When she isn’t making the Time 100 list, acting in hit TV shows or shaping the future of entertainment for Web 3.0, Mila Kunis is growing apples, plums and figs. She tells Rob Haskell how she does it
Photography by VICTOR DEMARCHELIER
Fashion Direction by KATIE MOSSMAN
“Welcome to the chaos,” Mila Kunis says, her eyes moving in an arc across the soaring timbered living room where at one end her son, Dmitri, 5, who has always been called Bear, hammers out a precociously plaintive series of chords on the grand piano. “At age 3, he composed a song on guitar about how we abandoned him to go to New York for a day.”
A din burbles up from downstairs, where Bear’s sister, Wyatt, 7, plays intern as a crew films her father, Ashton Kutcher, running on a Peloton Tread. Currently training for the New York City Marathon, he is interviewing the songwriter Jon Baptiste, also huffing and puffing on a treadmill beside him, for a Peloton class series. Kutcher is running the race to raise funds for his nonprofit, Thorn, which leverages technology to prevent the sexual exploitation of children online. Although there are 14 cars parked on the driveway, Kunis’ and Kutcher’s domain, a modern farmhouse at the crest of Beverly Hills, somehow exudes an air of transportive calm. Kunis herself seems to be the source of that calm.
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Kutcher has said that his wife will do anything for a laugh. She cannot deny this. But Kunis, 39, who rose to fame on That ’70s Show before emerging as a big-screen rom-com queen, has of late been the grown-up in the room. In March of this year, that room was the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, where she and her husband may have been the only audience members who did not give Will Smith a standing ovation when he won an Academy Award for Best Actor.
“The idea of leading by example,” Kunis explains, “only makes sense when you actually have someone to lead. We have our tiny little tribe here at home, and never once do I want to tell them to do something if I’m not willing to do it myself. Not standing up to me was a no-brainer, but what was shocking to me was how many people did stand up. I thought, wow, what a time we’re living in that rather than do what’s right, people focus on doing what looks good. It’s insane to me.”
“When the war broke out, my kids identified that Ukraine was a part of me before I did”
Keeping up appearances—in fact, rigorously maintaining a glamorous veneer to cover over the pangs of the past—is the subject of Luckiest Girl Alive, which debuted in theaters on Sept. 30 and started streaming on Netflix on Oct. 7. Kunis, who these days is very choosy with her roles and is only willing to shoot when her kids are on their summer break, produced and stars in the film based on Jessica Knoll’s bestselling novel of the same name. A psychological thriller that jumps between a boarding school, a glossy magazine office and an aristocratic country house, Luckiest Girl Alive is at its core, Kunis says, a story about the importance of forgiveness: “Forgiving yourself, especially. It’s very zeitgeist-y to talk about an unreliable narrator, but my character is just so full of contradictions. It’s a movie about the gray area.”
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Offscreen, Kunis has been telling a very coherent story lately about living according to one’s convictions—and putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. Time magazine acknowledged this when it included her on its “100 Most Influential People of 2022” list after she raised nearly $40 million to bring supplies to Ukrainians affected by the war and housing to its refugees. Kunis was born in Ukraine, and she was 7 when her family emigrated to the United States on a refugee visa in order to escape the Soviet era’s structural antisemitism. They settled in West Hollywood, and her parents still live in the apartment where she grew up.
“I’m American,” Kunis says. “I assimilated so quickly. I don’t speak Ukrainian, and my Russian is stunted at an 8-year-old level. But I will say that this war gave me a sense of identity larger than being just American. Having kids changes your perspective. When I was in my twenties, even my teens, my drive was always ‘how can I be more successful at work?’ After I had kids, it was ‘how can I be a person that I want my kids to admire?’ So I went from career growth to self-growth. When the war broke out, my kids identified that Ukraine was a part of me before I did. They were like, ‘Mom, isn’t that where you’re from? Do we have family there? There’s a war happening—what are we doing about it?’ ”
When the Kunis-Kutchers (or KuKus, as they are apt to call themselves) try to change the world, they go about it in a specific way. In the last decade, Kutcher has become as well known for his Silicon Valley investments and entrepreneurship as for his work in Hollywood. Kunis has followed suit. When it came to the war in Ukraine, the couple immediately thought about ways to intervene through tech.
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“The ‘us’ approach to a problem is the weird, logical, what-can-you-fix approach,” she explains. They had learned during the pandemic that at any given moment, huge quantities of supplies—for example, donations to UNICEF or the Red Cross—are just sitting in containers on cargo ships, and the barrier to distribution is the cost of transport. Kutcher is an investor in Flexport, an AI-based logistics company, which was able to get aid off ships and into hands. They also partnered with Airbnb.org, the nonprofit humanitarian arm of Airbnb, to provide emergency housing. “Ukraine was too big a problem to fix. So it became, how can we Band-Aid the problem until a larger force steps in? At the end of the day, you need billions if not trillions of dollars. The $40 million we’ve raised is a great way to keep people invested, to keep something in the news, to make sure people are talking about it. But it doesn’t resolve international wars. It just doesn’t.”
