"I've never been asked out on a date," says Kunis, who plans to attend the Marine Corps Ball with Moore in November. "A real date, like a dinner and a movie? No. And I respect the guy for having big enough cojones to do it."
Watching Kunis, 27, discuss her latest film, the romantic comedy Friends With Benefits, in a Midtown restaurant, one is inclined to agree. The woman who came into public consciousness as the oft-irritating teen Jackie Burkhart on That '70s Show has evolved into a forbiddingly goddess-like creature. Wearing a speckled white sundress, gold-and-turquoise hoop earrings framing her enormous hazel eyes, she speaks animatedly but with the relaxed poise of someone who has never had to strain to command attention.
Yet there is an accessible quality to Kunis, whose career trajectory and personal life hardly evoke Hollywood it-girl clichés. After honing her comedic chops on a pair of sitcoms — she also voices the insecure, affection-starved Meg Griffin on the animated Family Guy— the actress, by her own admission, "auditioned for everything, just to prove that everyone who assumed I could only do TV was wrong."
PHOTOS: A Mila Kunis collection
Kunis landed female leads in male-dominated fare such as the action flick Max Payne and the Denzel Washington vehicle The Book of Eli. But her most high-profile film roles, in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the best picture Oscar-nominated Black Swan, found her cast as foils and rivals to characters played by then-bigger names (Kristen Bell and Natalie Portman, respectively).
In Benefits, Kunis is squarely the leading lady and very much on equal footing with her male co-star, Justin Timberlake. She plays Jamie, a Manhattan headhunter who lands Timberlake's Dylan, founder of a Los Angeles-based tastemaker blog, a plum job as art director of GQ. After the two meet at an airport, a camaraderie develops, along with a clear if unspoken chemical spark.
Determined not to let stereotypical relationship issues sabotage their platonic bond, Jamie and Dylan resolve to enjoy casual sex while remaining just buddies. What follows is a sweetly bawdy updating of classic rom-com trials and themes, in which the genders emerge as separate but plainly equal.
"It took me five years after (shooting) Sarah Marshall to venture back into the romantic-comedy world," says Kunis, who identifies that 2008 movie as a "turning point" in proving her diversity to audiences. "Every script was the same. What attracted me to (Jamie) is that I think she stays true to what a twentysomething-year-old is nowadays — as opposed to today's romantic-comedy version of that, which is more fairy tale-based, with the woman a little ditzier. Jamie's smart and honest and grows as a person; it's less about the man here than about how these two characters grow together."
Benefits director Will Gluck also promised Kunis, he says, "that I wouldn't make the movie unless her voice came through." Kunis notes that the script "was originally PG-13, but we wanted to make it R-rated, make it a little more modern. We sat around and improv(is)ed scenes for close to two months, so I had more input into this character than I've ever had before."
Timberlake, who signed on before Kunis, says Benefits benefited as a result. "Will and I wanted this to be an honest two-hander, and we needed someone who could play what's real and who also had a very quick wit. Mila is that girl. She's ridiculously beautiful, and at the same time she comes across as someone who can hang with the guys, make lowbrow jokes. You can throw anything at her and she'll roll with it."
Forced to be funny
Some of that affinity may date back to Kunis' youth. "I never thought of myself as funny, but I grew up in a very sarcastic household," she says. "My dad is very funny, very dry. So since I was little, I've learned to roll with the punches — and punch back a little bit."
Kunis still lives just 10 minutes away from her parents, who fled Ukraine as the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991 to settle in West Hollywood. "My parents told me that we were moving across the street, because it wasn't OK to leave and they didn't want me to say anything to anyone," Kunis says. "Then we just got on a train one day, went to Moscow and got on a plane to America."
Though she entered second grade in the USA without understanding a word of English, Kunis performed well at school and maintained, she insists, "a very normal life," even after she began acting at 9. "I went to public school in Los Angeles, had friends at school who weren't in the industry. I still do. My best friends Julie and Kat and I grew up together; Julie's a teacher at L.A. High and Kat is a dentist — she just got married."
Kunis' mother still works full time, she adds, "as the manager of a Rite Aid. And my dad's a cabdriver in Los Angeles." She still speaks with them in Russian, though she concedes her skills are "not that great now. It's conversational."
Kunis is less forthcoming about certain aspects of her life that have gotten more attention in the press. For eight years, she was in a relationship with fellow child actor Macaulay Culkin, a subject she refuses to broach. In contrast, Kunis speaks openly, and effusively, about life as a single gal.
"I'm loving it," Kunis says. "I've always been pretty independent, and it's an amazing feeling to just be by yourself and be OK with it. I had never experienced that. To know that I can do what I want to, that there's no one to check in with — that can be freeing."
There are drawbacks, as she alluded to in discussing her Marine suitor. "Since I became single, it's not possible to date. If I meet a guy and think he's great and go out to dinner with him, the next day the whole world will know about it."
Not a fan of social media
In her desire for privacy, Kunis shuns Facebook and Twitter. "Why would I want to share my life with the world when it's being shared already, without my consent? The only problem with not having an account is that there are fake accounts, pretending to quote me. But what am I going to tweet about? 'Today I'm eating dinner, and here's what I'm eating.' Whoo-hoo! I can understand politicians or people running charities or doing something productive using it. But no one should follow me. Why, so that I can tell you that I got my hair done?"
Patricia Clarkson, who plays Kunis' mother in Benefits, notes that the younger actress is "rather egoless. She's exceptionally warm and available, and that's rare with young girls who are on this fast track. She's a real professional, and at the same time she's just getting started in that now she's in a place where she can do anything she wants, anything she feels capable of."
Kunis has two more movies on the horizon. She just completed filming Ted, directed and co-written by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, in which her character lives with a boyfriend (Mark Wahlberg) and his talking teddy bear. And she's now shooting the prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful, in which she, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams play witches and James Franco is the title character, "a man coming to terms with who he is."
Eventually, Kunis would like to balance her busy schedule with a boyfriend, though "marriage is not something that's ever been that important to me. I love the idea, and understand why other people want it. But I see no need. I'll be with somebody because I want to, not because a piece of paper tells me I have to. That said, if the future love of my life thinks it's important, fine, I'll get married. And maybe if I have children, because kids ask questions."
Her own positive experiences notwithstanding, Kunis wouldn't want her own offspring to follow her into show business. "I guess I'd have to cross that bridge when I get to it. But if my kid could be a doctor or a lawyer, that would be great. Because this whole industry is based on rejection. That's the first thing you learn: the word no."
It's not a word that Kunis has heard much lately, one suspects, nor one she's likely to encounter a lot in the near future. But even as her star continues to rise, the actress tries to remain pragmatic.
"I wish I could play this industry like chess, but I can't," Kunis says. "It's too unpredictable. All I want to do is put out work that I can be proud of. After That '70s Show, I just wanted to learn; and I can only do that by surrounding myself with brilliant directors and co-stars — with people who are 10,000 times better than I am. That's still what I want."