Rosario Dawson is a super-hot babe. Yes, she’s also a fine actress – check her out in such films as Trance, Sin City, Rent, Alexander, Men In Black II, Clerks II and her latest offering Gimme Shelter. But what you notice first when you meet her is her sheer physical beauty and presence, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that on this unseasonably hot winter day in LA she’s wearing the barest minimum of clothes. Alright, so it’s more than she wore in Sin City, where she stole every scene she was in, partly thanks to her minimalist outfit – leather dog collar and a very small bit of fishnet. But it’s still not very much. There’s a see-through blouse – so sheer you can see her bra, a very short, very tight black mini-skirt, and some very high heels. That’s about it.
Rounding out the look are the exotic features Rosario inherited from her Native American/Irish father and Puerto Rican/Afro-Cuban mother – thick glossy hair, large dark brown eyes, high cheekbones, a flawless café-au-lait skin, and a pair of the most luscious, sensual lips in Hollywood.
But the 34-year-old – whose past boyfriends include Sex and the City star Jason Lewis and director Danny Boyle – is no cool beauty, distant and ultra-careful about how many words and opinions she lets pass between those luscious lips. Instead, those lips don’t really stop moving – and there’s certainly no filter at work. Energetic and not shy about using her beautifully-manicured hands to emphasize a point, Rosario talks fast and loud – as a native New Yorker, she’s not about to make any excuses either – as she explains how art imitated life in the gritty drama Gimme Shelter.
Q: You play Julie, an abusive drug addict mother to Vanessa Hudgens’ pregnant teen, Apple. And you’re both playing against type, and are very un-glam in Gimme Shelter.
DAWSON: That was the challenge and what drew me to this, playing Vanessa Hudgens’ mother. We both had to really go for it, and if she hadn’t gone all the way, what I was doing would just seem cartoonish and vice versa. When we were going to do this, we were on our way to Cannes – and talk about indulgence and all the glamour, beauty, partying on boats, fabulous dresses and so on! – and suddenly we’re in this motel and I’m barefoot and I’m attacking her, and we’re in it. But that’s what you want as an actor, to challenge yourself.
Q: This goes to some very dark emotional places. How much of your own personal life did you think about?
DAWSON: I think you have to, especially when you’re working with a lot of non-actors, actual girls from shelters. We’re doing a fight scene and they’re actually fighting me! It was really painful. So you do put your own life into it. My mom was just 16 when she got pregnant with me, and I never knew my biological father. He didn’t choose to be in my life. And then my step-dad stepped in and married my mom when I was one, so I always grew up with a dad . And my grandmother, who raised five kids on her own, could easily have told my mom, ‘You got pregnant – get out of my house!’ But she didn’t, even though she was mad, upset and disappointed. She was scared for my mom and me, but also kept her door open and kept us in. So this film is so close to home for me for so many reasons. My mom also worked in a shelter, in San Francisco, when I was 10, where they took in abused women and their kids. And I grew up in New York in the 80s and 90s and there was this big crack epidemic.
Q: Were you affected?
DAWSON: Yes – I have family members who suffered crack addiction and lost their entire families and careers and children from it. So all that drew me to doing this film.
Q: How tough was your upbringing and family life?
DAWSON: I think for my family there was just no hope. My mom’s Puerto Rican, born in the Bronx, unmarried with a child – nothing to expect from you! My grandmother got divorced and had five kids on her own – nothing to expect from you or your kids either! So they were really marginalized by society, so the fact we’re here and loving and supporting each other and I get to follow in their footsteps? It’s just amazing to me.
Q: Did you visit some of the shelters?
DAWSON: I did, and we filmed in the actual shelter and it was remarkable.
Q: Do you see this role as a game changer for you?
DAWSON: I hope so – I’m always auditioning! (Laughs) This year marks 20 years since I started acting, and I’ve got to tell all kinds of stories in all different genres. I have one of the best jobs in the world, so as long as I stay lucid, and I can remember a few lines here and there, I can act till the day I die.
Q: Your last film was Trance. What was it like being directed by Danny Boyle?
DAWSON: Incredible. I had met him before on another film that neither of us had ended up doing. I remember walking out of that meeting, an audition, feeling like I had learned something. You don’t get that very often with someone, but he was directing me in that audition. We went back and forth and we played with it a little bit, and it was an experience. It was almost like a short film, just a moment, and it was great. I remembered it, and then years later, I auditioned for him for this. Sometimes when I go on my auditions, I’m wearing a sweatshirt, and it’s like, ‘You’ve just got to love me for my acting and that’s it.’ But this time I was like, 'I have to be Elizabeth, my character.’ I have to walk in here as Elizabeth, who is a super professional, so I got the heels out and I put on a business-y kind of dress. I was completely off book. I played with it a lot and tried to imagine what my voice would be like for someone who is a therapist or hypnotherapist. It was amazing.
Q: You and Danny Boyle were a couple and you seemed to be so happy together – what went wrong?
DAWSON: We didn’t announce our relationship so it’s not like we’re going to announce our break-up. I love Danny, he’s wonderful and we actually dated longer than people think we did. I respect his privacy, so it’s not something we really talk about.
Q: You’ve done some pretty daring nude scenes in films like Trance and Alexander.
DAWSON: How I feel about nudity is we’re all naked under our clothes. I’m imagining you naked right now! (laughs) I thought it was really interesting. I haven’t done a lot of nudity in films, but Trance was reminiscent of Alexander. That wasn’t a sex scene or a love scene. It was almost a rape scene. It was a power dynamic struggle. There was something that in a very short period of time revealed quite a lot about these two characters – their dynamic and what was going to happen afterwards – and it was great. It was very interesting, I mean it wasn’t originally written as that, it’s actually what Oliver Stone, Colin (Farrell) and I came up with when we were rehearsing it, so you know, we all sort of collaborated on that, and it being that that was going to be the best way to execute that scene. We took out... there was very little dialogue to begin with, but it ended up being even less, and a lot more of the physical, which I think made sense, because it highlights some of the more emotional qualities with other people, and the more conversational qualities with other people, and really helps to kind of... it is, I think, a definite service of the story, to show what his life was like, and all the different bumps and grinds.
Q: What about violence in films and society. Do people like it more today?
DAWSON: I don’t think the public likes violence better now. When you look at the gladiator times or at any of the things in human history, people are and have always been attracted to violence to the point where they’re in stadiums still to this day watching people getting stoned to death. That is just something we do. We crane our necks every single time we see a car accident. Anything that has to deal with our mortality is always going to be interesting to us. Life and death is always going to be something that draws our attention.
Q: What really freaks you out?
DAWSON: I’m not into jellyfish or centipedes – anything with multiple legs and suction caps – especially when they’re electrified. Ugh! /Viva Press