Fresh from a round robin of interviews for "Silverado," Rosanna Arquette looks beat. Her face, normally incredible in its elasticity, is temporarily settled.

"I met so many people today. It's been, like, a really long day," she sighs. It's made longer as Arquette recalls the day's three dumbest questions, each of which had been asked a dozen times.

"What was it like working with Madonna?"

"Are you the Rosanna in the song?"

Which she is.

Arquette pauses.

"Those are the two dumbest."

There's got to be a third.

She squinches up her face, temporarily obscuring its dazzle. " 'Does it bother you that you're hardly in "Silverado?" ' That's not so dumb."

"But the Madonna question and the song question are a little old and boring and who cares, you know?" Under honey-blond hair, Arquette's expressive face is perking up, beginning to keep pace with her vocal expression. The thin eyebrows are bobbing and weaving, the slightly askew, sensual mouth curling around the words, the exquisite aquiline features sharpening as Arquette brings her gamin self into focus.

She's part coquette, part Rockette: Arquette's pink of health is accentuated by a pink tank dress, lacy white Madonna stockings and floral print boots. Crammed into the corner of a couch in Columbia Pictures' hospitality suite, she looks more like an alternately self-conscious and self-assured baby sitter undergoing parental interrogation than one of Hollywood's hot young stars. She is constantly running her hands through her hair, leaning into her answers, draping herself over a pillow.

From leads in "The Executioner's Song" and "Baby, It's You" to her current exposure in "Desperately Seeking Susan" and on the cover of American Film, and upcoming projects with directors Martin Scorsese and Hal Ashby, Rosanna Arquette is all over the place, and right now that's exactly how she feels.

The Madonna question arose out of the left-field hit "Desperately Seeking Susan," originally envisioned as a starring vehicle for Arquette and subsequently something of a shared credit. A Rolling Stone profile suggested that a major rift had arisen between the film's costars.

Arquette replies with a short barnyard expletive. "Madonna and I are friends and she's asked me to be the maid of honor at her wedding [to actor Sean Penn]."

"It's just that ['Susan'] went through a lot of major changes. It wasn't the script that I originally signed to do, it became a different film.

"And during the making of it there were some difficult moments . . . But that happens . . . I think it turned out pretty good. It's a lot different than what I wanted, but I don't think it's terrible. Really, I'm happy with it."

Still, she probably won't be making any more movies with Madonna.

Or with Sean Penn.

"I'd like to work with Sean but I asked Madonna, 'Now that you're getting married, do you think I'll ever be able to work with him?' and she said, 'Unh-unh.' "

You couldn't see much less of Rosanna Arquette than in "Silverado," the new Lawrence Kasdan western in which she is third-billed even though she appears in only three very brief scenes. There will be a little more of her in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" -- "one of the greatest experiences of my life. Do you mind if I have a little bite of chicken?"

She tears into a plate of chicken cold cuts.

"I need a little protein, 'cause I've been talking," she explains.

After the Scorsese cameo, there's a full-blown lead opposite Jeff Bridges in Hal Ashby's "Eight Million Ways to Die."

"It's not the time on screen, it's the role that's important to me," Arquette insists ". . . and 'Silverado' was a really nice experience, a collaborative, ensemble piece, and I am glad to be a part of it. I've done a lot of lead roles so it's nice to do things that you are just a part of, to go back and forth."

"I've been really lucky with my career because I've been offered every kind of role. I mean, in 'Eight Million Ways to Die,' I'm playing a call girl/cocaine addict. A very serious role. I mean, it's not a comedy. I'm getting offered comedies a lot because of 'Susan,' and I like doing comedy, but I'm an actress and I want to do different roles."

She's reminded that a couple of years ago, she'd complained about wanting more comedy roles because she was tired of dramatic roles in which she always ended up crying.

"Isn't that funny?" she muses. "That's true, because I was doing a lot of drama and then I got a lot of comedy. I like the balance, to be able to do both. I think that I can do both and, given the chance, I've been able. I just like to do a lot of different things."

Rosanna Arquette's march to stardom seems natural.

Her grandfather was Cliff Arquette, better known for his coot character, Charlie Weaver. Her father, Lewis, was an improv actor and director; her mother, Marti, a poet and writer. Born in New York, Arquette grew up in a number of places, always surrounded by theater and music and liberal political consciousness. She describes herself as a true flower child of the '60s, one who ran around naked at Woodstock. "I was the young rebel as a little girl," Arquette recalls fondly. "My parents used to paint on my body, 'Stop the War, Kill No More.' They were very politically active."

Her first performances, at age 8, were in Paul Sills' "Story Theatre," under her father's direction. Her parents were also involved with the Chicago folk mafia, people like Bob Gibson and Hamilton Camp (her godfather). "All my life I was around artists, actors, activists. I was exposed to it all, to the guitar playing people staying up all night and working and, you know, hearing that. I remember sleeping and hearing music and rehearsing. It was a good time in my life. I really remember the '60s, being a kid. I really was a flower child. I loved it. I remember being a kid and moving to California and writing that 1967 was my favorite year. I mean, I really loved it."

"Wasn't that a beautiful time? It's real sad, it makes me want to cry because, like, what happened? What happened to the young people and their consciousness . . .?"

