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Profile of The Week: Mila Kunis

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Milena Markovna “Mila” Kunis  is an American actress. In 1991, at the age of seven, she moved from the USSR to Los Angeles with her family. After being enrolled in acting classes as an after-school activity, she was soon discovered by an agent. She appeared in several television series and commercials, before acquiring her first significant role prior to her 15th birthday, playing Jackie Burkhart on the television series That ’70s Show. In September 1999, she began voicing Meg Griffin on the animated series Family Guy.

Her breakout film role came in 2008, playing Rachel Jansen in the romantic comedy-drama Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Subsequent film roles included Mona Sax in the neo-noir action film Max Payne (2008), Solara in the post-apocalyptic neo-Western and action film The Book of Eli (2010), Jamie in the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits (2011), Lori in the comedy Ted (2012), and the Wicked Witch of the West, Theodora, in the fantasy adventure film Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). Her performance as Lily in the psychological horror film Black Swan (2010) gained her worldwide accolades, including receiving the Premio Marcello Mastroianni for Best Young Actor or Actress at the 67th Venice International Film Festival, and nominations for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.

Kunis was born in Chernivtsi, in the Ukrainian SSR (now Ukraine).] Her mother, Elvira, is a physics teacher who runs a pharmacy, and her father, Mark Kunis, is a mechanical engineer who works as a cab driver. Kunis has an elder brother named Michael (born c. 1976). She stated in 2011 that her parents had “amazing jobs”, and that the family was “very lucky” and “not poor”; they had decided to leave the USSR because they saw “no future” there for Kunis and her brother. In 1991, when she was seven years old, her family moved to Los Angeles, California, with $250. “That was all we were allowed to take with us. My parents had given up good jobs and degrees, which were not transferable. We arrived in New York on a Wednesday and by Friday morning my brother and I were at school in LA.”

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Kunis comes from a Jewish family and has cited antisemitism in the former Soviet Union as one of several reasons for her family’s move to the United States. She has stated that her parents “raised [her] Jewish as much as they could,” although religion was suppressed in the Soviet Union. On her second day in Los Angeles, Kunis was enrolled at Rosewood Elementary School, not knowing a word of English. She later recalled: “I blocked out second grade completely. I have no recollection of it. I always talk to my mom and my grandma about it. It was because I cried every day. I didn’t understand the culture. I didn’t understand the people. I didn’t understand the language. My first sentence of my essay to get into college was like, ‘Imagine being blind and deaf at age seven.’ And that’s kind of what it felt like moving to the States.”

In Los Angeles, she attended Hubert Howe Bancroft Middle School. She used an on-set tutor for most of her high school years while filming That ’70s Show. She briefly attended Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES), but when that school proved to be insufficiently flexible about her acting commitments, she transferred to Fairfax High School, from which she graduated in 2001. She briefly attended UCLA and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Career

1994–2000
At age nine, Kunis was enrolled by her father in acting classes after school at the Beverly Hills Studios, where she met Susan Curtis, who would become her manager. On her first audition she landed the role for a Barbie commercial. Shortly after, she did a commercial for the Lisa Frank product line. Her first television roles took place in 1994, first appearing on Days of Our Lives, and a few months later doing her first of two appearances on Baywatch. She had a minor role on 7th Heaven and supporting roles in Santa with Muscles, Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, and the Angelina Jolie film Gia, as the young Gia Carangi.

At the age of 10, Kunis auditioned for but failed to get the role of a Russian Jewish girl who moves to America in the film Make a Wish, Molly. Instead, she was cast in the secondary role of a Mexican girl. In 1998, Kunis was cast as Jackie Burkhart in the Fox sitcom That ’70s Show. All who auditioned were required to be at least 18 years old; Kunis, who was 14 at the time, told the casting directors she would be 18 but did not say when. Though they eventually figured it out, the producers still thought Kunis was the best fit for the role. That ’70s Show ran for eight seasons. She won two consecutive Young Star Awards as Best Young Actress in a Comedy TV Series in 1999 and 2000 for her performances.

In 1999, Kunis replaced Lacey Chabert in the role of Meg Griffin on the animated sitcom Family Guy, created by Seth MacFarlane for Fox. Kunis won the role after auditions and a slight rewrite of the character, in part due to her performance on That ’70s Show. MacFarlane called Kunis back after her first audition, instructing her to speak slower, and then told her to come back another time and enunciate more. Upon claiming that she had mastered these speech particulars, MacFarlane hired her. MacFarlane added: “What Mila Kunis brought to it was in a lot of ways, I thought, almost more right for the character. I say that Lacey did a phenomenal job, but there was something about Mila – something very natural about Mila. She was 15 when she started, so you were listening to a 15-year-old. Often times with animation they’ll have adult actors doing the voices of teenagers and they always sound like Saturday morning voices. They sound often times very forced. She had a very natural quality to Meg that really made what we did with that character kind of really work.” Kunis was nominated for an Annie Award in the category of Voice Acting in an Animated Television Production in 2007. She also voiced Meg in the Family Guy Video Game!. Kunis described her character as “the scapegoat.”

