Stockard Channing: First Degree

If you don't remember her as Rizzo, the knocked-up she-hood from Grease, or the fat girl revenger from "The Girl Most Likely to...," then you may have trouble placing those chipmunk cheeks that prompted a thousand "I know you...wait a're..."

"People always project a lot of stuff on me," says Stockard Channing in a moment of peeved perplexity. They're always saying oh, you look like that, oh, you lost weight, oh, I thought you looked taller, oh, I thought this, oh, I thought that. I've had my hair this color for three years and they say oh, I like you blonde."

Of course, being selected for praise by the usually grumpy Frank Rich, theater critic for The New York Times, for her stunning performance in John Guare's play Six Degrees of Separation has certainly turned the spotlight on this actress. But since plays just don't cut it in the cross-country celebrity challenge anymore-after all, who watches the Tony Awards?-maybe this month's release of Channing's new film, Married To It, will help the nation get hip to what a good actress she is. In Married, a schmoozy ensemble piece directed by the king of the crying jag, Arthur (Love Story) Hiller, Channing plays Iris Morden, a "schlumpfy" earth mother who "probably hasn't been naked to the waist in bed with her husband in years."

Channing's last cinematic adventure, Meet the Applegates, the sophomore effort of director Michael (Hudson Hawk) Lehmann, didn't do much for her profile on screen. As the mother in a family of bugs disguised as humans, Channing was more mandible than anyone else on the screen, but the film flopped anyway. "I made Meet the Applegates for the money," she says matter-of-factly. "I liked the weirdness of Applegates but it had a silliness about it which I wasn't terribly comfortable with, and I had a suspicion it would turn out the way it did. I have to do my little quota in the pay-the-bills department.

That's what I do," continues Stockard, who once starred in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, a disco astrology movie with basketball star Dr. J. "I can only act. I tried to give it up years ago but I couldn't do it. I can't do anything else, really. I wouldn't know what to do in an office. It's too late now, anyway. Most people, when they go to work, they go to an office and sit there and do things I would have no idea of how to do. I can't type. I can't write a letter. I'm absolutely ignorant in many ways that everybody takes for granted."