Maïwenn's mother ushered her into the entertainment industry at a young age, an experience later chronicled by Maïwenn in her one-woman shows Le Pois Chiche (The Chickpea) and I'm an Actress. Maïwenn starred in several films as a child, then teen, actress—notably as "Elle, as a child" (the child version of the lead role played by Isabelle Adjani) in the 1983 hit film L'été meurtrier (One Deadly Summer).
The 15 year old Maïwenn met director and producer Luc Besson in 1991. That same year, due to her difficult relationship with her parents, she decided to use only her given name professionally. She and Besson soon began a relationship, and Maïwenn gave birth to their daughter when she was 16. Having lost her motivation as an actress, she interrupted her career for several years, living in Beverly Hills with Besson and raising their daughter. During this period, she only appeared in a supporting part in Besson's Léon (1994), in which she was credited as Ouin-Ouin. She also directed the film's making-of. Perhaps Maïwenn's most internationally-seen film role was her appearance as the alien Diva Plavalaguna in Besson's The Fifth Element (1997).
After her breakup with Luc Besson, Maïwenn returned to France and resumed her career as an actress. She performed as a standup comedian in an autobiographical one-woman-show, and reentered the movie business after several filmmakers saw her comedy routine in Paris. She appeared in several notable movies, including the horror film Haute Tension (English title: High Tension), in which she starred opposite Cécile de France. In 2006, she directed her first feature film, the semi-autobiographical Pardonnez-moi.