Photo: Unveiling his handiwork , Dern's compulsive tattooist personifies the film's provocative paster, which proclaims: EVERY GREAT LOVE LEAVES ITS MARK. As director Bob Brooks puts it: 'The most horrific part of the movie is that he does on the outside of the body what we ordinarily do on the inside--we tattoo each other's heads.'
Dern predicts that, besides stirring controversy, the movie may establish a fad for temporary skin tattoos. 'You know, his two make-up men and Levine have patented. So you may have a tattoo effect for an evening. Actually, it stays on from 48 to 72 hours.'
Bruce was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans when he showed up at my Beverly-Wilshire Hotel suite. Now 45, with a lean, hungry look, he is a habitual runner . He used to teach acting, a craft that he practices with total concentration and with this hypnotic intensity that became his signature in the neurotic, weirdo or redneck roles he was able to play before Hollywood discovered he could be a certified sex object to hordes of girls. Although Dern didn't want to give away too much of the plot of Tattoo, he admitted having had misgivings that the character he portrays--a tattoo artist who becomes romantically obsessed with a famous model and spirits her away to his beach house--might be regarded as a throwback to those psycho parts. 'I was worried about it. I didn't want the Bruce Dern of Black Sunday to reappear in Tattoo. But Joe Levine didn't want that, either. This is not the study of a psycho. In this picture, through a personality, I believe there is more of the true soul of Bruce Dern than in any role I've ever played. This is a most honest love story, the critical exploration of a relationship.'
The casting of Maud, Dern confided, was a combination of flukes. 'In fact, they offered the role to Nastassja Kinski, but she didn't want to do it. We had to get a woman I could literally fall in love with, be obsessed with, someone I could give. It was my secretary, Donna, who watched Maud on The Tonight Show and said. 'You ought to have a look, she would be right for the part.' Three hours before, as it happened, our director. Bob Brooks, had seen the exact same show in New York and asked who that girl was. Her flew out for an interview the following day.'
Still, what's a more interesting conversational topic than sex? In search of the story behind the film and Australian-born photographer Denis Piel's PLAYBOY-commissioned exclusive shooting of Maud Adams, I decided to allow the woman have the last word. So I talked to Dern first.
Maud softened a bit. 'Even if we were, would not it have been better left unsaid? I felt really hurt, because I had gained such respect for Bruce in the course of the movie, as the most consummate actor I'd ever seen. I also loved him as a person and believed he was such a sensitive, vulnerable man. But I think when he starts working on any project, he loses Bruce Dern and becomes the character he is playing. That was very evident about halfway through the movie.