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It took the couple five years to realize their sustainable modern farmhouse, and when we meet in mid-August, they are, as Kunis puts it, “very much in the tomato business.” The kitchen garden bursts with baby carrots, squash, lettuces and the old tomato varieties that she is proud to have grown from seed. The pomegranate tree looks ready for a rich fall harvest, lemongrass grows like a weed, and there is enough dill to supply a Ukrainian grocery. Kunis’ thumb, she says, is not exactly green, but it isn’t black, either. “Let’s call it gray. And don’t judge my pruning. And be careful of the snakes.” At the other end of the property, past the pool and a barbecue pavilion whose new pizza oven was Kutcher’s anniversary gift to his wife this year, are rows of espaliered apple trees—a constant temptation to the deer, who are themselves a constant temptation to the mountain lions. There are apricots and plums, an overabundance of purple figs, and Kunis’ and her daughter’s favorite, the Australian finger lime tree. Also called a “caviar lime,” the dainty green fruit breaks open to reveal hundreds of tart beads.
The farm is mostly off the grid. It is fully solar powered and well watered. The exterior timber was reclaimed from an old Wonder Bread factory. “We had this grand idea,” Kunis says, “and then we moved in four months before COVID hit. We didn’t realize how incredible it was to have a fully sustainable house until the world shut down.” The gardens are designed to offer varied pleasures throughout the year, and all four family members are expected to work together to make things grow. “My husband’s from the Midwest, and a lot of this has to do with his upbringing. He’s like, we’re building a farm and we’re all going to work on the farm. I’m from L.A., and I was like, we are? This has been a big learning curve for all of us. My parents make fun of me that it probably costs more to grow a tomato here than to get one at the store. But I say, at least my kids will understand the value of a tomato and how much work goes into growing it. It’s good not to be afraid to get dirty. I was just listening to a doctor who said that the people who grow and thrive in life are comfortable being uncomfortable, daily. Whether it’s learning something new, doing something a little bit scary—all of that makes you stronger.”
“I didn’t go to college. I’m not an engineer. I’ve learned so much by just being curious and having a Rolodex”
This July, the family took their Sprinter van on a three-week road trip to the Western national parks, including Joshua Tree, the Grand Canyon, Arches, Monument Valley, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and—for Kunis, the highlight—Yellowstone. It was, she says, the time of their lives. They managed to remain fully unplugged, unlocking their phones only to take a photo or open a map. They entertained each other and made friends along the way. “A trip like this can allow you to love America again,” Kunis says. “You drive through a lot of red states. Clearly we were from California. No one cared. It was more like, oh, what are you guys grilling? Want to trade? What kind of beer do you have? We’d hang out, talk until midnight. The people we met were wonderful. You realize how the news can create a divide that doesn’t naturally exist, and how much more alike we are than different.” Kunis swears she’d still be on that Sprinter if she didn’t have work to do this fall.
Back in California, the family divides time between L.A. and their home outside Santa Barbara, which offers the children a reprieve from what Kunis calls “the fishbowl.” Recently her daughter asked whether, if she were to enter her name into Google, she would see paparazzi pictures of herself. “That was a bummer,” Kunis says. The beach house, by contrast, gives them “privacy but with people. It’s a weird little town where no one cares who you are. After two days they all got used to it.”
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Last year, Kunis created an adult animated series, Stoner Cats, that could be purchased using NFTs. It was a joyous experiment, but now she is working on developing a comic book-based video game on the blockchain. She has partnered with a comic company to draw out the series, and her new company, Orchard Farm Productions, will develop the game, called Armored Kingdom, itself. Exactly how does a famous actor end up deep in the world of Web 3.0? “I didn’t go to college. I’m not an engineer. How would I ever have access to anything if I don’t know it already?” she asks. “Ashton has been immersed in tech for 20 years now. So 10 years ago I started learning about it. I don’t need to be an engineer to build a product. That doesn’t stop me from partnering up with people. The simple idea of asking for assistance, mentoring, partnership—this stuff is not common in the entertainment industry. But in tech it’s encouraged. People are like, ask me anything! Whether it’s AI or crypto or where the medical industry is going. I’ve learned so much by just being curious and having a Rolodex.”
But lest you think this means there are no rom-coms in Kunis’ future, fear not. She is an entertainer through and through and still lives to get a laugh. “At the end of the day, I just want to do something that allows people to escape for an hour and a half. That’s the world’s greatest medicine.”
Market stylist MELINETTE RODRIGUEZ.
Stylist assistant BOTA ABDUL.
Hair by CHAD WOOD at The Wall Group.
Makeup by TRACEY LEVY at Forward Artists.
Manicure by KIM TRUONG at Star Touch Agency.
Prop stylist CATE KALUS.
MILA KUNIS wears DIOR top and skirt. GANNI boots. CARTIER bracelet and ring.
Feature image: PRADA coat, $6,400, sweater, $1,990, and shoes, price upon request. CARTIER ring, $4,950, and earrings, $7,250.
This story originally appeared in the Fashionable Living 2022 issue of C Magazine.
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