What starlet in her right mind would slam Steven Spielberg before her first cup of coffee?
Hint: She's the daughter of comedian Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong). And the nut, they say, never falls far from the tree.
Quirky, kinky and flakier than a bowlful of Kellogg's, Rae Dawn Chong orders her java, flashing her wide-screen, wraparound smile. It's the morning after the premiere of "The Color Purple," and Chong, one of the stars, has just washed her hair. She lets it down and shakes it out, like a kamikaze cheerleader with a Molotov pompon.
"Sometimes you just got to let people take advantage of you," she confides. "Hollywood is a very tricky place. When you work for someone like Steven, he, ah, cuts your price . . . 'cause it's such an honor to work for him.
"He's very nice. After he cuts your price, he's a very nice guy."
Chong is honest, probably too honest for her own good. An outspoken 24-year-old, she talks in a Valley Girl soprano, shrieking, squealing and whispering in an unstoppable breathless stream punctuated with "you knows." A major spiel, as it were.
"We were happy to be there. It's like being with, you know, the king of the heap. And it's very hard to complain and say, 'Why don't you pay people what their price is?'
"Isn't that the way it is? People with all the money tend to be the cheapest, tend to have pay phones in their living rooms. Have you ever seen any happy billionaires?" she demands. "I've never seen a picture of a rich person that didn't have major liver lines, major grimaces and wives that look just as miserable . . . They get theirs in the end, when you don't treat people right.
"I wouldn't say Steven didn't treat us right. We were all caught as a cast and as performers in a position of weakness where I couldn't have walked in and said, 'I want my part to be bigger because I'm Rae Dawn Chong.' "
Chong wanted to play Shug Avery, the blues singer who befriends the heroine, a major role in this story of black sisterhood in the rural South. Instead she plays Squeak, one of the smallest parts in the movie.
"They just sacrificed her character, so they could give more to Shug," she says. "Shug is the one I wanted. I would have loved to play Shug. I would have just been so guuuud as Shug."
Rae Dawn Chong is no ordinary bombshell, but a lithe, Lolita-like vamp, with skin the color of pecan ice cream and chocolate-chip eyes. All the races of the world mingle in this one lean woman, the daughter of an Afro-Indian stenographer and a half-white, half-Chinese comedian. It's made her beautiful. It's made her confused.
She grew up in Canada with her father and the first of two stepmoms. Tommy Chong had a strip joint and a jazz club in Vancouver, but later moved his operations and his aspirations to Detroit and then Los Angeles. She inherited her comic ability from her father, she says. "I think comedy is the greatest place to go. It's better than crying."
Originally trained as a singer, she became an actress in the Disney movie "The Whiz Kid of Riverton" at age 12. At 21, she completed her transformation from moppet to sex kitten, winning a Canadian Oscar for her portrayal of a feral cave woman in "Quest for Fire." She was a natural in the nonverbal role, which she played wearing nothing but primordial mud and mink oil. To this day she is known for bringing mankind closer to a civilized state by teaching her Cro-Magnon companion, played by Everett McGill, the missionary position.
"It was horrible, a nightmare and I hated doing it," she says. "But it was the best thing I could do for my career. It gave me credibility that I couldn't have done with 'Fame' or 'Flashdance.' "
McGill took his part a little too seriously, Chong says, when it came to the dawn-of-man lovemaking, and he hurt her in some of the scenes. But an upcoming, as yet untitled movie with Mick Jagger has proved a bigger pain. Sneak previews may be seen on MTV in the form of "She's the Boss" videos, but they don't show the X-rated scenes.
"There's definite sex," says Chong, revving up again like a slumber-party girl with secrets to share. "I'm naked. There's Mick naked . . . I felt it was so unnecessary for my character to be sooo naked. I thought it was better to indicate eroticism. They were so into what they wanted, which was just real slush, a raw, almost uncomfortable scene."
What's it like rolling with a Stone? "Well, first of all, you don't really do it. You know that, right?" she explains. "I don't think you're ever comfortable. Mick is really easy to be around, and he's sort of silly and funny. He was hanging out, so I didn't feel too bad. But I've seen the finished scene and it's so, oh, it's just so there.
"I don't think it's totally disgusting, but it's not my favorite thing. I, uh, survived it. I don't think there are too many shots of cellulite . . . When I agreed to do the film it wasn't written, so as it got more written, I got more trapped into doing it. But I was a good sport . . .
"And I really adore Mick. He's sooo, sooo funny . . . The truth of it is, we did it the month of November and I didn't have any money. And I could use the bread. It was an enormous amount of money for a month's work before Christmas."
Chong is frequently a good sport about taking off her clothes. In addition to the movie scenes, she's done a pictorial for Playboy and other risque' magazine spreads. "I guess it's like a form of waitressing, you've got to do it," she says. "But I don't necessarily want to play Joan of Arc."