2001–08
In 2001, she appeared in Get Over It opposite Kirsten Dunst. She followed that up in 2002, by starring in the straight-to-DVD horror film American Psycho 2 alongside William Shatner, a sequel to the 2000 film American Psycho. American Psycho 2 was panned by critics, and later, Kunis herself expressed embarrassment over the film. In 2004, Kunis starred in the film adaptation Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. Although the film was shot in 2004, it did not have a theatrical release until 2007. Most critics did not like the film, which mustered a 25% approval from Rotten Tomatoes. DVD talk concluded that “fans would be much better off pretending the movie never happened in the first place”.

In 2005, Kunis co-starred with Jon Heder in Moving McAllister, which was not released theatrically until 2007. The film received generally poor reviews and had a limited two-week run in theaters. She followed up with After Sex starring alongside Zoe Saldana, who had also appeared in Get Over It. In October 2006, she began filming Boot Camp (originally titled Straight Edge). The film was not released in theatres in the United States, but was released on DVD on August 25, 2009.

Kunis starred as Rachel Jansen in the 2008 comedy film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, co-produced by Judd Apatow. The role, which she won after unsuccessfully auditioning for Knocked Up, entailed improvisation on her part. The film garnered positive reviews, and was a commercial success, grossing $105 million worldwide. Kunis’s performance was well-received; Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal praised her “fresh beauty and focused energy”, while James Berardinelli wrote that she is “adept with her performance and understands the concept of comic timing”. She was nominated for a Teen Choice Award. In an interview, Kunis credited Apatow with helping her to expand her career from That ’70s Show.

Also in 2008, Kunis portrayed Mona Sax, an assassin, alongside Mark Wahlberg in the action film Max Payne, based on the video game of the same name. Kunis underwent training in guns, boxing, and martial arts for her role. Max Payne was relatively successful at the box office, grossing $85 million worldwide but was panned by critics, with several reviewers calling Kunis miscast. Travis Estvold of Boise Weekly wrote that she was “horribly miscast as some sort of undersized, warble-voiced crime boss”. Director John Moore defended his choice of Kunis saying, “Mila just bowled us over….. She wasn’t an obvious choice, but she just wears Mona so well. We needed someone who would not be just a fop or foil to Max; we needed somebody who had to be that character and convey her own agenda. I think Mila just knocked it out of the park.” She was nominated for another Teen Choice Award for her role in the film.

2009–12
In 2009, she appeared in the comedy film Extract with Ben Affleck and Jason Bateman. The film received mostly positive reviews, and grossed $10.8 million at the box office. Roger Ebert, while critical of the film itself, wrote that Kunis “brings her role to within shouting distance of credibility.” Director Mike Judge commented that part of what was surprising to learn about Kunis was her ability to make references to the cult animation film Rejected. Judge said: “As beautiful as Mila is, you could believe that maybe she would cross paths with you in the real world.” After seeing Kunis perform in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Judge wanted to cast her in the role of Cindy in Extract: “I just thought, ‘Wow, this girl’s perfect.’ And she really wanted to do it, which was fantastic.” Said Kunis, “I’m a huge fan of Mike Judge’s from Office Space, so I was, like, ‘Okay, this is a very easy decision.’ I told them I would do anything needed to be in this production– like craft service, or, say, acting.”

In 2010, she starred alongside Denzel Washington in the action film The Book of Eli. Although the film received mixed reviews, it performed well at the box office, grossing over $157 million worldwide. Film critic Richard Roeper praised Kunis’s performance, calling it a “particularly strong piece of work”. Several other reviews were equally positive, including that of Pete Hammond of Boxoffice magazine, who wrote that she’s “ideally cast in the key female role” Even reviewers who didn’t necessarily like the film complimented her performance, such as James Berardinelli, who wrote that “the demands of the role prove to be within her range, which is perhaps surprising considering she has been thus far pigeonholed into more lightweight parts”, and Colin Covert of the Star Tribune, who wrote that she “generated a spark and brought a degree of determination to her character, developing an independent female character who’s not always in need of rescuing.” Other critics, such as Claudia Puig of USA Today felt she was miscast, noting that “she looked as if she dropped in from a Ray-Ban commercial”. Kunis received another Teen Choice Award nomination for her performance. Kunis was also cast in a minor role in the 2010 comedy film Date Night, starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell. She garnered several positive reviews for her performance. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune concluded her performance with James Franco helped save the film and gave it “a shot in the arm.”

