A BLONDE IN BARCELONA
miss november, tonja christensen, nurtures a career in catalonia
Blonde, blue-eyed and gutsy Tonja Marie Christensen, who just turned 20, has come a long way in the past two years -- 5800 miles, to be exact, the distance from West Valley City, Utah, a sleepy suburb of Salt Lake City, to cosmopolitan Barcelona, Spain's second largest city. There, while the Catalan capital gears up for the 1992 Olympics, she's diligently pursuing a dual career in modeling and acting. "I think I've grown up a lot in the past two years," she says. "For one thing, I've learned that there's a lot more to life than slinging burgers." That's what Tonja did for three and a half years at Scotts, a fast-food place back in West Valley. Our Miss November was one of nine children, an example she doesn't plan to follow. "I believe families should be three or four children at most," she says. For herself, being part of such a crowd gave her more freedom than most young girls enjoy: "Nobody was paying much attention to what I did." What she did, finally, was take off for Europe at the age of 18 with a casual friend named Eric and a photographer they'd met through a modeling agency in Salt Lake. "He told us that Spain was a good place for us to get into movies and modeling," she explains. "So we went with him, landed in Amsterdam and bought an old car. It took us a month to drive to Spain." Travel can be hazardous to a relationship, and the car trip tested their patience. They survived, though, and Eric's now her best friend, the man she expects to marry eventually. They share an apartment above a bar in the resort town of Sitges, near Barcelona, "with a view to kill for -- the beach is right in front." It took Tonja a while to adjust to her new surroundings. "I had to learn Spanish from scratch. I'm fluent now. I've also had to learn quite a bit of Catalan." Language isn't the only cultural difference between Sitges and Salt Lake: "It's normal to go topless on any beach here. I don't, though. I guess I'm too American." Tonja is pleased with the career strides she has made overseas. Among her credits: the cover of Playboy's Spanish edition; publicity work for Pioneer electronic equipment; an episode of the TV series "Dark Justice," which is filmed in Barcelona; a video for singer Miguel Rios; and several commercials for Spanish television -- notably, a popular one for Sanyo VCRs, for which she spent ten and a half hours being made up to look like a robot. But she's not staying in Spain forever; she plans to return to the U.S. when this issue hits the newsstands.
Photography by Stephen Wayda