Rosario Dawson h Cover

Posted on 20. Dec, 2008 by Administrator in hCovers, Profiles

We’re not yet thirty seconds into the interview, and Rosario Dawson has challenged my manhood.

“Did you cry?” she asks.

I, being completely secure with my own sexuality, artfully deflect her question with another question: Was this particular scene—which comprises the emotional crescendo of her new movie, Seven Pounds—easy to pull off?

“It was pretty intense,” she admits. “When I first had the script, I remember getting to the ending and I didn’t think it was going to be very good, cuz there was too much buildup. It was so cryptic, so I ended up going back and re-reading the parts that I liked. Then I read the ending and I couldn’t believe it. I was bawling! I was so taken by that moment, it was such an interesting move. The whole story—all the way through—is just very unique. There were so many emotions going on at that point.”

Okay. I confess. There may have been a leaky faucet jammed in the corner of my eye.

Seven Pounds, which also stars Will Smith and Woody Harrelson, is a career-elevating film for Dawson. As Emily Posa, an isolated and independent yet soft-around-the-edges woman in need of a heart transplant, the 29-year-old actress embodies a richly nuanced character who faces her situation with courage and grace. Smith plays Ben Thomas, an IRS agent who seeks out seven people who owe back taxes. It soon becomes clear that Ben is testing each person’s goodness as he determines whether they deserve his help. He is drawn to Emily almost immediately, and the two share a friendship that blossoms into romance.

The previously mentioned emotional crescendo, or that moment, as Dawson calls it, occurs at the end of the movie during the only scene she shares with Harrelson, who plays Ezra Turner.

“Of all the people, they were probably the most lonely,” she says. “I was glad that I’d known Woody from before. It was definitely one of the more difficult scenes of the entire shoot. It was the end, it was this big deal, and we knew if we didn’t get it right, it might not end up in the movie.” To prepare for her role, Dawson met with someone who’d been on a heart transplant waiting list and ultimately received a new heart. She absorbed everything she could about the emotional and physical implications of such an ordeal. She even observed an actual heart transplant. “It was really startling,” she says of the experience. “The person they harvest from [the medical term for removing the donated organ] is still alive, but they must be brain dead. You see the surgery and the heart in this new body. All of the sudden, you see when the blood starts to go through again and this sort of lifeless, depleted-looking heart fills up with blood and it starts to beat. It’s magical.”

Rosario Dawson is genuinely animated and passionate, whether she’s describing the wonders of open-heart surgery, the many charities in which she is involved, or her fascination with Star Trek. She’s a happy and grateful person who loves her life. I know this because she mentions it often during our interview, in a stream-of-consciousness manner utterly lacking in self-conceit. Her background could not be much more humble. “I know what it’s like to go without heat, water, electricity,” says the native New Yorker. She found her way into acting when she was discovered by director/photographer Larry Clark—not in a malt shop a la Marilyn Monroe, but on the front steps of her family’s squat on the lower East Side. She first graced the screen at age 15 in Clark’s edgy teen drama Kids, and her resume boasts more than 30 films, including He Got Game, Men in Black II, Alexander, Rent, and Sin City.

“People assumed with Kids and He Got Game that I was that type of person, that I wasn’t acting. Both of those roles were very distinctly not me. Emily is probably closer to my personality than any role I’ve played.” Dawson is aware that her path has not weathered the hardships and obstacles faced by most in her profession. “It’s taken so many years to finally feel like I didn’t just sneak in and that people who wanted it more and had trained more were more deserving than me. But I’ve earned my way up. I’m finally feeling comfortable with calling myself an actor.”

That comfort level is discernable in the reverence Dawson holds for her craft. True to her indie roots, she loves working with first-time directors. But she’s equally at home on big-budget and small-budget projects, as long as the material is strong. “I’ve always wanted a script like [Seven Pounds] to hit my desk. I just really value that I got something I wanted. And it’s important not to replace that with another ‘want’, but just to really appreciate that I have it.”

“I haven’t built my career on trying to succeed in some manner,” she continues. “I’ve just been enjoying myself. And growing. And learning. I didn’t go to college, but I’ve had a really great schooling. Spike Lee’s been my teacher. Oliver Stone’s been my teacher. Edward Burns. Kevin Smith. Will Smith. They’ve all been my teachers, and I feel so grateful for that. I’ve gotta be cool with Pluto Nash, you know. I’ve gotta be cool with every single aspect of my journey that made me who I am today.”

A good measure of Dawson’s character is recognizing the multitude of charities she supports, among them The Lower East Side Girls Club; Global Cool; Doctors Without Borders; The Nature Conservancy; Amnesty International; Save the Children; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; and Voto Latino, which she co-founded. She recently was honored by the Environmental Media Association for her work dedicated to green causes. “That’s the one thing I can’t take credit for,” she insists of her philanthropic and social activism. “It’s just how I was raised. Consumption is something that I’m very aware of. My dad and mom built the first recycling center in all of New York City. I’ve been walking in marches since Al Sharpton used to wear sweat suits, I grew up being told that what I did mattered.”

