Q&A: Rosario Dawson

On her latest movie Trance, her former flame Danny Boyle, and her plans to produce more women-led features.

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Since her 1995 debut in Larry Clark’s parental nightmare movie, Kids, Rosario Dawson has brought equal amounts grit and glamour to the screen. Her latest role in the arty but violent heist movie Trance, opening this Friday, is no different.

In director Danny Boyle’s reunion with Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge, Dawson plays a hypnotist with ulterior motives. She meets a band of art thieves, including James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel, who have targeted Francisco Goya’s priceless painting, Witches In The Air. At one point, much to the Internet’s enjoyment, she goes full-frontal with a Brazilian wax to comport with her lover’s predilection for Renaissance nudes.

That’s the sort of risqué scene that can only be pulled off when an actress has total trust in her director – the kind of trust, it turns out, that makes a perfect foundation for an affair. The 33-year-old actress and the 56-year-old filmmaker began dating after Trance wrapped last summer and apparently called it quits some time after the beginning of the year.

But there’s no bad blood between them. When we met Dawson a couple weeks ago, looking casual in a black lace top and jeans, she had only kind words for Boyle, calling him a “talented, really remarkable and loving man.” She also talked about stepping behind the camera to tackle subjects the studios assiduously ignore, and the changing landscape for women in Hollywood.

In Trance, James McAvoy plays the main character but in many ways it’s your story.

My character is incredibly dynamic and strong, and she holds her own without resorting to the obvious sort of clichés of the femme fatale. She’s not using her sexuality and her wiles in order to kind of ingratiate herself. She actually uses her wit, her tenacity and her audacity to kind of step forward into these situations.

Your character has a history with domestic violence. Did you do any research for the role?

Yeah, but that’s because I am on the board of V-Day, and have been for many years. I have been a spokesperson for Domestic Violence Awareness Month and we were just participating in Billion Rising. Also, my mom worked with a domestic violence organization in San Francisco called Womens Inc. when I was 10 years old, so it’s been something that’s been a big part of my life for many, many years.

Is there a demand to see women portrayed as multi-faceted, not just victims or not just powerful?

The demand is really there to seeing different types of entertainment, and different types of positions for women, and just different types of stories. Not to say that we’re not going to play women who are bad, women who are abused, women who might be many different things. Those are real stories about real people, but we shouldn’t only feel like we can only watch prostitutes.

So where will those opportunities come from?

I want to produce more now. I need to step back a little bit and use the things that I have learned from this industry for so long, and the people that I have met and the resources that I have built. I’m hoping I can make stories happen that no one is writing that I would really like to see.

So we might be seeing a whole different side of you pretty soon?

It’s not because I would need to be in them, but because I want them to exist for people. It’s driving me crazy that no one is getting around to it, so maybe I should just do it myself.

What kind of stories are we talking about?

A lot of them have historical aspects to them, and they have quite often women at the center of the story. I don’t feel like I am seeing enough of that and it’s just a little boring. It’s shocking to me that there’s so little for us to go around. And there’s some really talented actresses in Hollywood that I would love to see stretch.

But so many people in development are women. Why aren’t the studios making more of these movies?

I don’t know that they are always the decision makers, per se, because financing and all that stuff really strongly comes into it. What people are willing to put money behind is very telling, and I think status quo is a very difficult thing to shift. We are seeing for the first time a woman getting an Oscar for directing. That is very recent history.

Last year we had some juicy roles for women, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games and Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty.

They are starting to come out and that’s why you are able to see someone like Jessica Chastain just dazzle us with how remarkable she is, because those parts are starting to come out. And so it’s not so much complaining about it, but going, ‘I want to be on that right side of history. I want to be one of those people who is helping that process along.’

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