The Improvised Line That Landed Rae Dawn Chong Her Role In Commando

In the 1985 action film "Commando," Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as John Matrix, a retired U.S. Army Colonel who has just 11 hours to rescue his daughter, Jenny (Alyssa Milano), from a group of mercenaries. Along the way, Matrix carjacks and forces help from Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), a flight attendant and pilot-in-training. Finding the right actress to play the character was a challenge for the casting team.

The role of Cindy was originally written for a white actress. The film's director, Mark L. Lester told Yahoo Entertainment that 40 white actresses — including Sharon Stone and Brigitte Nielsen – auditioned for the role; "the usual suspects" he called them. However, it was Rae Dawn Chong, a Black Canadian woman who stood out. "She was the most comedic, and did the best reading," he said. "We were way ahead of our time in that way." Lester didn't know that behind Chong's comedic display during her audition was a woman feeling the pressure to win them over, and she credits an improvised line for doing just that.

'That's not mine!

In a "Commando" oral history in Empire, Rae Dawn Chong said that because Cindy was written for a white actress, she felt she only had one shot to nail her audition. During the reading of a scene, Arnold Schwarzenegger's John Matrix finds a dildo in Cindy's handbag. Rae Dawn Chong was to shrug it off and respond, "It gets lonely on the road," but she wasn't feeling the line. "I thought that was so lame," she said. She knew the other actresses were having a hard time executing the line. "So, when my turn came, I screamed and said, 'That's not mine!' It got me the part."

For some reason, that particular scene didn't make it into "Commando." Is it possible that Arnold Schwarzenegger was embarrassed by pulling a dildo out of a woman's bag? "Not even slightly," Chong said. "He didn't break a sweat running a state, and he didn't break a sweat handling a dildo then." 

And that's how Rae Dawn Chong became Arnold Schwarzenegger's lover in "Commando." 

Didn't catch that plot point? Honestly, the first few times I saw "Commando," it didn't hit me that John Matrix and Cindy had become lovers. I recognized that, as the film progresses, Cindy becomes a willing accomplice who appears to want to help a desperate father get back his daughter. But his lover? I guess the final scene is a tell-tale: the sight of Cindy waiting for him by the helicopter prompts Matrix to emphatically decline an invitation to return to the Army. He then boards the helicopter with Cindy and his daughter. But this happily ever after send-off would have been more believable if an earlier scene hadn't been cut from the movie.

A love scene between Schwarzenegger and Chong got the ax

Dawn Rae Chong posed a problem in the minds of the misguided higher-ups at 20th Century Fox. In the Yahoo Entertainment interview, director Mark L. Lester revealed that, because of Chong's casting, a love scene between John Matrix and Cindy got the ax from. He explained:

"They were afraid that Southern theatres and drive-ins wouldn't play the film, because we had a Black woman and a white man. There was no real nudity or anything; they were just going to be making out. This was only 35 years ago, so it shows you how times have changed."

Lester elaborated on the studio's additional reason for scraping the scene. He said:

"They said, 'He's on his way to save his daughter — why is he taking time to make love to this woman? It's not going to make him look very good.' They were probably right about that, but I think it was more about the interracial aspect at that time."

I've seen plenty of onscreen couples make love while in peril. See "The Terminator," the movie Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in directly before "Commando," as just one example. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Kyle (Michael Biehn) spontaneously have sex in a motel while on the run for their lives from the titular killing machine (Schwarzenegger). "Queen & Slim" is another example.

It's sad the love scene in "Commando" was cut just to ensure business from bigots. I should be surprised — but I'm not — that this sort of thing was still happening in the mid-80s. Lester told Yahoo Entertainment that casting Chong was a sign that the studio was ahead of its time, but they're refusal to go all-in with her character suggests the contrary.