Mila Kunis on Life With Ashton and Making Babies: “There’s Nothing We Don’t Know About Each Other”
Mila Kunis has spent her career upending conventions and clichés—in a sly, effortless way. That lame old adage about how women (especially young, pretty ones) aren’t funny? She’s been exploding it ever since she landed her breakthrough role, at 14, on That ’70s Show playing the wonderfully self-absorbed Jackie with the calls-it-like-she-sees-it air that has become her onscreen hallmark. The notion that child stars are destined for meltdowns, ill-equipped to transition into functioning adults? Kunis, born in Ukraine, inherited a hustle gene from her working-class immigrant parents and applied it to her own career, killing it not just in hit comedies (Ted, Friends With Benefits) but prestige dramas (Black Swan) too. Now, at 32, having married her ’70s Show costar Ashton Kutcher, Kunis is building a family of her own: In October 2014 she gave birth to their daughter, Wyatt Isabelle, and as this issue went to press, she announced they were expecting a second child. Which brings us to the latest stereotype Kunis is toppling: the one about how parenthood makes you boring.
Consider her latest project, Bad Moms. It’s Kunis’ first starring role since she took a year and a half off to start her family, and it’s the raunchiest film she’s ever anchored. Written and directed by the Hangover duo, it’s funny, filthy, and, above all else, frank about female sexuality, ambition, and the shifting roles of moms in today’s culture. Underneath all the punch lines, Kunis notes, is an assault on the idea that women—mothers in particular—“have to be perfect all the time.” She plays “an anal-retentive, overworked, unappreciated” mother of two, who, as Kunis puts it, “says, ‘F–k it.’ ”
Spend some time with her, which I did, at a hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern place in San Francisco, and it’s clear that her desire to raise “an open-minded little human”—soon to be humans—has only strengthened her political convictions and made her even more unapologetically outspoken. When I mentioned Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, for instance, or society’s unreal standards of beauty, she pulled no punches. It’s good to have you back, Mila.
GLAMOUR: In 2012 you told Glamour, “I’d rather be in love and have a baby than have a movie.” And here you are with all three. Was there a point where you really thought you would have to choose?
MILA KUNIS: I got—knock on wood—very lucky. But I did choose. I took a chunk of time off. If it were up to [Ashton], we would have had kids much sooner. But I had contracts for films I had to do. I was like, “Let me finish this last thing, Jupiter Ascending, and we’re a go. I’m going to take a solid break from acting.” And let me tell you, when I would get a call with an offer, I wouldn’t even flinch. I was like, “No, I’m pregnant.” “No, I have a baby.” I wasn’t ready to go back. I was so happy saying no that I knew it was the right decision.
GLAMOUR: Did you ever fear, “Oh, I’ve said no so many times, they’re not going to call me anymore”?
MK: I was OK with it. And I was like, “Whatever will happen will happen.” As an actor, you travel so much. It isn’t great for a marriage. In a marriage, you and your partner come first. And unless you and your partner are happy, that kid’s never going to be happy. I ultimately started my production company, so I have a 9-to-5. I can’t not work. I don’t know what it’s like to not work; my family embedded that in me.
GLAMOUR: Your parents left Ukraine with you when you were young because they are Jewish and there was a rising anti-Semitic tide. Despite their degrees and professions back home, they were working-class when they came to America. Did you feel their struggle?
MK: No. I had no clue. I was so well protected.
GLAMOUR: What were they protecting you from?
MK: My parents went through hell and back. They came to America with suitcases and a family of seven and $250, and that’s it. My parents, for years, worked full-time and went to college full-time. They would go to night school to learn English. My mom started working at Thrifty in Culver City as a box lady. That’s what she did until she learned English; then she became a cashier. My dad worked—f–k if I know—seven jobs? He painted a house. He would deliver toilets. He drove a cab, delivered pizzas. Whatever he could do, he did. Ultimately, my dad owned cabs, and my mom worked her way up to manager of a Rite-Aid; they bought a car and a condo. But growing up poor, I never missed out on anything. My parents did a beautiful job of not making me feel like I was lesser than any other kids.
