Body of Evidence

updated 08/30/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/30/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

JUST AFTER SHE SIGNED WITH A PARIS MODELING agency in 1983, Tatjana Patitz was given an assignment: posing for a most uncool clothing catalog in Brussels. Patitz, then 17, never got there. "My boyfriend put me on the train," she says, "and I wailed till he left, and then I jumped off on the other side." For the next three days, she hid out—from her boyfriend, her agency and that depressing job. "It was like I knew there was something better," she explains. "I didn't want to settle for less."

The path Patitz chose that day led her to a life as a certified supermodel, posing for Vogue covers and earning as much as $20,000 a day. But even that didn't satisfy her fully—and so this summer the Russian-German beauty made her big-screen debut in the movie Rising Sun. Patitz, 27, plays Cheryl Lynn Austin, a Kentucky-fried mistress who dies of asphyxiation during kinky sex. Detectives Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes investigate her murder, which is shown over and over on a surveillance video.

Some people might say Patitz made a weird career move. Her first movie gig demanded lots of nudity and long hours of lying on a table looking like a corpse. But Patitz believes that Cheryl Lynn was indeed a role to die for. "I loved making the movie," she says. "I got into the psychology of why she liked to gel strangled and lied up in plastic bags. It has to do with low self-worth."

Now, what would Patitz know about that? This is a woman, after all, who, with piercing blue eyes, pearly teeth and 130 lbs. nicely arranged over a 5'10" frame, has helped bring voluptuous beauty back into style. Nevertheless, sitting in the living room of her rented three-bedroom Malibu beach house (and nearly drowned out by a cacophony of doling dogs, cats and cockatoos), Patiz pouts: "I've never been that confident. I still question my looks. It's not like I go around thinking, 'I'm gorrr-geous.' "

Still, some movie moguls do lb ink that. Rising Sun director Philip Kaufman found out, he says, that Sun author Michael Crichton had described the Cheryl Lynn character as a "Tatjana type." Kaufman invited Patitz in to audition and was bowled over. "That face! It's so very sensual!" he says. "But she doesn't rely on her glamor. She worked very hard." It was worth it, says Patitz, just to work next to Connery. "Sean," she gushes, "is one of the sexiest men!"

At the moment, Patitz doesn't have a man in her life. She recently ended a seven-year relationship with a European rock musician and pooh-poohs tabloid reports linking her to actor Pierce Brosnan, who lives just minutes away in Malibu. "We're friends, neighbors," she insists. "There's nothing romantic going on." And with her modeling career still in high gear, she says, "I'm not ready to be in a relationship."

Besides, being dateless in Malibu is better than growing up moneyless in Malmö, Sweden, where the German-born Patitz immigrated at age 5 with her family. Her father, Axel, a travel-book writer, and her mother, Anne, an interior designer, raised Tatjana and her two younger siblings on a light budge I. "Kids would tease me because I was walking around in the same pants for days," Patitz says. "I was also tall, skinny and flat as a board." When Patitz finally filled out some at 16, a photographer approached her to pose and sold the pictures to a European magazine. A year later she boiled for Paris with her parents' blessing. At 18, she got her first French Vogue cover.

In 1986, Patitz moved to L.A., where "I was wild," she says. "I used to be able to drink 10 shots of tequila standing perfectly focused. On the 11th shot, I would go nuts." The partying ended in 1988. Patitz, then 22, was on a photo shoot in Florida when she suddenly broke out in hives. "My nerves were shot," she says. "The more hives I got, the more depressed I became, and vice versa." Putting her career on hold, she retreated to her L.A. apartment for a month while her morn nursed her back to health.

Nowadays, Patitz is moving in a slower lane. She paints, practices yoga, walks on the beach and meditates. She had plenty of time to do that in Rising Sun. And what was she concentrating on for those long scenes that required her to lie perfectly lifeless? "Grocery shopping!" she says. "I needed paper towels."

ROB MEDICH
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Malibu

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