By People Staff
June 20, 1977 12:00 PM

If you feel you have a film that’s valid, you stick your ass on the line.

Nick Nolte wasn’t speaking literally, though he was, all the while, risking one of Hollywood’s most valuable new posteriors in making his latest movie, Dog Soldiers. Virtually a superstar right from his first TV shot, Irwin Shaw’s original Rich Man, Poor Man series, Nick then disdained this season’s sequel for Peter Benchley’s treasure-hunting movie The Deep, which splashes across the U.S. this week. Nolte dismisses even that as “old-fashioned action adventure with very thin characterization.” Only now at 36 has Nolte found a film profound enough to immerse his mind as well as his behind. Robert Stone’s National Book Award-winning Dog Soldiers is, to Nick, a “very vital, very important” statement about Vietnam, the drug culture, the ’60s.

His high seriousness may be a surprise, but not the athleticism in the murderous scrimmage (right) filmed on a Mexican border location supposedly simulating a Marine base in Vietnam. Nolte, the son of an irrigation engineer, was a “tramp jock” at five different colleges before he discovered acting at Pasadena City. His dues were then collected in 15 years of regional theater, but not Nam—”I got out of the draft,” he admits, “but I won’t tell anybody how.”

Now the Dog Soldiers company has moved 1,700 miles south to Durango for a hippie commune segment, where presumably (as with Jackie Bisset in The Deep) there’ll be baseless speculation about Nick and co-star Tuesday Weld. Nolte’s lady of seven years, Karen Ecklund, isn’t sweating it—she prefers the cool of their ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains and trusts Nick to take care of himself. The only accident on the set so far was nonromantic—a fight scene in which it took 10 stitches to suture together an actor’s face. Golden Puss Nick Nolte was not the victim—he was the inflicter.