I’m very stoked to present my recent interview with veteran actress Rae Dawn Chong, of Commando, The Color Purple and the iconic Quest For Fire. Enjoy!
Nate: You began acting at a fairly young age, did you train at any school? Did you know acting was something you wanted to do from an early age?
Rae: Early on I didn’t do much training as I as a child actor. As I grew older I studied with various teachers in LA. Some more famous then others, Barry Primas (Actors Studio) as one example. I started Milton Katselas but booked so much work I couldn’t finish the course. Another teacher was Ron Moss. I believe actors should diversify their training to have more access to tools which prevents you from being bullied with bad directors which there are plenty. At this point I am interested in coaching and teaching myself.
Nate: You spent a lot of time in both the states and Canada (in my hometown of Vancouver, as I’ve read!). How do they compare for you, in terms of life, and the industry? Do you like spending time in both places equally, or one moreso?
Rae: I adore Canada and am very proud to be Canadian. Having said that I prefer working state side as we get paid better and the unions are much stronger and we have better residuals. Canada has a LONG way to go still, and it is frustrating for performers because Canada is such a small country and most who work in the industry are all connected, which is good and bad. Because as an artist looking for protection against the abuses of say a film corporation like Atlantis Alliance well it is impossible because every single law firm in Canada is on retainer to them so we as artist- actors- writers have little or no recourse to collect money owed and that kind of smallness makes working in Canada less attractive.
Nate: Commando- Your role in this film is very unique because she’s not just a standard action film, damsel in distress tag along, she’s actually proactive and gets involved in the action. Was this a draw for you to the movie? How did you get that role?
Rae: Auditioned for it. Lots of actors had trouble with a certain part of the script (a dildo was involved) which I realized early so when it came time to say the offending line I reversed it and made it reflect on Arnold’s character and it was hilarious in the room. Luckily the offending part never made future drafts so I survived a huge hurdle and got the role.
Nate: Quest For Fire- I recently read Ron Perlman’s autobiography in which he says it was a really challenging shoot. How was it for you?
Rae: The most challenging, difficult, almost impossible shoot. Torturous would be too slight a term. We suffered every single day, all day. It was a mental test to be sure. It was like climbing a mountain naked without oxygen. Grim.
Nate: Your performance in it is extraordinary, how did you get into the headspace and bring about that energy and persona in your work?
Rae: I hated working with the director who made it his life work to be extra mean to me. So if Ron said it was hard you cannot imagine how it was for me. An example: I never officially got the role. I just did it. He never gave me the role, Jean Jacques he lorded this over me. The desperate producer Micheal Gruskoff was my champion and protector, he made me Ika, he demanded they book me. OMG, I survived it because I am stubborn and I never quit even when I want to. I wanted to but by the time we started we were hanging on to each other for dear life so why not finish the gawd forsaken job, you know? If one of us left it would have mentally unraveled the group. So much pain and well…thankfully it is a work of art.
Nate: I read that you are involved in many charities. Care to elaborate specifically which ones, and why this work is personally important to you?
Rae: Service is the soul food of life. When I can I give my time to all who need me. It is what one should do…love it.
Nate: You wrote and directed a short starring Chris Pratt. How did that project come about, and have you considered getting more into writing/directing any more?
Rae: It is my first full length feature and honestly it is an epic fail, or imperfect. I adore the film of course because it is my first born and a problem child at that. BUT it educated me and I learned what to do and not do as a director. You improve every time out. Chris is adorable and the film fun and funny. I heard IMDB lists it as a short and I have asked and tried to change it but IMDB is annoying. I will need to request they change it once again. UGH!
Nate: Do you have any projects, cinematic or otherwise that you are excited for and want to speak about?
Rae: Currently starring in a play called Climax at the Santa Monica playhouse. Developing a TV series called “Hello Sunshine” hoping it gets picked up this month. 3rd meeting with a studio…so close. I have another pilot I am work shopping to fix the bugs, make it the best it can be. I have a feature film I am producing that is called Theory of Invisibility by Aimee Pitte which is magnificent. We are looking for a (STAR) director and star to take it to the studios. I just accepted to produce a new play by Derek Botelho which is an intimate 2 character piece about a moment in Tennessee William’s life as friend and writer Carson Macullers share a cabin on the shore. It is exciting…this period in my life is amazing. I am loving LA and life as a film maker- actor. I am very happy creatively.
Nate: Sounds awesome! Thanks so much for your time Rae, and for chatting with me.