Brigitte Nielsen Likes Life as Rambo's Lady, but This Dane Is Nobody's Pastry
Along with concerns about Reagan's tax proposal and single-digit inflation, this is the question on everyone's lips—at least on the lips of those who've seen Gitte's film debut, Red Sonja. Co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and based on the character created by author Robert E. Howard in the 1930s, Red Sonja casts Nielsen as a farm girl who beats her plowshare into a sword, bloodily avenges her family's murder and, in a contemporary twist, fights to lose her chastity. Her robust performance as a Rambo in a miniskirt suggests she won't stay in Stallone's shadow. "Emotionally, spiritually and intellectually," says Stallone, 39, "she's a rare specimen of a woman."
Indeed. For one thing, she's two inches taller than Sly. For another, she's too ambitious. "I have to work and do my thing as well as Sylvester does movies," says Nielsen, who plays the wife of Stallone's Russian opponent in his Rocky IV. "I'm very outgoing. I have a lot of energy. I say to myself, 'Hey, let's go for it!' "
She's paraphrasing Rocky III, of course, but with just cause: Her early years in Copenhagen could have formed the basis of a Stallone script. Raised by a librarian mother and engineer father (her brother, Jann, 19, is studying engineering), Gitte proved that goonies span the globe. "Puberty was the most horrifying time of my life," says Nielsen, a polyglot whose English betrays only a soupçon of an accent. "I was 13 when I reached my present height. I was so skinny I looked like one of those starving people in Africa. The boys in my class would beat me up because I was too tall. Plus I was very late to develop. All the other girls would run around with nice breasts and have boyfriends. I wasn't popular. I was never part of a group. I suffered from braces and an Amazonian height."
When she was 16, her braces came off, her estrogen switched on and Twiggy suddenly became Anita Ekberg. By the time she turned 17, Nielsen was modeling in Paris and Milan. Her Viking mettle helped her steer clear of such industry shoals as competitive jealousy, libidinous playboys and brief experiments with cocaine and pot—leaving her in the pink when producer Dino De Laurentiis spotted her on a magazine cover and made her the star of Red Sonja.
"I'm young, but I've lived a lot," says the woman who's been dubbed "Tower of Power" by Stallone. "You can't sit in a chair and wait for things to happen. That's why I am where I am today."
Earlier this year, destiny brought them both to New York. But Gitte supplied the push. Sly had just separated from his wife, Sasha; Nielsen had just finished Sonja. A Slyophile since she first saw Rocky, Nielsen heard he was in town and tried calling, but couldn't penetrate his security phalanx. Finally she sent him a letter and a photo from her modeling portfolio.
"The photograph definitely helped," recalls Stallone. "I called her right back." That led to more calls, two dates and her residency in his Pacific Palisades, Calif, home for the past five months. "We were very quick," as she puts it.
Given Stallone's affinity for fresh female companionship, Nielsen will be lucky if she's still around as of Rocky IV's November release. Right now, though, Gitte is go-go. "I like a man to know what he's doing," she says, "and that's perfect with Sylvester—I call him Sylvester because it's prettier than Sly. I like to be controlled, but that doesn't mean controlled like a dog." No chance of that. In fact, Leonard Engelman, Rocky IV's makeup artist, reports that when Nielsen is around, Stallone acts "like a puppy wagging his tail."
Gitte is certain Red Sonja will have a potent appeal. "Sonja's a woman in a man's world," she says. "She's fighting, she's killing. It seems more powerful when a woman cuts off a man's head." Maybe. But such roles do not usually spell Oscar. "I'd like more dramatic roles," says Gitte, who has no formal acting training. "I hope people see me as capable of more dramatic acting. I'd like to play the sort of thing Meryl Streep does. But that takes time. You have to prove yourself first."
Cheer up, Gitte. Rocky did it.