GLAMOUR: Given your family history, did it strike a chord with you seeing presidential contenders like Donald Trump stoke anti-Mexican-immigrant and anti-Muslim-immigrant fears?
MK: It’s even more than that. The whole Syrian-refugee thing—we came here on a religious-refugee visa, and I’m not going to blow this country up. I’m clearly paying taxes. I’m not taking anything away. So the fact that people look at what’s happening and are like, “Pfft, they’re going to blow sh-t up”? It saddens me how much fear we’ve instilled in ourselves. And going from there to the whole, “Hey, let’s build a wall between Los Angeles and Mexico”.… I don’t even have to answer that one. There’s no point. It’s a really great sound bite. And it got him far. Nobody should be mad at him; we did it to ourselves.
GLAMOUR: So you come to America, learn English, and land your breakout role at 14. Over time you prove you have a unique range. Does it bug you that, for all of the people that love you in Family Guy, Ted, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, comedic work in general is regarded as lesser “artistically” than a drama like Black Swan?
MK: It’s weird. It doesn’t matter if you’re play-pretending crying or play-pretending laughing, you’re still play-pretending. It’s equally as hard or easy. It’s not like, “Oh man, I’m doing a movie where I have to cry, that means I’m working really hard.” [Laughs.]
GLAMOUR: So why were you drawn to Bad Moms?
MK: With my first movie after Wyatt, I decided to do a comedy. It’s a good mind-set to go into work and be happy every day instead of being in a dark place.
GLAMOUR: The movie is framed as a liberation tale. There are unreal expectations put on moms, and your character rejects them. What are the movie’s politics, as you see them?
MK: I think it’s wish fulfillment. There are things you fantasize about doing and saying, and then ultimately don’t because it’s illegal. This movie has no such thing as illegal. My character had two kids really young, married her high school sweetheart, works hard, and is thirty something now; her husband’s a slacker who never really got out of his twenties. She catches him cheating and just goes, “F–k it.”
GLAMOUR: I’ve seen footage of some over-the-top sex jokes—about handling penis foreskin during foreplay, punching other women “in the tits,” and shoving flaccid penises “inside” during sex. It shouldn’t feel shocking to see women delivering lines like that in 2016—
MK: Was it shocking?
GLAMOUR: Sort of. In a good way: It’s something we haven’t seen onscreen enough. But as a guy, I imagine it’s a heightened version of conversations that women have all the time.
MK: It’s exactly that. The movie was written by the same writers as The Hangover, as an homage to their wives. And as heightened as the dialogue is—everybody speaks fast—those scenes aren’t heightened. They’re 100 percent from somebody’s experience.
GLAMOUR: What did those male writers get right about women?
MK: The desire to be perfect. Women innately have this weird thing where they try to have a perfect persona—to look perfect, be perfect, act perfect, have their kids look a certain way. Women put so much pressure on themselves.
GLAMOUR: Along those lines of looking perfect: The photo of you that’s on the back cover of this magazine is very clean-faced—
MK: We had, like, no makeup.
GLAMOUR: How did it feel to be photographed that way?
MK: Fine! I don’t wear makeup. I don’t wash my hair every day. It’s not something that I associate with myself. I commend women who wake up 30, 40 minutes early to put on eyeliner. I think it’s beautiful. I’m just not that person. So to go to a shoot and have my makeup artist put on face cream and send me off to do a photo, I was like, “Well, this makes life easy.” And you’re still protected. Nobody’s there to make you look bad. Do you watch Game of Thrones?
MK: Well, it’s not like I’m being scrutinized and made to walk down the street naked while sh-t’s being thrown at me!
GLAMOUR: [Laughs.] How do you feel about image manipulation?
MK: I hate it. There was a company that I did a photo shoot for once that manipulated the photo so much, I was like, “That’s not even me.” Like, what’s the point? You wanted my name, and then you wanted the version of me that I’m not. I absolutely hate it. Now, do I sometimes want them to depuff my eyes? Help me out with a little bit of lighting. But do I want them to stretch my legs, thin out my waist, curve my hips, elongate my neck, blah, blah, blah? No.
