Hi Rae, thank you for talking with The New Current, how have you been keeping?
Busy and very good thank you. Started a new writing project that just takes over. Auditioning, attending film festivals (The Mistress) which has been very fun, sweet and exciting. This new film I am in THE MISTRESS is EXCELLENT. Greg Pritikin is a genius director. So this is satisfying.
Congratulations on the success of AMC+ Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, what has it meant to you to see this series get such rave notices?
Thrilled for us. I love Rolin Jones, he is so talented, very generous, funny. The applies to the entire crew and cast who all are just worthy of this success. It was a great experience.
What drew you to Florence de Pointe du Lac?
I loved the book. When I heard they diversified the cast, it made sense and I wanted in. I was interested. I was a fan of Jacob from GOT so it was exciting to get the gig.
With the de Pointe du Lac family changing from white to African-American how much did the source material help you bring this uniquely powerful matriarch to life?
Creoles...historically were complicated people. Not black not white. So it has a knife's edge of tension built in. I was happy to investigate what was happening historically to my people, the Creoles. It's a rich history, we need more of it on screen.
*Spoiler* One of my favourite scenes is Florences' last scene with with Louis, she grabs his face and says “There he is…”, it’s a terrifyingly intense, it also offers something of a unique insight into their relationship. Louis moment of violent anger is something Florence has forewarned but has never been on display, but in this moment everyone can see it. How much do you think this scene between Florence and Louis would/could impact the guilt and isolation he comes to feel later?
This is a common thing that can happen in families especially where there is a matriarch. The not approving of the/her eldest child's choices. So it's a common thing in family dynamics then we sprinkle the evil of vampirism into this mix and it deepens it. I think she senses that her first born is gone. That something has happened to him and this horrid creature isn't her child. I played it this way. It's like a metaphor for addiction, what happens when we succumb to vice.
Florence had some other wonderful lines, usually curt responses to Lestat, do you have a favourite exchange?
I loved everything I said. There wasn't much.
With the series being renewed will there be any chance of Florence de Pointe du Lac coming back, in flashbacks of course?
They may have too, just to expand and fluff out and give the narrative some sunlight and air. We shall see. I love Flo so anything can happen. I am loving Eric Bogosian. I really wish we could have had something together.
Have you always had a passion for acting?
No, I wanted to be a singer.
In the 80s you where part of several iconic movies notably The Colour Purple, Soul Man, American Flyers, and Commando to name but a few. It was also a rare time for a young Black actress to have such diverse roles especially in an action film like Commando. Diversity in Hollywood is an issue now and back in the 1980s it would have been an even bigger issue, did you have any apprehensions or feel any pressure taking on these roles?
No pressure, just ambition because I had to fight for each and every role. I recently watched a trailer for a film called "When The Party's Over" by Matthew Ermis. I forgot how much I loved this role and the movie. If you haven't seen it, have a look. I feel like that film was 10 years, maybe 20 years ahead of things. I felt sadness because I feel the systemic racism kept the film from doing better from getting more attention. That stings.
With the success of Commando where you offered more action roles?
I didn't get offered anything good. I think Joel Silver spread lies about me and that hurt my trajectory and the town is filled with men who want to believe the bad so it wasn't helpful. I think misogyny is a terrible virus that cripples careers. This is across the spectrum but at that point I was definitely a major reason the film was a success but no one really cared. Arnold took all the credit. AND Racism.
Would you have liked to have done more action movies?
Absolutely. If the scripts are worthy...sure I would have loved it.
It reminds me of Julia Dash, director of the masterpiece Daughters of the Dust, the first independent film by an African-American women director to be nationally released in the US, winning multiple awards, yet wasn’t really “welcomed” into the industry.
My point, made.
Because of your unique style, look and the diversity of your roles did it ever feel as though “the town” was working against you in not capitalising on the success of your role in Commando?
I wanted to ask about Soul Man (it’s a film we loved watching growing up as kids) do you think the controversy that was stirred up impacted the heart and message that this film had?
Soul Man is a delight. I love this movie and I think people should watch it and laugh and giggle and enjoy it. It's a delight. At the time of its release Spike Lee was coming up and being the ankle biting bully he is he hurt it by tagging us racist. Did he see the film? No, but his tag hurt it. Fact. It's just a fact.
What was the experience working on Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire?
Nightmare. JJ was a beast, an insensitive monster, VERY talented but oh so sadistic toward the cast and crew. We suffered for years making this film and still have PTSD, now, today still. Thank gawd it turned out great. I just ran into him, his new film is about the fire at Notre Dame. Watching the film I saw that it was desperately hot and these kids were frying, burning. He was there after the screening bragging about how he wanted it to look realistic. $0 years later I immediately began to be traumatised. His hubris is sadistic. It's a good thing he is a gifted director, so at least the film is great.
Did you have any regrets leaving Hollywood towards the end of the 1980s?
I had to go. I had to save myself. I was in need of therapy and TLC, it was mandatory that I get away.
How much did the lack of support you got impact you?
It wasn't easy and my childhood wasn't really a childhood and so that trauma on top of exposure to Hollywood's excesses you know? I did what I had to do just to survive. I needed tools and help and I manifested it away from the craziness. Luckily.
Mixed raced actors tend to have to walk a fine line in the roles they accept, usually not taking roles that are written for Black Women (Zendaya said in 2018 she regularly auditions for roles written for White Women). This seems to be a battle only a minority within a minority are facing and there is little conversation about the effects this this has on actors who might be mixed to light skinned.
It's a double edged sword. It's tricky race and sex and age is a tricky thing.
"I have met and admire many filmmakers who are brilliant human beings who don't really fixate on race and are not white supremacists."
How much did the perception of “not being black enough” affect you and could established African-American artists have done more to be supportive and understandable?
It's an ever present thing. It's a question of diversity in leadership inside the system. It's a question of intelligence and boldness. To be honest there is a harsh racism within the community that radiates outward into the system. What can we do? I say humanity is flawed and needs updating constantly. We could be better, be more loving, more creative and braver Hollywood could have better leadership. But Improvements take decades and I see it happening. I have met and admire many filmmakers who are brilliant human beings who don't really fixate on race and are not white supremacists. They do exist. Water seeks its own level. You magnetise to your tribe when you know what you stand for.
In 2000 you directed Cursed Part 3 which featured the then unknown Chris Pratt, what was the experience like writing and directing this short. Do you have any plans to get back behind the camera?
It's a full length student film. We had a camera issue to name a few issues so it's very challenged but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. CP is so adorable in it. I also directed a short "Mary's Stigmata" about abortion. It won an award for best film and director. I also crowd funded and directed a pilot called "The Celebrant" which I also wrote. I am very proud of this.. I am developing a series now a sitcom. I am always looking to do more. I like making content. Each time I go for it, I get better at it. So yes.
Looking back at your career if you could go back to a younger Rae Dawn Chong what piece of advice would you give her?
Relax, you are not fat, you are perfect. BEAUTIFUL. enjoy more, stress less...love and play more.
Of all the projects you have worked on do you have a favourite?
"When the Party is over" is a pretty decent role/film...I was excellent and so beautiful.
My new movie THE MISTRESS is very thrilling, well done. I adore the TV series I am developing. Hysterically funny and a brilliant showcase for my comedic chops. I hope I get to do it. My lips to gawds ears.
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer someone wanting to get into acting?
Finish school, get therapy for at least 5 years while finishing school. Talent. Be talented.
Finally, what would you like your audiences to take away from your work?
I am present, doing the best I can in that moment. Fully alive and grateful.