Rosario Dawson doesn’t have as many choices as you might think.
Sure, her named is billed high on big-to-do films like Death Proof, 25th Hour and the highly anticipated Sin City sequel (due in October). But?
“I’m not the person, necessarily, who gets to say yes and no to projects here,” she says frankly. “It’s a beast of a town and an industry. But I do get to say whether or not I’ll fight for something.”
So what has she fought for lately? For starters: a role in Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle’s latest, Trance. In this new film—opening this month—Dawson plays hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb, who’s hired to delve into the darkest recesses of a fine art auctioneer’s psyche. As she unravels his broken subconscious, blurry lines of deceit and truth transpire.
You know, the usual.
EBONY.com talks with Dawson, 33, about the role, her career and why being a woman of color hasn’t crippled her one bit.
EBONY: Trance is a gritty crime film. Why did you want to be a part of this one?
Rosario Dawson: I remember reading this script and thinking, “This is not something to half audition for.” I can’t half pretend that I want to do it, and then if I get it, pull out. This is a serious project with remarkably serious, talented, wonderful people, and it’s not about wasting anybody’s time. Just from that very first reading of the script and going, “OK, am I going to be willing to go this far and do this?!” I was so compelled by the script and so compelled by Elizabeth as a character, it just seemed like, why not rise to the challenge? It felt like it would make me grow as an actor and as a person, and it definitely did.
EBONY: So what excites you about a script?
RD: I really like the idea of playing with things. I love watching movies. I love stories. I love people. So I really like to take on the challenge of making people think about the way that we communicate with each other. Do we really listen to each other? I listen in on conversations all the time. You can’t help it; you’re walking around and people are talking. And I go, “wow, so this is clearly a couple that’s in love,” or “these are two best friends.” And if this was written down as a script and a scene, would they have cast those two people? Would the actors have been wearing those same things? Would the locations have been like this?
There’s so much that’s unreal about filmmaking. We try so hard to make it as realistic as possible, but everything about it is artifice, so why are we often so compelled to watch it? I feel like it’s the same reason we feel compelled to go over conversations we’ve already had and rewrite them. What’s the point of that? But you feel bad that maybe you didn’t have that quick response to something somebody said or whatever, so it’s just good for our brain to exercise, go over it again. It’s like we’re constantly teaching ourselves how to communicate. I love that that’s how we’re constantly trying to figure out better ways to relate to each other, to express ourselves. I get to do that for a living, and that’s amazing.
That’s a lot of what I get into when I’m reading a script. Do I want to go there? Do I want to put myself through that experience, and do I want to challenge myself to think like that and put myself in someone else’s shoes for a while? On this latest film that I just did, Gimme Shelter, I play a crack mom to Vanessa Hudgens, and it’s just really hard, really upsetting. I found myself grimacing for a full day after one of the scenes, because she was just such a violent and intense and angry person. It was so intense.
I really didn’t agree with her. I didn’t like her stance, her position on things, her logic, her excuses, her irresponsibility. But I put myself there anyway, and I said it as truthfully and honestly and earnestly as I believe that she would, and it was an amazing experience too. I’m burned out on it, I don’t want to do anything like that again for a while. But I’m just really glad that I didn’t step away from it because I didn’t agree with her.
EBONY: So you don’t always have to be the nice guy?
RD: I don’t always have to be the nice guy. Do I have to be someone likeable all the time? Do I always have to be pretty? Do I always have to do all these different things in order to feel justified and want to go there deeply? I don’t. I want to challenge myself and get my hands dirty, and I think it’s great when you get to do that with a group of people who are also interested in that type of storytelling.
Like Danny Boyle: he doesn’t just do that same movie over and over again. He leaps from genre to genre, he keeps it risky for himself and I think he delights in that. We talked about that a lot. This film is a risky movie. It’s not what people are expecting from him or any of us. It’s not a movie that you can guess the ending of in the first five minutes; it really is smart. So who knows if it’s going to work or not? But we’re going to all get down and dirty and make it happen, and respect it for what it is. Hopefully people will watch and enjoy it.
EBONY: You’re a woman of color, and that’s never seemed to limit you in your career. Has it been as easy as you make it look?
RD: Thank you. I think it’s an interesting thing, because to say that being a woman of color in this industry doesn’t have particularities, I think is naïve. Do I not even get considered for parts because of the way I look? Absolutely. But at the same time, I also have access to other parts because of it, and I think because I’m multiracial, it gives me a leeway and an allowance to play a lot of different types of women.
I just feel like studios are like, “You can play against anybody. White, Black, brown. I feel like I could see you in a couple with almost anyone.” And that’s been really, really great to not be pigeonholed in one way. I have a friend that’s blonde haired, blue eyed— quintessential Hollywood starlet—and she told me years ago, “Rosario, Don’t worry about it. You will always work.” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know about that. I’ve always been waiting for the Apollo hook to come and yank me off whatever set I’m on to tell me to get a real job!”
And she’s like, “No, you will always work. I’m more worried about my career, because there’s a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who shows up in Hollywood every single day looking to do what I do and take my part. But there’s not very many people who look like you, and that’s an asset.”
Now, will there be some people who are jerks and don’t want to see me because of the way I look? Absolutely. We’re here doing storytelling. It’s about imagination and creativity, and you’ve just let me know that you have no imagination and you’re not creative. So thank you very much. I clearly don’t want to work with you, and let me get back on my journey to find those right people to work with. And that can be a great thing.