For Swedish newcomer Tatjana Patitz--the supermodel-turned-actress who at 26 is a dead-ringer for a young Lauren Bacall--a mostly nude performance as the murder victim in 20th Century Fox's new release "Rising Sun" wasn't exactly how the ingenue imagined she would break into the business.
Although Patitz, as the sultry Cheryl Austin, doesn't even receive an opening screen credit and has but half a dozen lines delivered with a hardly believable Kentucky drawl, her graphic murder scene is the most memorable image in the movie. The scene, which shows the half-naked woman engaged in a graphic S&M sexual encounter that ends in her murder, is played dozens of times throughout the film in close-ups on multiple video screens and in high-tech fax transmissions as detectives John Connor (Sean Connery) and Web Smith (Wesley Snipes) work to solve the mystery.
"Rising Sun," directed by Philip Kaufman and based on Michael Crichton's controversial bestseller, is a murder-mystery set against the backdrop of the cutthroat nature of U.S.-Japanese business relations.
While the film has drawn much heat from the Asian-American community about what they perceive to be its anti-Japanese sentiment, Patitz downplayed any suggestion that her role may be seen as exploitative and sexist by moviegoers--particularly women. "It's the story, I don't think it's intentional," she defends.
"The first thing one has to do is have an understanding of it, however sick it may seem," she said of Austin's penchant for bondage and pain. "There's a certain craziness, a certain lack of respect and low self-worth. Anybody into (sadomasochism) wants to punish themself, and then it goes too far."
It's not enough that her character's ill-chosen sadomasochistic hobbies provide the impetus for the movie's murder investigation. To make Austin's twisted demise worse, Harvey Keitel's character, Lt. Tom Graham, crudely describes the strangled victim as "lying flat on her back on a boardroom table like a piece of sushi."
"I was a little freaked at first," Patitz admitted. ". . . I thought, 'Oh my God, I don't want my parents to see it.' "
Her parents won't get to see the film until its October European release, but American audiences may recognize Patitz (at least her face) from the covers of Vogue, Elle and other fashion magazines. She has done print campaigns for Calvin Klein, Jil Sander and Monteil of Paris, with whom she is currently under contract. And while Patitz said she has done some nudity in modeling sessions with noted photographer Herb Ritts, it doesn't come close to the intensity in "Rising Sun."
"It was exciting, and at the same time I was really embarrassed."
Except for an appearance in the 1991 music video for George Michael's "Freedom," the half-German, half-Russian, Swedish-raised Patitz had no acting experience before "Rising Sun."
The actress--who won the part in "Rising Sun" after reading for it--insists that nine years of modeling and more than four years of acting lessons prepared her well for her not-so-traditional first job.
Patitz has no future film projects lined up, but is hoping to branch out into comedy when her modeling schedule will allow it. She would like to do projects like Pedro Almodovar's "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," and dreams of working with German director Wim Wenders ("Wings of Desire").
"I'd rather do smaller parts with a good cast and director that I believe in," she said.
"I'm taking every day as it comes. To think of all the possible outcomes, I would drive myself insane."