Meet Rosario Dawson. Yes, you know her, but maybe you didn't know that she grew up in a squat in the lower east side, and she was discovered on her front porch by Kids director Larry Clark. Now she is one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. Cinderella, anyone?
She's killed dramatic roles in Sin City and Seven Pounds, but her latest film, Zookeeper, is her first foray into comedy. Well, technically Clerks II was her first comedy, but we're going to count a film that discusses "ass to mouth" as a different type of humor.
We sat down with Dawson one-on-one, (which seemed more like coffee with our BFF) and talked about her 16 years in the business, swinging like a girl, family ties, and David Bowie.
New Times: We know you have done Clerks II, but other than that, this is your first comedy, right?
Rosario Dawson: That was a very genre-specific comedy. For most people, this will be my first comedy. Zookeeper is such a different type of humor. I loved that. I do a lot of dramatic, hardcore, and intense stuff. It's difficult and I usually just need to put my walls up and disappear for a little bit. But for this one, my cousins, my brother and my dad all came to visit. I was able to have a ton of guests come and meet all the animals.
Was it a little intimidating? Were you afraid you weren't going to be funny?
Intimidated? Yes. There was definitely pressure. I'm really competitive, so I was just like, "I'm a chick on the set--let's do this." The character, Leslie (Bibb), was really funny, so she was easy to play.
You get to work with Kevin James and Ken Jeong. Was going to work just fun?
It was ridiculous. Sometimes it was just like, "I'm getting paid for this?" It's a very different process doing comedy. It's all about making each other laugh. And when you have told the same joke over and over, it kind of looses its steam. I wanted to make it funnier, so I would go home and look at the script and think, "I'm not sure if I'm funny, but if I am going to try and be."
How do you go from an exotic dancer in Rent to bubbly Kate in Zookeeper?
Actually, right now I'm playing a crack mom. I love it -- I think it's just from growing up in New York. There are so many different characters and so many different people. It's fun for me to put myself in other people's shoes and try to commit to their choices, if only for a few hours.
Speaking of growing up, we know you had a difficult youth.
It's funny. I just went and worked with Habitat for Humanity for the first time, and they had this really cool invitation with all women with hammers and it said, "You swing like a girl, you're hired." And I loved that, because I grew up around construction, because I grew up in a squat in the lower east side. My mom does plumbing and my dad did construction and it was funny how comforting it was to be around a work site. The smell of the wood, sawdust and working a nail gun, it was so weird that it was such grounding space for me.
I look back at my background and have full appreciation because I could have never imagined that it would be so helpful for where I am in my life now. I don't know if I would appreciate my life as much as I do if not for that.
What do your parents think of their A-list daughter?
There are moments they gush. I got an award from the President for volunteer service for the year, so there was a moment of my whole family being like, "we're very proud of you." And then moments later it was like, "Rosario, I have to go the bathroom, can you hold my stuff?" It's been 16 years since I started in this business and in the beginning, they used to give me so much love and be like, "Oh my god! You made it!" Now it's like, "Keep it up. Represent the family."
Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny in Kids.
When did you realize you had made it?
Probably Kids. I was picked up off the street and asked if I wanted to be in their film. And after a couple days of rehearsal, I filmed for four days and then I got a check of like, $1,000. A year later, we moved to Texas and the director (Larry Clark) was like, "where did you go?" Then they had to fly me out for the premiere, I watched the movie and remember thinking, "I'm pretty good at this. I want to do this."
Have you ever been star struck?
Totally. I freaked out many times for David Bowie, because I'm obsessed with him. But there was one time that I just couldn't speak and that was with Tim Curry. I saw him at this event and I circled him many times, but just couldn't. I'm so obsessed with him, I knew I was either going to faint or make out with him. I did neither.
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Really, Tim Curry?
Yep, Tim Curry.