The French doors blow open and in breezes a young woman with alabaster skin and lake-blue eyes, a vision so sexy that to the groggy teenage boy on the couch she could be a dream. “Are you ready for me, Ralph?” she purrs.
As Lana, the Chicago call girl who teaches a suburban adolescent (Tom Cruise) everything he ever wanted to know about love and money, Rebecca De Mornay makes an alluring screen entrance in the sleeper hit Risky Business. Indeed, the crackling chemistry between Cruise and De Mornay, especially during an erotic lovemaking sequence in a moving elevated train, is one reason for the film’s success. That scene delights Rebecca. “Not only do men find it erotic but so do women,” she says. “For Tom and me, they were very affecting scenes, because neither one of us had ever shown ourselves that vulnerable on the screen. That’s what is hot to me. Porno films are not hot. What’s hot is when there is a real connection.” Offscreen, the connection between De Mornay and Cruise, who are both 21, is close but not romantic. “I think he is an innocent and that makes me feel good,” she says.
Like Tom, who was constantly on the move as a child, Rebecca was raised by a mother who never settled down. Two years after she was born, in Santa Rosa, Calif., her parents divorced; Rebecca took the last name of the man her mother then married. When he died two years later, Rebecca and younger brother Peter went off to travel abroad with their mother, Julie. They toured in a Volkswagen bus through England, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and finally Austria, where they stayed for six years. Sometimes the children attended school, sometimes not. “Mother is a very unorthodox kind of woman,” says Rebecca. “She didn’t place a lot of value on formal education. She made sure that we could read and write, and speak foreign languages, and in every city she took us to museums, operas, theaters and concerts. She never wanted us to be conformists.” With her mother’s help Rebecca once talked herself into an Austrian school in the middle of the term—even though she couldn’t yet speak German. Despite initial troubles, she wound up graduating summa cum laude. Although Rebecca now appreciates her Continental experience, she says, “As you’re doing it, you’re thinking, ‘Mom, why can’t we just have a house somewhere?’ ”
Her unusual upbringing brought Rebecca to maturity early. “My mother was childlike, and I think I acted more like the mother,” she says. “I’ve always felt more at home with people at least 10 years older than I was.” A guitar player who composes songs, Rebecca originally hoped to become a rock singer. She even wrote a theme song for a kung fu movie about Bruce Lee. But two years ago she moved from Europe to Los Angeles to study acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. While there she was accepted as an apprentice for Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios. Prior to Risky Business, Rebecca’s movie career consisted of a single line in Coppola’s One From the Heart: “Excuse me, those are my waffles.”
Director Paul Brickman cast Rebecca after interviewing more than 200 actresses for the role, because “I wanted a hard edge of sexuality for that character, someone who was not really warm and not really accessible,” he says. “I knew Rebecca had the ability to dominate Cruise and take control of the early portions of the film.”
Success hasn’t affected Rebecca’s independent streak. She recently turned down a movie role that “would have paid me five times my Risky Business salary” because she didn’t like the script. Her next part is a mother-housewife in an upcoming PBS drama, Testament, about the effects of a nuclear holocaust. Laughs De Mornay, “My mother told me, ‘Your integrity will be the death of you.’ ”
Rebecca currently lives in a modest one-bedroom West Hollywood apartment. Her mother and brother, who both live nearby, are still her best friends, although in addition to Cruise, she is close to songwriter Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen, and actor Harry Dean Stanton. At the moment, Rebecca has no boyfriend. “Whenever I’ve been with somebody, I’ve done everything humanly possible in the relationship to make it work,” she observes. “It hasn’t worked, but I haven’t been a flake. I don’t have time for dating and I don’t have time for games. When I like someone, I like them and that’s it.” What ever venture she is undertaking, De Mornay keeps her personal business anything but risky.