Nastassia Kinski's New Film Is 'cat'-Napping at Box Offices, but Her Career Is Roaring

updated 05/17/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/17/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The warm early-morning breeze rolls in over the Seine and dissolves into the roar and aroma of the café's espresso machine. Nastassia Kinski has strolled in from her apartment around the corner, and in her fist is the morning mail—most of it parking summonses for her VW. She sips café au lait, butters a baguette and can't figure out what the big deal is. Even when she's all paid up, there'll be a trace of the scoff law in Kinski. She debuted in German films at 13, was romanced by director Roman Polanski at 15, left school at 16, romped nude with Marcello Mastroianni at 17 in Stay As You Are, and in Tess, Polanski's lyrical 1980 epic, she got raped and committed murder. And now, at 21, in her new film, Cat People, she is tied down nude for one sexual encounter and is doomed to an incestuous bond with her cat brother, since both of them, see, have these ferocious panthers inside of them. Clearly this is not a woman to fall apart from a few minor parking violations. "I can't understand," she says. "It's not like I'm hurting anybody."

She breezes from the café to prowl local Left Bank shops. She stops, presses her face against a patisserie window. Her giant hazel eyes zoom in on a strawberry tart. "Is that to die from?" she whispers. "I can't," she frowns, but she does.

She takes a bite, turns her to-die-from face toward the sun, and moves on. She darts inside a small pottery shop and notes a sign: Prière de toucher. It is intended to encourage customers to handle the goods. Kinski, 21, vibrantly free-spirited and spontaneous, well understands the irony. The owner then volunteers his storefront philosophy about people who buy things they don't want while denying themselves what they covet. Some people, it translates, need un-happiness to be happy. He lays out his theory as if it were a profound human mystery. "Who could ever live like that?" the shopkeeper quizzes her rhetorically. Kinski places a lovely oval vase back on a shelf, raises her eyebrows, and flashes her asymmetrical smile, full of girlish mischief. "Moi," she answers.

Nastassia Kinski's restless introspection has given her a remarkably self-possessed view of her past eight tumultuous years. "People think I have this great life," Kinski says, her inflection suggesting that they've got it all wrong. "The more I work in this career the more I wanna do it good, and the more I wanna do it good the more I'm going crazy." Her most recent films failed (Francis Coppola's One From the Heart was a commercial coronary, and Cat People has been swiftly declawed at the box office), and yet Nastassia's reviews have been good and she remains in extraordinary demand. She just wrapped her next film, James Toback's Exposed, with Rudolf Nureyev, earning a fee reported to be in the high six figures. In July she'll shoot The Moon in the Gutter with France's gifted 1981 Best New Director, Jean-Jacques (Diva) Beineix. Then she'll play Clara Schumann (composer Robert's wife), a role to be filmed in Berlin in German, followed by an as-yet-untitled film by Poland's Andrzej Zulawski in English.

Though clearly disappointed with Heart and Cat, she says, "I hate regretting. What's done is done. You should accept your art with all its mistakes. Part of me is proud of everything I do, but failures can be like cold showers. They open your eyes." She plans to move to New York, where she hopes to hone her craft in theater. She lost one theatrical role she won't discuss and, eerily, has lost two movie roles to Liz McGovern, one in Ragtime, the other a romantic-comedy plum with Dudley Moore in Marshall Brickman's Lovesick. She occasionally studies with Michael Howard and, though inordinately hard on herself, is hungry for a mold-breaking challenge. Laid-back is not a style for Kinski.

Nastassia still considers Tess "my jewel, a wonderful time in my life. But I'm becoming more of a woman and my life goes on. I want to be filled up with what I do. I want my breakthrough now, something that'll explode from inside me. I've worked with some of the best directors, who have taught me everything I know, but now I need more." She admits she's been "used as an image, you know, 'those lips, those eyes,' " and she's looking for an hour and a half of good acting, not just bits and pieces. "I feel a terrible frustration. But I know things have always come along at the right time."

At least the money is flowing and, says Kinski, "I hope it doesn't distort me. Money's the most awful and wonderful thing there is." She's able to hop at will from Munich, where her mother, Ruth Brigitte, lives, to her own Paris pad, to New York, where she bought a co-op near Central Park. She's just closed a deal for a Bahamas condo and talks dreamily about getting her own island and a boat.

Nastassia loves to spend money on "really beautiful things for my mother, myself and friends, and sculpture. I always," she wisecracks, "buy Rodins." In New Orleans for Cat People she treated herself to 18 "huge French hats with feathers from this one shop, but I never wear them. It was just a game."

The game of love has proved tougher to win. In addition to Polanski, Nastassia is said to have been linked to director Milos Forman, a Parisian lawyer and Cat People director Paul Schrader. As for a Mr. Right, she says, "Maybe there is one, maybe two people on this earth for me. He'll find me. I'm not looking. Maybe there's none." Kinski says she goes for "normal things" in men—"looks and money." She is clearly not counting on love with a 9-to-5 "office guy." "My parents were the most emotional, hot-cold, strange people I ever met," says Nastassia of Brigitte, once a performer, and German actor Klaus (Venom) Kinski. The couple split up when she was 9. "Everything was fought out, cried out, kicked out, loved out. I was spoiled with love and attention and craziness, all the right stuff. It's strange for me to go out there and meet people who are hung up." Nor is she one to cling to a lukewarm, if secure, bond. "I'd rather be depressed."

There is in Kinski's precociously seasoned psyche an urge for solitude. She is a feverish diarist, poet and story writer. She doesn't scare easily. Indeed, being alone, or even shedding an occasional tear in a jet or a hotel room, is sometimes cathartic. "Loneliness can be like a drug or a habit. Things come to me alone that I could never think of around people." She says it's been "hard for men to understand" her need for loneliness. "I can get aggressive and just walk off if I'm with someone. More and more I do what I want."

Kinski has found that her instinctive approach to her work—"animalistic" immersions in character—has taken its toll. "When I'm acting, there's nothing else for me, zero. It's too agonizing and painful, this job. I was not doing it right. I saw other actors having a wonderful time. It'll help me if I just open up, unwind, and refresh myself. That'll make work more exciting and create more room in my life for people." Still, she can also say, "I think you have to suffer a lot to be good. Unconsciously I must think that." She's as inclined to sneak up close to her own psychic precipice as to flee it. "I can fall into a depression just to experience something new. I always have the feeling in those low states that something good is about to happen. That's when I feel the fullest, the rawest, the closest to myself. It's really worth going through that stuff."

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