GLAMOUR: Agree. On the subject of honesty: Before you had Wyatt, you said, “I love women who say, ‘I hate my child right now.’ It lets you know you aren’t alone in your feelings.” So pay it forward. What are some tough things about parenting that no one told you?
MK: Children are f–king crazy. They’re also suicidal. Like, at the park, certain jungle gyms have an opening for older kids to jump out of. She’s 19 months; she can’t jump. She just walks off it as if she’s on a pirate ship. Another important thing to learn is that kids have a personality that has nothing to do with you. I have a really sweet daughter. She wants to hug all the other kids. I didn’t teach her to be sweet. It has nothing to do with me. I’ve realized you can control only so much.
GLAMOUR: You and Ashton met on That ’70s Show close to 20 years ago. What bedrock does it give the relationship to have gone through that together?
MK: We can’t bullsh-t each other. I literally can’t lie to him. He can call me out on everything, and I can do the same, because there’s nothing about the other person’s face that we don’t know. We know when they’re acting, thus we know when they’re lying. Sometimes he’ll look at me, be like, “Really?” And I’m like, “F–k.” [Laughs.]
GLAMOUR: You know every gesture, every facial tic.
MK: Uh-huh. There’s nothing we don’t know about each other because we’ve known each other for so long: the ugly, the bad, the good. We went through a period where I thought he was crazy. At the height of his career, I was like, “Ugh, I don’t like you. I don’t even know you anymore. You think you’re such hot sh-t.”
GLAMOUR: You had breakups when you weren’t even together?
MK: Yeah, fully. Full friendship breakups. And then we’d get back together and be like, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to overreact.” “That’s OK.” All the time. It truly is being married to your best friend. That’s a cliché; it’s cheesy. But it’s true.
GLAMOUR: As a kid, you vowed that you’d never get married.
MK: I know. I know. [Laughs.]
GLAMOUR: What was that policy about?
MK: Commitment sounded great, but I didn’t believe in marriage. I grew up in West Hollywood, and my brother has reminded me that when I was like 12, I said, “When gay people can get married, then I’ll get married.” I was ahead of my time. The Supreme Court decision [on same-sex marriage came down], and that’s when Ashton and I got married.
GLAMOUR: A lot of people who are in the public eye conduct their weddings in secret, which you guys did. You also only confirmed it publicly almost a year later. Why wait?
MK: We never denied it; we just never talked about it. It was something that didn’t have anything to do with anybody else.
GLAMOUR: Ashton is part of the tech world, where there’s often an ethos that life’s inefficiencies and problems can be engineered away. How does that part of his brain manifest in the marriage?
MK: He has a constant desire to fix a problem. He’s always doing daddy hacks. He’s so not a passive husband or father. He doesn’t just go, “I don’t know” and throw his hands up in the air. He’s like, “We can fix it.”
GLAMOUR: What do you care about that he could not give a sh-t about, and vice versa?
MK: I love The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. [Laughs.] He thinks that show’s killing brains. And he lives and breathes football. When we started dating, I downloaded the ESPN app to know if his team won or lost so I would know whether to call. If the Bears lose, your whole Sunday’s gone to sh-t. So it saved our relationship.
GLAMOUR: It occurred to me that his last marriage, to Demi Moore, gave him experience parenting. He had three stepdaughters. If you’ve handled teenage girls—
MK: You can handle anything. I think all presidents should have teenage girls before they become presidents. If you can handle those hormones, you can handle anything.
GLAMOUR: You know that because…
MK: I was one. When I was about 21 and my hormones leveled out, I apologized to my mom. We were at an Italian restaurant, we had a couple glasses of wine, and I said, “I’m so sorry I was such a bitch all these years,” and she was like, “That’s OK!”
GLAMOUR: Was there a specific transgression you were thinking of?
MK: No. Just being a little too upset all the time. Everything was so immediate and so permanent. If I could go back to my younger self, I’d be like, “Not everything’s permanent.” I can promise you now that that’s not the case. Have a baby, and you realize: The second you think you got sh-t figured out, you don’t. It’s the greatest wake-up call.