In the early '70s, Arquette's parents moved to a commune in Virgina, with "a bunch of actors and musicians," but not Arquette, who chose to remain in Maplewood, N.J. "Then I moved to Chicago and went to high school there. Then I moved up to Marin County outside of San Francisco," hitchhiking there at 15. The hitchhiking, she says, was "very stupid . . . I don't want to glamorize that because it certainly wasn't glamorous." Eventually Arquette landed a job in a small Los Angeles theatrical production, got noticed and received her first major exposure in the 1978 television movie "Dark Secret of Harvest Home," the first of eight television movies she made.

"I was switching channels recently and suddenly it was on," Arquette says. "I saw a couple of scenes and I was terrible."

"I also did a lot of guest shots on television ," she adds, usually playing a teen damsel in distress. "I did a teen-age alcoholic on 'James at 15,' and I did a teen movie called 'Having Babies, Part II.' I did 'Zuma Beach' with Suzanne Somers. I did 'Class of '55.' God, lots of things. I did a television series for a year, with Shirley Jones, called 'Shirley.' I played her daughter. I was really bad in that."

These confessions of inadequacy are accompanied by increasingly mobile facial expressions. Does she have to consciously calm her face down?

"I have no idea. Someone once videotaped my conversation, just to show me. He called me a cartoon. I looked, and my face was all constantly going. I think you can read my mind on my face. I mean, there are things you can tell immediately."

Arquette's favorite role, and the most challenging in a young career, has been the only one based on a real person, Nicole Barrett, convicted killer Gary Gilmore's spacey girlfriend in "The Executioner's Song."

" 'Cause she was alive and I was playing someone who was really alive," Arquette explains of the chilling role that earned her an Emmy nomination. "I thought it was really important for me to do her. And I spent a lot of time with her and I had difficulty with the director because he wanted me to portray her as a slut. To me she wasn't. She was this girl who'd been a very abused child and was married three times by the time she was 19 and needed love. And she found love with this guy who completely adored her and she had never had that before."

Arquette herself had been briefly married at 17, but there were few other elements of empathy with the character of Nicole. "It was more what I had to bring out of myself . . . I mean, I relate to any character I'm doing. I have to."

That year, 1982, was when Arquette started being taken seriously as an actress. " 'Executioner's Song' and 'Baby, It's You' came out within a couple of months of each other and that was really good for me because . . . they're really different. And a lot of people were going, oh, is that the same person? And that is a neat feeling, because that's what I like, for people to be surprised."

Recently Arquette has had some surprises of her own. Despite having grown up in show business, she insists she wasn't prepared for what happened when Rolling Stone put her and Madonna on the cover.

Rolling Stone painted a picture of a flaky, emotionally vacuous and shallow actress upset that her thunder had been stolen by a rock star.

"I hated that piece. I think the writer tore me to shreds and was real vicious and cruel and I don't know why. I didn't do anything and he hated me. I don't think I'm a bad person and I don't know why he did that. I was really damaged and hurt . . . and talking about it makes me cry," Arquette says, her voice close to breaking. "I swore I'd never do interviews again, 'cause I really am myself and I'm not guarded . . .

"I am a working actress and all this stuff comes along with it. I guess it hasn't sunk in. . . . I've been getting recognized a lot. And people want to talk to you and I like that, I think it's neat. I say, 'Really, you liked it?' . . . I've been really lucky, I don't have anybody saying 'Hey! You were terrible.' Like, I'm sure I will, but people always go, 'You're in the Madonna movie.' "

"Yeah, I am."

Arquette's boyfriend is record producer James Newton Howard. Her relationship with musician Steve Porcaro of the rock group Toto is over, though the melody lingers.

"I have been friends with James for a really long time. Steve and I are still really good pals. He calls me up all the time. But it was better for us to be friends and not be in a relationship."

To catch Arquette between relationships, you might watch the first program of an upcoming PBS series, "Survival Guide," written by Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley and directed by Jonathan Demme. "I'm a little disappointed in my performance," Arquette confesses. "I think everybody's great, but my personal life was affecting my work. I was actually breaking up with Steve and I think I was terrible in that show." Another work she seems less than proud of is "The Aviator," in which she costarred with Christopher Reeve. "I'm sure it'll be on cable someday and maybe I'll never work again."

Arquette is still high from her work with Scorsese and in anticipation of working with Ashby. "And Sam Shepard just sent me his new play that he wants me to do here. And I really want to." And perhaps there will someday be a bonding movie for the slew of new young actresses as "Silverado" is for its young actors. Arquette is eager.

"There's a lot of women I'd love to work with -- Debra Winger, Jessica Lange, Julie Christie. And there's a lot of young actresses like Mare Winningham -- she's in 'St. Elmo's Fire.' She's an amazing, amazing friend to me and we love each other so much, we really want to work together . . . And another girlfriend of mine, I mean, these are my two best girlfriends, is Joyce Hizer, whose new movie is 'Just One of the Guys,' she's really good in it."

"And Rae Dawn Chong and Michelle Pfeiffer . . . it'd be neat to do something with them. We're all kind of in the same age range, especially Michelle. She and I are up for the same parts a lot but we're very, very different. She's very, very beautiful, classical, you know. I really like Michelle a lot."

At 25, there's apparently just enough of the flower child left in Rosanna Arquette to celebrate such friendships in innocence. But there's also a pragmatic side.

"I feel like it is really important to me to do good work and to find the kind of roles that I can grow in . . . I mean, I don't want to play your dumb-blond kind of things. The closest I came to that was the first half of Roberta. She wasn't really dumb, she was just searching and a little stuck. But I like growth, I like character development . . . I'm grateful that I'm able to work. There's so many talented actresses out there."