When interviewing Brigitte Nielsen, thoughts naturally wander to her numerous Playboy covers, her marriage to Sylvester Stallone and the long reality television-fueled career that sparked her much-chronicled romance with Flavor Flav. Nielsen knows that’s the case—and she doesn’t blame you.
“As much as people love to see me in movies, they’d love to be a fly on the wall [of my personal life],” the 55-year-old Danish model, actress and reality TV personality, who most recently took on a cameo role in Creed II, tells Playboy. “People are very curious.”
And that’s how the interview goes: Nielsen is outspoken, never shying away from my attempts at indulging readers’ fantasies and getting behind the mind of a woman who reached the peak of fame in the 1980s. Her time in the limelight didn't end there, of course, as she later found a new audience when starring in a variety of reality shows that many look down upon now, a rather curious fact given that reality television is what captures our national attention in 2019, both in the form of all things Kardashians and how our current government is functioning.
But let’s start from the beginning. Nielsen is making the rounds following her return to the Rocky universe as Ludmilla Drago, the wife of villain Ivan Drago, who first appeared in the franchise with Rocky IV, directed by her then-husband Stallone. Without my asking about it, Nielsen immediately delves into her thoughts about working with an ex-husband 30 years after their divorce: “Thirty years ago, I was married to Sylvester Stallone, and today I’m divorced. Happily divorced,” she says, laughing. “Of course, I wondered how it was going to be to work with Sylvester again. And it was perfect. He stayed in the American corner, I stayed in the Russian corner and everything worked out perfectly fine. We are two professionals.”
She is quick to note that the technical advancements that have catapulted the movie-making industry forward in the past few years impacted her actions on set: “In the ‘80s, you could easily shoot four to six, eight months. Movies are a lot quicker today … more intimate, faster. You have to be very, very good. You really got to know the cards in your hands because there is no time to make a mistake.” Another difference between her experience on the 1985 Rocky set and her work today? Back then, Nielsen had a son. Today, she is the mother of four "grown-up boys," as she points out multiple times throughout the phone interview, and a 7-month-old daughter, Frida (she was seven months pregnant while shooting Creed II)—whose birth (and conception) was thoroughly (and incessantly) reported on in tabloids at the time.
"Brigitte Nielsen announces pregnancy at 54," read multiple headlines back in June of 2018. Not getting into the precise details involving her pregnancy (about which she extensively opened up about in the media as the news broke), Nielsen spends time discussing her seemingly perennial presence in the tabloids throughout the past three decades. Although she doesn’t fully grasp the public’s interest in her personal life (“There is no mystery,” she says. “I am six-foot-one, and I am full of life, and I am ready to take the chance on many things”), she acknowledges that her past appearances on reality TV shows both American and European have shed a light on aspects of her life that aren’t directly related to professional acting or modeling—a fact that she doesn’t regret or apologize for.
“It was a time where the whole Big Brother thing, especially in Europe, was very in,” she says. “It was a moment, and I have to be honest, [stars] made a lot of money on this. It was such a big thing, so when there was no big movie around, it was something.” She continues: “I have been a woman who has taken care of four boys and now a little girl. I never had the men behind me taking care of me. I do absolutely recognize my mistakes, but rather than say sorry for them, I say I learned from them and maybe tell other people about it, so they won’t go down the same road when [they] make mistakes.”
This chatter about female empowerment and her complete devotion to her career as a way to support her growing family turns into a conversation about Hollywood’s treatment of women her age. “Roles, I believe, can get bigger. [We can] have more female directors,” she says. “When they [cast] a role for a woman between 40 and 50, they always [choose] a girl that’s 25 or 30. That’s just the way it is. I don’t know if that will ever change, but I would love it if we could just be appreciated for the age we are and play the role we are. However, things are looking up. Women are definitely being heard, but you can always have more—don’t you think, for yourself?”
Her relative positivity cracks when the topic inevitably shifts to the #MeToo movement. “I think we have to be careful that the ‘me toos’ are the right ‘me toos,’ and not take advantage of a situation that maybe was not as bad,” she advances. She specifically applies her logic to American society, noting that in Italy, most women (or this woman, at least) appreciate being whistled at by men down the street, thinking of the gesture as a token of appreciation for their beauty. “But a lot of women today get offended by that, and this I cannot understand,” she says. “Men have to be very careful what they say in the office, but then again, I also think: Women, don’t put on a miniskirt and do your makeup and your hair and think you’re having a business appointment at 11 o’clock in the evening in a hotel room. If you want to have equal rights, then you have to wear the pants at times."
She continues, "You have to speak up and not be afraid. You cannot place yourself in a situation, and then 30 years after, you go: ‘Oh, you molested me.’ Because that’s really not what’s happening, because we know men. They don’t always think with their heads—they think with something else. Knowing that, we have to be careful. Of course, there are young girls that have totally been taken advantage of. Those men need to be punished, but when you reach a certain age, we are big enough and strong enough to say, 'Don’t do that.' Or don’t go there. Don’t place yourself in situations you don’t want to have difficulty with.”
Her thought process leads to a commentary about American society in general, and the culture’s double standards in specific. To illustrate her stance, she brings up an episode that stuck with her from decades earlier: “I remember being 22 years old, and I was in Malibu, I had a beautiful bikini bottom, and I was topless,” she recalls. “All of a sudden, I heard [imitates a police siren], and the police came to me and said that if I didn’t put a top on, I’d get a ticket. I then see a guy with a boa, a snake around his [neck], and people carrying guns. That’s perfectly fine, but I cannot walk topless on the beach? … This is a crazy country!”
The back-and-forth eventually leads to a breakdown of a variety of subjects that have recently taken center stage in the media. First, Nielsen takes issue with the idea of free speech. “I am a guest in this country, I am a legal resident, so maybe I shouldn’t speak too loud," she says. "But another thing that bothers me that has changed in this country: I used to think in the ‘80s, it was so cool when they said, ‘It’s free speech.’ Well, it’s no longer that because if you say the wrong thing, you are cornered, you won’t work. You have to be very careful because you can no longer say your opinion, people will [be angry at you] if they don’t agree with you. This is very, very, very sad.”
Eventually, she tackles the idea of cultural appropriation. “When they put the Viking hat on, I am happy they do that,” she says in reference to her own culture. “If I were to dress up with a big Mexican hat on, you cannot do that anymore. I just think it’s sad that you are no longer allowed. We are actually celebrating each other! Of course, I obey by the rules, but personally, I think we have gotten a little too sensitive, all of us.”
Lest you think that her words echo ones from a certain someone who’s currently occupying our White House, don’t be fooled: Nielsen is talking about culture as a whole, as dictated by the behavior of people on either side of the political aisle. “I cannot vote, and I am not interested in politics, but there are a lot of double standards here, and politically, it is a disaster,” she says. “I cannot get into it, but I think it’s embarrassing, and being European, I hate to say it, but they are laughing at the kindergarten service that is going on.”
About that whole being European thing, a fact that Nielsen constantly reminds me of throughout our phone call and gets even more excited about when I let her know that I was born and raised in Italy (fun fact: we spend the latter part of our call chatting in Italian), the model happily discusses her celebrated Playboy covers (“I have always said it—if you have a beautiful body, why don’t you show it?”) and associates her willingness to pose with her background: “I’m very Danish, we walk naked on the beach! The Danish mentality is fine with that.”
In case you were wondering, of course she’s still up to appear in Playboy in a few years, if the stars align: “At 60, I will be in such incredible shape!”