While beautiful Rosario Dawson is comfortable starring in some of Hollywood’s bigger movies opposite superstars such as Will Smith, occasionally she’ll take on a small role in a low-budget film such as “Explicit Ills”, because of what it says.
“Explicit Ills” follows a group of seemingly unrelated South Philadelphia characters who try to lead normal, happy, anonymous lives — but their station on the lower rung of the income scale means that even the most basic requirements remain frustratingly out-of-reach.
Dawson shines as a desperate mother coping with asthmatic son. She is clearly passionate about the film and chatted exclusively to Paul Fischer.
Question: What attracted you to doing this tiny movie, which is such an ensemble piece?
Dawson: Well, actually, I knew Mark [Webber, writer/director] for a bunch of years. We did a movie together when we were both teenagers, doing Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut, called Chelsea Walls, when I was still living in the squat on the Lower East Side, and he lived a block away from me. So we used to walk to the Chelsea Hotel together every day, to pick up a bagel and cafe con leche on the way, and talk shit. So we got to know a lot about each other, and how we both were the spawn of very adventurous and outspoken advocate activist mothers. And, you know, we’d both been sort of padding along behind our moms, doing a lot of stuff – trying to bring attention to poverty and health care issues, and homelessness. Him having lived with his Mom for two years in a car, and myself having moved into an abandoned building with my Mom and Dad and brother when I was six. So, we just bonded a lot about a lot of very particular issues. And I was just really blown away. We kept in touch over the years. And this was the first script he’s ever written, and film he’s directed. He wrote about something that’s really close to home for him, talking about people suffering from – and dealing with the issues of drug abuse, poverty, health care issues, and surviving in Philadelphia. I was just grateful that he asked me to be a part of it.
Question: Was this a very tough character for you to get into? I mean, did you find it – what were the particular challenges you faced?
Dawson: Well, it’s interesting, because it’s a small pond. I didn’t want it to be something people would feel like would be a cameo. You know, I wanted it to be a significant part. And it’s interesting, because I don’t even have a name in this movie. I’m playing ‘the mom’. But who she is, is completely in relation to this young man. I wasn’t able to meet him until we got there to start shooting, but that was part of the thing that was the scary part, and the hard part. Is, everything my character does is in relation to this young man. And how trusting and knowing that Mark was going to pick the right fit, and that we were going to be able to jump into doing these scenes together that were really hard, you know, for an eight-year-old kid to get into and be doing. And that was actually what was really remarkable, was playing these moments together, and making it believable that we were related, and that – you know, that the fears that she has about raising this wonderful child that she doesn’t feel she has the resources or capabilities or experience or education to raise. And – you know, because she just knows he deserves better than her. Then it struck on top of the fact that she’s also got a child who’s got asthma, so she not only has to take care of him in a health way, but along with giving him the education and the resources he needs. It’s just frightening. She’s kind of tapping into what I know about my Mom’s fears when she gave birth to me at 17, and feeling like a child raising a child, you know? My Mom’s asthmatic and diabetic, and how frightening it is, and how helpless you feel, when I’m looking at my Mom and she can’t breathe. It’s like, I can’t do anything in that situation. Does it matter where I’ve traveled, what work I’ve done, if that medication in that little tube of plastic doesn’t work for her. It’s very scary to feel like that.
Question: Was it the social milieu of this movie that appealed to you more than the specifics of playing the character?
Dawson: I think it was a combination of both. I mean, I was definitely drawn to the script as a whole, and the project as a whole, and happy to be working with Mark, and happy for him that this is what he was doing, but I felt like at least when you’re going into all of these things, and the tragic of the experience like my character feels, that at least there’s some sort of place to go with it at the end. That march, I think, was really necessary, to kind of give people a little bit of an idea about what they can possibly do with all that frustration and anger. So, I really appreciated that on a larger level. But the complexities of the character are what really drew me in as an actor. I mean, I only had a few scenes, but for the few scenes that I had, it really felt like work. That felt really good and I was excited about it, because I tried my best to really create a person that people could identify with, and recognize, and was specific enough that she found a place in the story, so it wouldn’t just be that I was doing a cameo in my friend’s film. But that I was blending into the story as a whole.
Question: Obviously, your successes as an actress have enabled you to take on these smaller, challenging movies. How important is it for you to mix and match, and go from the independent world to the mainstream studio world? How important is it for you to make that change, from indie to studio, and back again?
Dawson: Well, it’s awesome to do the big budget, fun stuff, where you can have the time and the money, and you’re not freaking out every five seconds about, you know, ” We’ve got to get out of this location,” or this or that. You know? It’s awesome to be able to spend the time to do great special effects, or move things around and have more flexibility, and you don’t have to compromise certain things as much. You know, you can have all the crew. There’s stuff that’s really amazing about that and also, because it gives it a shot. Something like Seven Pounds was a film that normally as a story could have been relegated to being an independent movie, which would mean, most likely, it possibly wouldn’t be seen on the level that it was. But I keep really pushing myself to be the best actor I could possibly be, to fill in those shoes and I’ve worked really hard on stuff that no one’s ever seen. And that’s fine, you know what I mean? It’s not why you do it. It can sometimes hurt the project, hurt the effort, because – the reason why we do it is to be seen. And that’s the thing, with a movie like this. It’s a movie I know we’ve all worked very hard on, and we love very much. You know, unfortunately, it’s having a very limited, very small run. But if it does touch the right people – if it touches one person, though, we’ve done our job. And that’s what we’re feeling really excited about. Because of DVDs now, and the Internet and all that stuff, we can get the message out about this, and people can seek it out.
Question: What’s the status on Sin City 2?
Dawson: The script has been written. Supposedly, we’re shooting it close to the end of this year. So, that’s where we’re at with it, which I’m looking forward to actually getting going.
Question: So, you haven’t seen the script yet, or anything like that.
Dawson: No. Actually, Jamie read the script. I haven’t read the script yet. I’ll have to ask Frank for it. But I just talked to him, and he finished it just a couple months ago.
Question: Are you working on anything else at the moment, Rosario?
Dawson: Just stuff that I’m producing right now. I’m just looking at scripts. I kind of was taking a hiatus to work on the election, and a bunch of other things. But now that I’m back and finished from touring with Seven Pounds as of– like, a week and a half ago, we finished Japan. So, I think I’m going to start – I’m just back into reading scripts again, and seeing what to do next.
Question: And I’m sure you’re excited about the current President of the United States.
Dawson: Yeah! I’m excited about how much participation – you know, my voting organization I co-founded is non-partisan. So I wasn’t campaigning for anybody. But we did register over 35,000 people. So, I’m really excited at the voter turnout, and I hope that they continue participating on that level, because there’s a lot of work to do.