Her edgy performances and stunning exotic looks have made Rosario Dawson one of Hollywood’s hottest actresses. She has become a top leading lady on the silver screen and her variety in projects demonstrates her diverse talents which have sparked the attention of a wide audience.
Dawson’s latest project, Explicit Ills, is an indie film about drugs, poverty and survival. She plays a single mom who struggles to care for her child with the limited amount of resources she has.
Q: Where does your personal taste lie between indie films and the more mainstream studio movies?
Rosario Dawson: It’s hard because obviously I love “Batman.” One of my favorite independent films is “Reservoir Dogs.” I loved the storytelling in that. I love that it wasn’t the whole gimmick of big explosions. It was much more intimate and focused on the actors. The story kept revealing itself all along the way – going backwards and forwards and makes you think and keep with it. I love anything that makes you feel like you’re in a room with a bunch of strangers in the dark listening to sound come out speakers with light flickering in front of you. When you get caught up in movie magic that’s a great, great thing. There’s many different ways to do that, but I think that’s one of the reasons why people will go and see a movie together because there’s an energy that comes from it. When you’re surprised, shocked, laughing at the same time, scared at the same time – finding yourself crying and you know nothing is actually happening to you, but you feel in love with these people I think that’s really magically. I feel independent film in particular has a really great way of doing that specifically because they don’t necessarily have all the resources so they just have to be as raw as possible. When that sticks with you it makes a big impact and that’s always something I’m blown away by. I’m happy to try to do every time with first time director who convinces me that’s what the experience is going to be. I’m always like, “Yeah let’s go for it!” It’s well worth attempting. It’s what keep me sane and honest. It’s where I started with “Kids” so I’ll always go back there, but it’s good to have the explosions when you can do them too. It’s hard to pick which is the best.
Q: Talk about the title of the film and what it means to you.
Dawson: For me it’s very Philly. It’s very graffiti. To me, it’s very hip hop. It’s full on. It’s what we love about the whole history of graffiti coming out was it was this opportunity for people who normally don’t have a voice in our public to be able to express themselves. It’s definitely altered a lot over the years but it kind of feels old school to me. I love that because we’re going into Philadelphia and we’re seeing all of these dilapidated buildings – these people whose stories normally don’t get told. I thought it was a really brilliant way to let people know – especially people who may not normally see this movie that this was for them. That this is their actual story and that it wasn’t going to be compromised in any way, shape or form. “Explicit Ills” may be kind of a strange thing for people. “What is that?” But it actually really made sense for the movie. It’s provocative. It’s sexy and smart. It’s what’s going on in our times right now. I think it’s amazing because it’s changed that title. It’s gotten even more profound I think because of the economic crisis that we’re going through. [Writer/director] Mark [Webber] is someone who grew up being homeless and at a certain point lived in a car with his mom. He’s walked in marches and has been an advocate for anti-poverty. When he wrote this it’s one of the reasons I really wanted to do it. We connected on this on a personal level. I having grown up in a squat on the lower east side, I got how powerful our mothers were in our lives. Being activists was an inheriting part of our beings. The understanding that we’ve always grown up with that most people are a paycheck away from being homeless is now a reality that a lot people understand. Much bigger than they ever have before and that makes this movie even more important to be out more than ever which is shocking. Even when it played at CineVegas and South by Southwest people are already saying they think about the movie differently just because the key words now are so much more vernacular in our news. It’s such more of a present issue than people had thought before, but he knew that and that’s what’s so great because that’s been a present issue for a lot of people for a long time. It’s just now finally become popular for people to talk about.
Q: Mark Webber’s background is as an actor so what was it like to work with him as a director?
Dawson: The first movie that Mark and I actually worked on is called “Chelsea Walls” and we acted together in that. It was Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut. It was amazing working on Ethan that because he was an actor and he had a real sort of sense about emotionally where all of us needed to be and getting all the stuff because it was independent and it was digital. He had a lot more time to play and do these 15 minute long takes because it was digital and we didn’t have to worry about it. This was different because the time frames that we had and we weren’t on this one location – we didn’t have that much time to play the same way we did with Ethan. We found the time because he is very sensitive in that way. Mark was sitting there and said, “I know it’s horrifying what I’m asking you to do over and over again, Rosario thank you so much for being here, but I’m going to make you scream and cry and experience probably one of the most awful things you can possibly imagine experiencing.” It was very profound for me because my mom is asthmatic and she lives far away from me. I think about that all the time. I’ve seen her in situations where she couldn’t breathe. We get out of a car and we’re in a neighborhood that has really bad smog and she totally just can not breathe. It’s such a helpless feeling to be in front of. This is such a personal story for him and Mark is an actor who is a very sensitive actor. It’s just really great to see how he nurtured everybody through their performances – also to be tough on them too to bring it not just from a personal place, but also this is fictional. This is about putting a nameless face out there and making people understand it. It’s based on true issues, but it’s not a true story to a certain degree.
Q: Did you model your character after someone you personally know?
Dawson: A few people actually. My mom was 17 when she had me. My character doesn’t have a name. I’m Babo’s mom. So much of who she is is dependent on who he is. He was the center of my whole world. To look at that and be like I’m this young mother – I’m uneducated, I’m inexperienced and I have zero resources. I’m looking at this marvelous child who I somehow gave birth to, miraculously and I’m not the person who should be raising him. He deserves better than me. The frustration of that and the helplessness of it and the anger and just shock of it all and seeing her trying to cope with this young man who just seems to be able to have the right answer more than her. She’s sitting there arguing with this woman behind the counter and he’s like I’m cool. Here’s this young man who works so he can buy sneakers for the kid who punched him in the face. He’s such an angel. Had he not been that person maybe he could have saved up that money for himself. He could have used that money the next day. It’s interesting that’s not the course of the actions, but it takes a loss of someone as great as him to really in order to really provoke other people to step forward including her. To use that frustration and passion and anger she had trying to figure out how to help him and to figuring out how to get out of her own way and maybe help other people. It was a fascinating thing getting into that. I grew up in an area where I know so many women who are like that and that was the story I wanted to tell. I understand the stigma against poor people. I understand the stigma against who are not healthy and that’s not fair and it’s not right. They’re good people and they’re decent people. They’re willing to work hard to get themselves out of where they are. They just need help. It’s just the reality. All of us need help to some capacity and this system and how this country works is not forgiving to people who are poor. And if you are unhealthy you’re really screwed in a lot of ways and that’s for people who have money as well. That’s just the way the country runs and it was just trying to be nurturing I think to all the people I know who will really recognize themselves in this woman.
For more on what Rosario had to say about Sin City 2 and her comic, “Occult Crimes Taskforce,” click here!
Explicit Ills opened today in NY and in Los Angeles on March 20th.