This year, Dawson attended both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, as well as two presidential debates and the lone vice-presidential debate. For her, it was important to be able to hear both sides of the debate during the election season. “I’m from New York City, so of course I think of things differently than someone in Middle America,” she points out. “There are more Wasillas in the world than there are Chicagos. Being able to communicate with those who may or may not share similar views with you is the key to having a national conversation. If we can’t figure out how to talk to each other, when we have the same culture and the same language, how the hell are we supposed to do it in other parts of the world? The one thing that I was really upset about during the election was that they [Republicans] kept saying ‘community organizing’ was like a dirty word, and I’m like, ‘Thank God for community organizers.’ If we didn’t have that, we would have so many junkies on the street, so many more kids getting pregnant in high school and dropping out, we’d have so many more kids and their parents homeless on the street.”

Dawson feels lucky to have been around people who have been faced with their own mortality; they carry themselves with a certain dignity. Her uncle was diagnosed with HIV 26 years ago. “I remember being six-years-old and going, ‘Okay, I can’t go over to Uncle Frank’s house because I have a cold. It would kill him.’ Seeing the person he is now—he’s got a master’s degree, he’s a teacher, he’s got a motorcycle, you know, he’s going through a mid-life crisis—which surprises him because he wasn’t supposed to live. He’s one of the few who’s actually had it since before HIV and AIDS had a name, but he’s still okay and very healthy. And he’s had cancer in the meanwhile. He’s just remarkable.”

Playing Mimi in Rent was special, because the story takes place in the Lower East Side, where Dawson grew up. “It was cathartic, making the story come to life,” she recalls. “I grew up singing. My mom was a singer. I love music, but I don’t think I want to take the time to commit to it at this point.” She leaves the door of possibility slightly ajar. “If I did record, I don’t want to just be produced. I want to write my own songs.” Dawson’s been writing songs since she can remember, but “only when I’m in the moment.” She wants to play an instrument as well. She’s learning guitar “off and on” and has a friend who gives her piano lessons sporadically.

It’s impossible to miss Dawson’s enthusiasm when the subject turns to another of her passions; comics and the world of animation. She attends Comic-Con every year, staying for all five days. (“You get incredible experiences when you’re there with everyone.”) She is lending her voice to the animated Wonder Woman movie scheduled for release in March. “I play a friend,” she says cryptically. Other than Wonder Woman, Dawson never identified much with female superheroes (with the notable exception of Catwoman). “All the others just seem so ridiculously sexy for no reason. When I got into buying comics on my own, I would go for “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac,” she laughs. “I loved The Joker growing up. He represents choice to me in such a perfect way. Every single day, we have a common agreement that it’s terrible to kill each other—The Joker doesn’t agree,” she explains. “Comparing Heath [Ledger] and his performance to Jack Nicholson’s doesn’t work. Jack Nicholson was perfect. He was exactly the television series [originally played by Cesar Romero]. And Heath in his portrayal of Joker is perfect for this moment. He’s a terrorist. That’s the thing that’s scariest for this generation. I love that.” Seizing the opportunity to wax philosophic on one of her favorite topics, Dawson segues smoothly into the final frontier. “That’s what I hope happens with Star Trek [scheduled for release in May], cuz I’m a big Trekkie. We’re talking about a world in which the excellence of science and discovery and exploration supercedes our capitalism. There’s no money in the future. It’s such an incredible idea. It’s cowboys in space.”

Dawson has dipped her toe in the waters of online serials as well, starring in and serving as executive producer of “Gemini Division,” a 5- to 7-minute webisode series that filmed 50 installments. “As a sci-fi kinda show with only a $2.1 million budget, it was an interesting effort,” she says. “For an online series, it’s definitely a step ahead. We did it with SAG, AFTRA, DGA—and we shot in L.A. It was a real production. I’d love to do something in that world again. The Internet is an incredible community, but it’s still kind of an undiscovered world.”

At one point, as we’re talking, Dawson’s attention is diverted to someone or something else. “Is that bacon?” Dawson asks. “Bacon and, um, toast.” Ah, room service, I think to myself. “Every year I go to Comic-Con,” she reminds me. “This year I couldn’t go, so one of the producers of this movie I’m working on got the number of this guy who does this comic book about bacon and toast. He makes these little stuffed animals and it’s like a loaf of bread and each individual piece has a face and little hands and feet that stick out, and each strip of bacon looks like it has fat in it and has little arms and legs. They’re the cutest dolls ever, just bacon and toast,” she explains with excitement. “So I asked her to get me a loaf and a dozen strips of bacon.”

Sensing our time is winding down, I ask what it was like working with Smith again. “Will is phenomenal. It was amazing working with him in Men in Black II, cuz it was comedy and fun and silly. All the energy he has is perfect for that,” she says. Then she adds, “He didn’t walk through this; he really pushed himself. There was no ego whatsoever. Gabriele [Muccino] would scream out some crazy things sometimes. ‘Play me in this scene if I wasn’t me—Action!’ And you’re like, that’s not a direction! But okay, let’s figure it out, let’s make it work. That’s what I love about this movie. It just talks about people seeing each other. Will’s character is looking at them to see if they’re good or not. He’s really trying to see that. It’s powerful. I hope when you walk out of the theater, you can’t help but think, ‘Would he think I was a good person? Would I count?’ Deep down I see myself as a good person. But I’m not perfect.”

Mindful of Dawson’s affinity for all things Trekkie, I make one final request. “Please, please speak Klingon to me,” I ask earnestly. Put on the spot, she laughs heartily and is happy to oblige. “Ka-Pla. I wish you success.”

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