I’ve never been retired,” declares Anita Ekberg, protesting the suggestion that her new Belgian film, The Red Dwarf — in which she plays an aging opera diva who has a torrid fling with the titular law clerk- turned-circus performer — represents a comeback. Truth is, the 67-year-old actress never stopped making movies — she’s just stopped making them in America. ”That’s not my fault,” she says. ”American producers and directors forget about good actresses that are European.”
Ekberg does admit that she hasn’t put in a lot of quality screen time since her reign in the ’50s and ’60s as the most voluptuous of all blond screen queens. She has spent most of the past three decades at her villa outside Rome, lamenting the sex and violence of modern movies (”It’s vulgar! Disgusting! Where is the elegance? The mystery? The romance?”) and turning down roles in ”mediocre films.”
But even at her peak, this former Miss Sweden had difficulty finding decent parts. From Abbott and Costello Go to Mars to Bob Hope’s Call Me Bwana, she was repeatedly typecast as the outsize sex object ogled by comic leading men. ”Same old story,” she sighs, in a smoky voice that befits her statuesque proportions. ”When you’re born beautiful, it helps you start in the business. But then it becomes a handicap.”
Still, she’ll always have La Dolce Vita, the 1960 Federico Fellini masterpiece in which she played a movie goddess who parties throughout the Roman night with Marcello Mastroianni’s lovestruck journalist. (”She possessed incredible beauty,” Fellini once said. ”I had never seen anyone like her.”) The film put the actress on the world map — though she’ll argue she was already there.
”Why do people always say Fellini discovered me?” she asks. ”I was in films long before Fellini. That’s why he wanted me. And he wanted me even more when he saw me driving like a mad one around Rome in my Mercedes 300 SL convertible, with my hair long and blowing around…driving so fast that even when it rained, the rain passed over me. I never got wet.”