By Marjorie Rosen
November 05, 1990 12:00 PM

Movie sex, explains Maria de Medeiros, star of the sensual new Henry & June, “has a choreography and timing to it. It’s almost as if you were dancing.” And clearly she doesn’t mean the frug.

De Medeiros, 25, makes a soul-and body-baring American debut in a film so controversial that it prompted the Motion Picture Association of America to create a new movie-rating category: NC-17, or “Not for children under 17.” She plays the author Anaïs Nin (1903-77), whose intimate diaries, revealing her dangerous liaisons in the Paris of 1931 and ’32 with both writer Henry (Tropic of Cancer) Miller (played by Fred Ward) and his wife, June (Uma Thurman), are at the heart of the story.

“Of course I was nervous,” admits De Medeiros about her steamy love scenes. “But it was a good thing for me. I just let the shyness become part of my character.”

De Medeiros won the role of Nin after director Philip (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) Kaufman saw hundreds of applicants and was struck by her uncanny resemblance to the author, whom he knew. “You feel a softness and elegance about them both.” he explains, “a churning sexuality. Maria, like Anaïs, is calm but sexy. What I love is that she’s really funny and laughs at everything, making it an adventure.”

The daughter of Portuguese composer Victorino de Almeida (Nin’s father was also a composer), Maria grew up, with younger sisters Ines, 22, and Anna, 11, in Vienna, Europe’s music capital. During high school in Lisbon, film director João César Monteiro, a family friend, cast her as the star of Silvestre, his medieval tale of a girl who passes for a boy to defend her father. “And I liked it very much,” she says. So much that on arriving in Paris to study philosophy, she scrapped her plans and enrolled in the prestigious drama school, Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique instead. Subsequently she starred onstage in Elvire Jouvet 40, a duet for student and teacher, then in Zazou, a rock musical.

For someone so willing to go nude on-camera, De Medeiros is fiercely private about her life off screen. Currently she shares an apartment in the Montmartre section of Paris with her boyfriend of five years, whom she met in drama school and describes curtly as “nobody famous.” When not working, Maria reads Shakespeare and Moliére, plays the cello (“badly”) and gobbles up American movies. “I don’t cook a thing but frozen food.” she says.

She scarcely has time. This fall she filmed Meeting Venus for Hungarian director Istvan Szabo. She has also made two shorts that were shown in Paris. So though she admires Nin’s Diaries, don’t expect De Medeiros to start keeping her own. “It takes a big discipline,” she explains. “You have to concentrate on the writing. And I can’t do that for the moment.”

—Marjorie Rosen, Maria Speidel in New York City