October 08, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

People who ask Patricia Arquette about her older sister, Rosanna, miss the point. Her grandfather, Charley Weaver-turned-Hollywood Square Cliff Arquette, played a more crucial role in her, er, development. ”If my parents hadn’t been visiting him back East, I might not have been conceived,” says Arquette. ”They told me it took place on the Gettysburg battlefields.”

Not an inappropriate beginning for Arquette, 25, once queen of the B-movies, who, with her breakthrough turn as True Romance‘s trashy hooker-heroine, Alabama, has finally conquered Hollywood. Her youth may suggest that Arquette deployed the heavy artillery of her Rosanna connection to become an overnight success—but she gained her ground through the equivalent of trench warfare.

While still a teenager, Arquette embarked on her acting career the hard way: She appeared in a string of cheesy low-budget movies like Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (1987) and Prayer of the Rollerboys (1991). Among her war stories, Arquette recalls a role as a ”lunatic porn star” in a student film called Sugar Sugar. ”We had to simulate pornographic scenes. It was the funnest time I ever had.” Her worst experience? Nightmare on Elm Street 3, where she feuded with a cast member she won’t name. ”I didn’t know how to fight for myself and win. It was about the quality of the work. I felt guilty. I still have some of that good-girl complex.”

Off screen, Arquette’s struggles have included single motherhood. She says the decision to have her son, Enzo, now 4, was difficult: ”When I was pregnant, I looked really young and people would be snotty. Someone said to me, ‘Oh great, another poor person’s going to be on welfare.”’

Hardly. Arquette lives happily in L.A. with Enzo and has a new boyfriend. (”Just call him Racer X. He’s a famous actor and writer. His initials are J.B.”) And her relationship with Rosanna, 34, is sunny too: ”People want to judge us against each other,” she says. ”It’s such shit. We’re close. There’s no competition.”

Now Arquette is working steadily on big-ticket pictures; this summer she shot Leonard Nimoy’s Holy Matrimony, due out next year. ”It’s almost G-rated,” she says. ”No sex, no nudity, no action. What a relief.” After just a week off, she began work on Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, playing the wholesome wife of the ’50s transvestite director. Switching from trashy to tony is ”scary,” says Arquette. ”She’s not a big showboat or show-off. You don’t have so much to hide behind.” But from here on out, as a survivor of Hollywood combat, Arquette may have nothing to fear but fear itself.

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