Ivana Milicevic was born in Bosnia, geographically about as far away from the big lights of Hollywood as you can get. When she was just a little girl, her family moved to Michigan. At the tender age of 17, Yivee, as she is known by friends and family, moved to Los Angeles all by her lonesome. Fortunately, Ivana brought with her a lot of talent, and a whole lot of determination. She has built one of the most successful careers in Hollywood, appearing in countless movies and tv shows. She was even a Bond Girl in Casino Royale. Nowadays, you can see Ivana starring in the Cinemax hit show Banshee. (Oh yeah, and her brother is the guitarist for 30 Seconds To Mars...what a family). What is most impressive about Ivana isn't her long list of IMDB credits, but rather her approach to her career and life. Her story is the story of faith, perseverance, and triumph.
Story and Interview by Miwa Sakamoto
Tell us about your childhood, where were you born, what did you want to be when you grew up...lets hear it.
I was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina then it was Yugoslavia. I looked forward to being a "pijonir" kinda sounds like "pioneer". That was like kindergarten and you wore this uniform with a blue hat with a red star, white shirt, red ascot thingie, and a blue skirt with white tights. For some reason I couldn't wait to be a pijonir. But I left for America before I could. I think I wanted to be a ballerina even when I was little. I used to walk around on my toes showing off my ballerina skills, so imagine my surprise when I grew up into a flat footed Amazon. That was my earliest recollection of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Funny story. One time my parents were gone somewhere for a few hours and a neighbor was watching me, but I was playing outside and my apartment where we lived was unlocked. I kept going into my parents' drawer where they kept the cash and walked over to the corner store with it to buy candy. I did that like five times in a few hours. Maybe it was just an hour. The shop keeper told on me and gave my parents their money back. But I did eat all that candy and it was delicious.
You were raised in Detroit, and then made the jump to come out to Los Angeles, on your own. What was that like? Your parents must have had a lot of faith in you.
My parents couldn't have stopped me from graduating early and moving to Los Angeles when I was 17. I was a very grown up kid that had A LOT of responsibilities around the house and regarding my baby brothers. My parents raised me with a good strong head on my shoulders, so although they were sad I was leaving, they were supportive. Plus, My school allowed students to graduate early if they were starting university sooner and if they had enough credits. I argued why couldn't i graduate early if I was starting a career? And they let me.
What made you decide to make the jump from modeling to acting?
That was always the plan. I went to Los Angeles instead of Paris or New York because I ultimately wanted to act. Perform. I wanted to act the moment I realized that was an actual job. Before that I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, litigator specifically. I made the transition to acting by way of doing some stand up and was lucky enough to be discovered by a manager that way. When I started acting, the entertainment industry wasn't as open armed towards models. That has changed since.
Tell us about your stint as a stand up comic...
Well, I did it for a few months. Comedy is my first love. I love Saturday Night Live and stand up comedians, and improv comedians and just funny stuff in general. I enjoy a team effort in making people laugh. Doing stand up on the stage up there all by myself was lonely! Plus, I got heckled and it was how I defended myself that got me my first manager.
What lies underneath all of your success?
Faith I think. I just always believed that this was possible. I believe that anything is possible anyways. It's as hard to become a successful doctor or lawyer or professor as it is to become a successful actor or writer. I think they all become equal and I think that the people who are successful all share a core belief that is something akin to "why not me?"
You have meditation practice, talk to us about why you started meditating, and its impact on your life.
I haven't meditated my whole life. I've really only known about it the last 15 years. It's a practice. I go in and out of being disciplined with it. When I am diligent I feel more proud of my discipline around it. Yes, I'm more peaceful and calm and able to handle stressful situations much better. Even when I'm not actually sitting still and meditating I am constantly thinking positive thoughts and choosing positive feelings, letting go of just about everything, and actively trying to love every human and creature in the world. Unconditionally. That's really challenging sometimes.
How do you explain your progression from a Catholic to a devout meditator?
I don't know that I was ever a devout Catholic. I say that because I didn't pray the rosary very much but I did go to church every Sunday and catechism etc. oh. I guess I've completed most of my sacraments too. I think I only went to confession once though before my first communion. I didn't have much to report to the priest so I said I stole some gum, but I didn't really steal it. It was in the floor by the gum ball machine. So, I guess I lied to him. Crap. I better do a few more Hail Marys. Anyways, when I was a tween I started to go to church with my grandparents. I really liked it because it was just wilder and more hand clapping and "praise the Lord" ing. It was more exciting and I thought that people were more on fire for what they believed in. But most organized religion left me searching for more. Something deeper. When I came to LA I discovered some interesting new principals starting with this book called THE GAME OF LIFE AND HOW TO PLAY IT by Florence Schovel Schinn. In it, she talked about Jesus and Buddha and how "your word is your wand" and it just spoke to me and that's when I started to be really conscious of what I said and how I thought. Another great teacher of mine taught, "your beliefs become your experiences. Tell me about your experiences and I will tell you about your beliefs. Tell me your beliefs and I will tell you your experiences." I have found it to be true.
What influences the clothes you wear and the things you surround yourself with?
I love myself a "costume". I don't like any one style all the time. I go through gypsy/belly dancer, lady, hipster-y, skater, punky, simple, and total cheeseball phases. Sometimes I fancy myself a little harajuku girl or half robot person. I'm quite weird when it comes to what delights me, but I've learned through friends and stylists to be a little more elegant. Still sexy. I like sexy men's suits. I really like so many things and try to stay away from things that aren't flattering for my body. We are kind of in a cool time where you can wear lots of different styles and lengths. Yes, there are things of the moment like high waisted jeans, but if that doesn't look good on you you can still get medium or low waisted jeans. Flared, boot cut, or skinny. Long, short, or medium skirts and dresses. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything and just wear a summer uniform (usually white dresses) or a winter uniform (usually jeans, boots and my boyfriend's sweaters. He loves cashmere so....) I love high fashion because the pieces some of those designers create are just breathtaking. I cherish the moments I can own or borrow some of those pieces.
Tell us about the Pink Thunderbird...
Ahhhh. "The pink" as I used to call her. Sigh. I loved that car. It was my first brand new car and it was that old dusk rose pink that was popular on the thunderbirds in the 60s. I eventually sold it on eBay to a woman who had another pink car! I hope she loved it and enjoyed it as much as I did. Not fair that she had two pink cars though.
You've been lots of places, where should we take our next vacation?
Botswana is one of my favorite places in the world. You can really study elephants there because there are too many of them. My dream is to go to the Maldives. It's very far away and very expensive but I will get there eventually. However, I think that the Maldives will be one of the first island nations to go underwater if the climate change continues at the rate it's been going. Whoa. Bummer last note. Sorry.