In the 10 years since Mila Kunis immigrated with her family from Ukraine to Los Angeles, she has come to act like a native West Coaster. Her fluent English—partly picked up by watching The Price Is Right and Wheel of Fortune—is leavened with just the right amount of “like.” She drives a Ford Explorer, dances a mean salsa and kicks back at the beach. She has even taken up bowling.
But whenever Kunis, 17, walks onto the set of That ’70s Show, she feels like an alien all over again. “Every week I’m like, ‘Who was Chico and the Man? And who is Todd Rundgren—what did he do?’ ” says Kunis, recalling some of the retro pop-culture references sprinkled in scripts. “The writers are like, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
Confusion also, like, reigns when Kunis—who says she could “wear sweatpants all day long every day of my life”—steps into the funkadelic fashions of her character, snobby Jackie Burkhardt. “The bell-bottoms are so tight you can’t believe it—the stomach is all squeezed into the pants!” exclaims Kunis. Says the show’s co-creator Mark Brazill: “There are moments when Mila goes, ‘Why did they wear that? Did they know what it looked like?’ I say to her, ‘Well, you had to be there.’ ”
Presently Kunis is perfectly content where she is. Her college applications are in (a 3.8 GPA student, she hopes to enroll at a Los Angeles-area school this fall), she stars opposite Kirsten Dunst in the new big-screen teen comedy Get Over It; and That ’70s Show—which chronicles a group of six Wisconsin friends coming of age during the disco era—has been picked up for a fifth season. Kunis also stars in the latest Aerosmith music video as the “Jaded” babe of the song’s title, an appearance that’s sure to amp up the affections of her ardent male fans. “It’s crazy,” she says. “I’ll be walking down the street and some guy will run up and ask me if I want to marry him.”
If Kunis remains unfazed by such attention (“I can’t fit a boyfriend into my schedule”), her parents are delighted by it. After all, when the family—which includes her brother Michael, 23, a biochemist—left Ukraine in January 1991, Kunis’s father, Mark, a mechanical engineer (now, at 61, an L.A. cab company executive), and mother, Elvira, a physics teacher (who manages a local drugstore) had both lost their jobs. “We never expected this to happen to our daughter,” says Elvira, 51. “The first years here were really hard to survive.”
Especially for Kunis. “She was crying all the time because she didn’t want to go to school,” recalls Elvira. But by the fall of ’91, Kunis was speaking fluent English—”I watched a lot of television and learned a lot that way,” she says—and her parents enrolled her in a children’s acting program. “We thought it would be a great way for Mila to meet some new friends,” says her mother.
It became much more than that. Almost immediately Kunis landed national commercials, including spots for Barbie and Payless shoes. She then moved into guest parts on series including Walker, Texas Ranger and in 1996 nabbed a recurring role on 7th Heaven.
A year later, at 14, the actress landed her ’70s gig after telling the show’s producers—who didn’t want to cast minors because of their restricted work hours—”a little white non-truth,” she says. “I told them I was going to be 18. But I didn’t tell them when I was going to be 18!”
Kunis is still a fast talker (“Sometimes you can’t understand what she’s saying—we’re always telling her to slow down,” says Laura Prepon, who plays the show’s redheaded tomboy Donna), not to mention a fast learner. During ’70s’ first year, Kunis says she was “nervous and uncomfortable” having her “first real kiss” in front of millions of viewers with onscreen boyfriend Ashton Kutcher, 23. But during an I Dream of jeannie fantasy sequence earlier this season, “she went all out trying to seduce me,” Kutcher says with a laugh. “She was definitely not shy anymore!”
But Kunis still has moments when she feels like an outsider—especially on days when she attends high school. (Most of the time she uses an on-set tutor.) “Kids come up with magazines and ask me to sign them,” she says. “When I’m trying to fit in, that doesn’t help.”
Fortunately, at the two-bedroom West Hollywood condominium she shares with her parents, Kunis does not worry about being “this Hollywood glamor girl”—because her family knows she’s just the opposite. “My mom always goes, ‘When you get married, your husband is going to divorce you because he won’t be able to deal with your messiness,’ ” Kunis says. “I tell her he’ll just have to hire a maid.”
Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles