitment.
However, they still dig each other enough that they embark on the grand experiment of hooking up just for sex.
Can such relationships work in real life? Kunis is skeptical. She thinks that, inevitably, someone will get hurt.
“Somebody can catch feelings and want more, and the other person is not going to want the same,” she points out. “So it all ends.” Or else, both partners find themselves sharing feelings of great intensity – “and it moves on to a different level.”
But a relationship grounded solely in sex? “It can’t last for a very long time as it is,” she told Postmedia News. “Also, somebody might find somebody else.”
Timberlake, who has joined Kunis for the interview, agrees there’s no way such a relationship can stay static. “I don’t think it’s a long-term working experiment. You either get promoted at some point or you’re fired,” he quips.
The movie earned its R rating in the U.S. by going out of its way to demonstrate that sex without commitment can be fun. But despite her notorious scene with Natalie Portman in The Black Swan, Kunis still had trouble relaxing during the two weeks she and Timberlake spent simulating sex on a closed set.
“I’m pretty self-conscious, I think, in general” she says. “It doesn’t help that I’m a female.”
“As a juxtaposition to that, I’m extremely comfortable with Mila’s body!” Timberlake says cheerfully.
However, both agreed that the most important aspect of these scenes was the witty, character-defining banter that bounced back and forth between the two while they were in bed together.
“They like each other’s company,” Kunis says. “They’re comfortable with each other and they like being around each other.”
Kunis wants audiences to come away entertained, but she also thinks the film carries underlying truths.
“I feel this ‘friends with benefits’ concept has gone on forever. It’s just that people are more willing to talk about it now; it’s not as taboo. I think our generation’s a little more forthcoming, a little more honest, and I think females are embracing their sexuality more than 30, 40, 50 years ago. Men have had no problems embracing their sexuality.”
The tabloids delight in portraying Kunis as some sort of sex bomb. She hates that, and she’s on record as saying that if people want a sex symbol, they should check out Sophia Loren. This morning, as she tucks her blue-jeaned legs under her in a Santa Monica Hotel suite, there’s clearly a mind at work as she answers questions. This is a gifted working actress of 27 who’s capable of intense drama (The Book of Eli, Black Swan), the buoyant highjinks of That ’70s Show, in which she played Jackie Burkhart, or the more edgy humour of the animated Family Guy, where she supplies the voice of Meg.
But she takes her craft seriously, and she’s a firm believer in the importance of script. When she read the screenplay by Will Gluck, Keith Merryman and David Newman, she liked the comedy, but was also touched by the threads of the story, particularly those involving Dylan and his West Coast family. Furthermore, she feels the quality of the writing laid the groundwork for the chemistry that must develop between the characters of Jamie and Dylan.
“Once we got comfortable with the characters, it was easy to put that across on screen, and we did become friends . . . so you hope it translates onto the screen.”
But Kunis says she’s never entirely sure the camera is picking up that chemistry until she sees the finished film. She considers it dangerous to be preoccupied with chemistry while before the camera “because then, it’s a forced performance.”
“And I do believe that, in the way dogs sense fear, people sense falseness on screen. You don’t want that. You want it to be as organic and truthful as possible, but you don’t always have control over that.”
Still, she does part company with Gluck’s assertion that she and Timberlake are today’s Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
“I wish he would stop saying that, I really do. What he really means to say, obviously, is that he wanted our banter and dialogue to be reminiscent of the two of them. But in no way are Justin and myself Tracy and Hepburn. Not at all!”
- Gluck comes home for ‘Friends with Benefits’
- Mila Kunis Declared Her Butt ‘Off Limits’
- Mother roles with benefits
- Review: ‘Friends With Benefits’ More Like A Pen Pal
- ‘Friends With Benefits’ director experiences the benefits of success