Asta Nielsen (11 September 1881 - 24 May 1972), was a Danish silent film actress who was one of the most popular leading ladies of the 1910s and one of the first international movie stars. Seventy of Nielsen's 74 films were made in Germany where she was known simply as Die Asta.
Nielsen began her film career in 1909, starring in director Urban Gad's 1910 tragedy Afgrunden ("The Abyss"). Nielsen's minimalist acting style was evidenced in her successful portrayal of a naive young woman lured into a tragic life. Her overt sexuality in the film's "gaucho dance" scene established the erotic quality for which Nielsen became known.
Noted for her large dark eyes, mask-like face and boyish figure, Nielsen most often portrayed strong-willed passionate women trapped by tragic consequences. Due to the erotic nature of her performances, Nielsen's films were heavily censored in the United States and her work remained relatively obscure to American audiences.
She is credited with transforming movie acting from overt theatricality to a more subtle naturalistic style. Nielsen founded her own film studio in Berlin during the 1920s, but returned to Denmark in 1937 after the rise of Nazism in Germany.
During the Second World War she provided money for Allan O. Hagedorff, a young Dane living in Germany, to assist Jews. Using money provided by Nielsen, Hagedorff sent so many food parcels to the Theresienstadt concentration camp that he was warned by the Gestapo.
She was married three times. A private figure in her later years, Nielsen became a collage artist and an author.