Kunis was nominated for multiple awards, including her first Golden Globe, for the 2010 film Black Swan. She played a rival ballet dancer to the main character, played by Natalie Portman. Director Darren Aronofsky cast Kunis in the film based on her performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and on the recommendation of co-star and close friend Natalie Portman. She underwent a training regimen that included cardiovascular exercise, a 1,200-calorie a day diet (she lost 20 pounds that she regained after filming ended), and ballet classes for four hours a day, seven days a week. During the demanding production, she suffered injuries including a torn ligament and a dislocated shoulder. Black Swan received widespread acclaim from critics and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film grossed over $106.9 million in the United States and Canada while grossing over $329 million worldwide. Reviews of Kunis’s performance were positive,with Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter stating, “Kunis makes a perfect alternate to Portman, equally as lithe and dark but a smirk of self-assurance in place of Portman’s wide-eyed fearfulness.” Guy Lodge of In Contention also praised Kunis, saying, “it’s the cool, throaty-voiced Kunis who is the surprise package here, intelligently watching and reflecting her co-star in such a manner that we’re as uncertain as Nina of her ingenuousness.” Kunis’s performance won her the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress at the 67th Venice International Film Festival, and earned her Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress. At the 37th annual Saturn Awards, she was also honored with the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance.

Kunis was cast alongside Justin Timberlake in the 2011 romantic comedy Friends with Benefits. Director Will Gluck stated that he wrote the story with Kunis and Timberlake in mind. Friends with Benefits achieved success at the box office, grossing over $149 million worldwide, and received mostly positive reviews with critics praising the chemistry between Kunis and Timberlake. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote that “Ms. Kunis is fast proving that she’s a gift that keeps giving to mainstream romantic comedy” and “her energy is so invigorating and expansive and her presence so vibrant that she fills the screen”.

In 2012, Kunis co-starred with Mark Wahlberg in Ted, her most commercially successful film to date. The film was directed and co-written by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. Kunis played the girlfriend of Wahlberg’s character. When MacFarlane first conceived the project, he considered Kunis too young for the role. However, the film remained in development for several years and when it was finally ready to begin production, he ended up casting her. Ted has received generally positive reviews from critics and was a commercial success, grossing $549 million worldwide. Drew McWeeny of HitFix wrote that Kunis “brings some lovely subtle grace notes to a role that easily could have just been ‘the pushy girlfriend'”.

2013–present: Future projects
In 2013, Kunis played Theodora, the youngest of three witches, opposite James Franco, in the Walt Disney Pictures’ prequel, Oz the Great and Powerful. She dedicated her performance in the film to Margaret Hamilton, the original Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film. The film, and Kunis’s performance, received mixed reviews from critics. Kim Newman of Empire Magazine wrote that Kunis “walks away with the honours as the wavering witch Theodora, whose heartbreak brings another, less-expected depth to this 3D spectacle”. In contrast, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter found Kunis’s performance to be uncertain as her character seemed to be in a state of limbo. Oz the Great and Powerful was a commercial success, grossing over $493 million worldwide.

Also in 2013 Kunis co-starred in the crime thriller Blood Ties with Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, and Marion Cotillard. The film premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and had a limited release in the United States in 2014.Blood Ties received mixed reviews. Kunis was also cast in the comedy The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, alongside Robin Williams and Peter Dinklage. The film had a limited theatrical and VOD release  and received poor reviews. The Paul Haggis-directed film Third Person co-starring with Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde and James Franco premiered at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival and had a limited release in 2014, but also received mostly negative reviews. Kunis’ performance was praised by some critics; Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that her role gives her “enormous room to express her talent” and she “gives her story a shot of raw intensity”.

Kunis co-starred with Channing Tatum in the sci-fi film Jupiter Ascending, directed by the Wachowskis, and released on February 6, 2015.

Kunis is set to be an executive producer for a feminist-themed TV series for the CW network. Meridian Hills, is a drama about the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s. She will not appear on-screen. In October 2014 it was announced Kunis, along with her partners, had launched a new production company called Orchard Farm Productions. The company has a first-look deal with ABC Studios, where the company is based. Under the agreement, the team will develop and produce TV projects for broadcast and cable.

Kunis became engaged to Ashton Kutcher in February 2014, who she has  a daughter, Wyatt Isabelle, with.

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