It's practically impossible to define actress Rosario Dawson by the roles she's played. She's kicked ass, dished out the drama, and sung her heart out in dozens of diverse roles over practically two decades. Unlike the Chris Rock's character in their new movie, Top Five, she's never going to get recognized consistently for being a bear cop, and it's because she keeps it interesting.
"There's some people who are gonna do the thing like, 'Oh I'm gonna just do the same movie over and over again. I want to continue to play up to my base," but I don't have a base. I'm all over the place," she says.
"You'd look at my resume," she laughs, "and clearly think 'she's a schizophrenic.' I look at it and go, 'I have ADHD and like to multitask.' But I've chosen things arbitrarily over the years. I want to work with that director, I want to work in that location, I've never done that before, I want to see if I can do my 'crack walk' in a way that people would really believe."
And that kind of dedication to exploring different roles has led her to a rather exciting one in Top Five. In Rock's film, Dawson plays New York Times film critic, Chelsea Brown, who is interviewing Rock's character Andre Allen for an entire day. More interestingly, she's a bisexual woman of color, who manages her great job and single motherhood just fine; a rarity on screen these days.
When it comes to playing the role, she admits, "It was great. I feel like this movie is so modern, y'know? I get to play a really modern woman. She has really different issues and ways of thinking about things, and the world, and her place in it, very differently than her mom, her grandmother, any of these different people. The advice even that they give her and have given her over the years are in conflict with who she is and has her compromise herself sometimes because we're all lost sometimes."
Everyone tries to figure out what they would do in their own situation, and Dawson claims that you have to make your own choices, rather than letting other make them for you: "We try to figure out what other people would do, you do it, and you're going, 'Ah that was a bad decision! I need to own it, I need to do what I'm supposed to be doing.'"
That kind of going against the grain is exactly what Top Five delves in to. As she explains, it's about "really having to stand up for yourself and having integrity in your word, in your person, and going: this is my value, this is what I stand up for, and it might not be popular with everybody else, but this is actually what would make me happy."
It's the kind of decision making that's tough to do on your own, and as she further says, "It's scary sometimes to say out loud, fall on your face, and make those mistakes, because when you make them, they're yours.
"When you do something right, everybody takes credit. When you fall on your face, that's all you. And if you were in my family, everyone's gonna go," she pauses, claps her hands and yells, "WEPA!" Then laughs, points down and adds in a, "Wait, are you okay?"
Basically, what any loving Latino family would do really (and surely everyone in Miami's heard that before). And having to deal with that in real life certainly helps when portraying a character just as strong-willed.
"It's hard to put yourself out there and I really love that this was a character who does that," she continues. "Because she does that so strongly, there's no way she was going to interview this man - who she is a fan of, who she has the relationship of being sober as well and really knows what that feels like - and let him just go 'yeah' and give some flippin' answer.
"She's like 'No, and I work for the New York Times so you need me and I don't have to kiss up to you.' And that was really great to see these two very powerful, very intelligent people, really go at it and have fun."
A large portion of the film focuses on Dawson and Rock's back and forth: dishing out jokes, insults, and insightful commentary minute after minute. Much of that, apparently, mirrors the kind of relationship she and Rock share in real life.
"This is a relationship I've had with Chris for many, many years, and this is our banter. I'm much more positive about it, very often, than he is. We really go at it with each other and we're very opinionated and we're very strong and, a lot of the time, we end up agreeing to disagree, but I love that. And I like to think that we were able to translate that onto the screen. It makes that a very modern relationship; it's different."
And playing characters that contribute to something different is part of what she loves doing. "I have all these different things and ideas inside of me, and I just love life and people and stories and getting the chance of putting myself into someone else's shoes and challenging my own views and perspectives. That makes me so much more enriched in my life, and so many artists have contributed to my world and I hope, through my storytelling, that I can do that to other people.
"Because that's the magic of movies," Dawson adds. "When you see the good, bad, and the ugly, up there, you get to compare and go: do I relate to this? Would I do that in this situation? Maybe I can prevent myself from having to fall on my face in that particular way because I saw someone else do it not so gracefully and it made me think twice before I went in there."
It's an experience she's had since Kids and beyond, and almost twenty years in, she still feels genuinely challenged in her career. Even with Top Five, she and the others made the film never thinking it was a surefire hit. But with some of her more outlandish scenes - one of which, we won't spoil here, involves flashbacks of events with Chelsea Brown's former boyfriend, and hot sauce - she really takes some fun risks.
"So with the hot sauce, I was like, 'But I like hot sauce and I want to be able to have that in public, and not have an issue. Ah, okay Chris. Really? Alright, let's do it. Anders [Holm], you're naked and on all fours? Well, if you're game, I'm game," she laughs, vaguely referencing the making of the hilarious scene.
"I've been there, I've done that, and it's good to put yourself out there. I don't want to look in the future at my tombstone and see it say 'played it safe.'"
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Top Five opens today, December 12, at the Coral Gables Cinema.