Three serious love relationships and a 3 1/2-year-old baby haven't given Chong much time for growing up. Actor John Stockwell is her current main squeeze (she likes 'em blond and macho, she says), though they don't want to act like they're old married fuddy-duddies. "He works so much. And I work so much that we just don't see each other that much. But we're madly in love with each other. It's just real hard to deal with it. He's real handsome and real attractive. And I'm real attractive, too. So it's a challenge. I'll tell you the truth, I'm just wildly possessive. And I really only want someone who worships the very ground I walk on."
Stockwell is back in California this trip, but Chong's son, Morgan Baylis, is curled up in her hotel bed with a major fever while his mom grants interviews. Morgan is her child by a short-lived marriage to Owen Baylis, a Manhattan stockbroker; he has his mother's eyes and his father's shock of flaxen hair.
They make a striking pair, mother and child, and Chong dotes on him. "I am a good mother," she says. "He's a very good boy. I hope he's a good person, he's honest, that he's got a good sense of morals, that he doesn't try to take the shortcuts of life, isn't some sort of jerk, 'cause I'd like to like him for the rest of my life."
Her mothering won Arnold Schwarzenegger's respect and admiration on the set of "Commando," Chong's biggest hit. She played the Big Magilla's stewardess sidekick in the action blowout, a part originally slated for a blue-eyed blond.
The role, she says, was very sexist as originally written. Her sense of humor about it not only helped her get the part, but advanced the cause of feminism as well.
It seems -- "Good lord" -- there was a scene in which she was carrying around this marital aid. "The original draft had the girl with it in her bag. And he discovers it . . . and she says, 'Oh well, you know, it gets lonely in the air.' "
She laughs hysterically. "There's no way that I'm going to say that on screen. It was really horrible. The ultimate disgusting thing . . . I think it's just so male, coming out of just such a male place."
When she got to that part in the audition, she remembers, "I screamed as if he'd pulled out a snake: 'Whose is it? EEEK! EEEEK! EEEEK!' And Arnold, taken aback by all this, says: 'Wull, ay dunt know whose it is.' " She got the role that day, she thinks, "because I made some pretty disgusting stuff funny."
By the time Ms. Commando was done, she had saved Schwarzenegger from a bunch of macho guerrillas with her antiaircraft gun. It was a characterization that would have made even Gloria Steinem proud. Chong hopes to do a sequel, especially since she thinks the billing would be 50-50.
Right now she's working on her first record album, which includes her original tunes, "Black Girls," "Africa" and "Personal Politics." The last is about taking stands, says the composer, reciting a sample verse. "You're on the left. I'm on the right. Let's have a fight. But the one thing we have to remember is that we are free to be who we want to be. Pacifists and lunatics. Anarchists and lawyers."
She seems pleased at rediscovering the lyrics. "They're clever," she says.
As a one-woman rainbow coalition, Chong can be anybody she wants to be. She played a part-Apache woman in "American Flyers" and a lesbian stripper in "Fear City." Her best role so far was as a flaky alcoholic poet in Alan Rudolph's classic "Choose Me."
"I think Alan really writes well for women," she says. "It's not the typical kind of sexist dumb lines that we contend with." Rudolph returns the compliment. He says he admires Chong for her daffy charm, her spontaneity and her brains. "I like her acting, too," he says, "because I can't find it."
She's up for the part of a Creole in a new Alan Parker movie set in New Orleans. "I already read for that one. I did a good job apparently. But you see, they're spending a lot of time trying to find somebody else, 'cause there's this feeling that I get everything. And they want to give someone else a try. I get all the parts that anyone that would look like me would possibly get.
"I think it's absurd to say I get parts because I'm someone's daughter. I get parts because I'm guuud. You can count on me . . . Ultimately what happens is they get frustrated because they haven't found someone else. Then they always come back, then I always get more money."
In the past her color has worked against her, she says. But "I think the best thing about 'The Color Purple' -- and why I was attracted to it on a deeper level -- is because it transcended the color barrier. It happens to be about black folks in Georgia, but it happens to be about people first and foremost."
The movie has been protested by some males for its negative portrayal of black men. "Honest to god," fumes Chong. "They need to redirect that energy from protesting and use it towards something positive."
In the final analysis, how did she feel about Spielberg's work?
"It's really easy to be a lounge-chair critic. It was a very, very difficult task. I think he did an admirable job . . . I couldn't go public and tell you the truth if I felt differently. It would be suicide, professional suicide . . .
"I'm sorry. I would like to be honest with you, at least more open about it. I'm not saying I have a different opinion. The truth is the truth. I can't even be truthful."
Now she tells us.