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An interview with Rosario Dawson

From The Quentin Tarantino Archives

Part of our ongoing Grind House coverage, check out:

A Conversation with Rosario Dawson

By Sebastian Haselbeck, March 26, Four Seasons Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and space constraints. Pieces might have been omitted from the actual conversation, and the sentences altered for readability.

Rosario Dawson co-stars as Abernathy in Death Proof. The charming beauty sat down for an exciting chat during the Grindhouse junket. Here's the full interview transcript.

  • Rosario (sees Sebastian's NBA notepad): Nice book!
  • Sebastian: Are you a basketball fan?
  • Rosario: No, I don't know jack about it, but I love watching it. My daddy used to play basketball when I was younger and I thought he was the most beautiful man in the world, and he still had that leftover 80s shag haircut, he would wear the wife-beater with the little short-shorts and the white socks up to his knees and white sneakers, and I just thought he was the coolest thing on the planet and I always wanted to be him when I grew up so I just think that's totally sexy. I really hate that they are so clothed now, like I love watching old basketball for the short-shorts, come on! (laughs)
  • Sebastian: Maybe you should watch 300 then
  • Rosario: I did, I did, I went to the premiere for good Frank, you know I'm always there supporting him, I love him, but yeah, you know...what, I watch football for the same reason (laughs)
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  • Sebastian: You're gonna be in Killshot next, is that correct?
  • Rosario: Yeah
  • Sebastian: What can you tell me about it?
  • Rosario: Uhm, Killshot is actually executive-produced by Quentin Tarantino and Lawrence Bender, they got the rights to that book amongst two or three others of Elmore Leonard's, a long time ago, and one of the books he ended up translating to make into Jackie Brown and they retained the rights all these years, and people have been trying to make Killshot for a while, and John Madden ended up getting it to direct, and it's really cool actually it was interesting, uh, in the book the character Donna that I play, it should be a 50-year-or so old woman, and I met on the project, and they weren't interested in aging me, so we were sitting down with John and the producers were like 'we really like you for this movie but he's really kinda nervous about you being pretty and all that because the character is so supposed to not be that, so look ugly in your audition' and I wore like big t-shirts and jeans and glasses and my hair pulled back to a ponytail, no make-up, and he was like 'yeah, okay, anyway' and ...
  • Sebastian laughs
  • Rosario: .. I was like 'well shut up you're not sitting across from Deborah Harry right now (laughs) and that's who I'd have cast in this but if you're not gonna sit across from her you're sitting across from me and let me tell you what I would love to be able to do with this character, to make the dynamics between, in these situations still work, coz she is, she loves Elvis, she lives in this trailer home, she's got stuffed animals all around her, she's not working as a corrections officer in a prison but she'd worked in the cafeteria, that's where she meets the Joe Gordon-Levitt character, who's sorta like a petty thief, and he's staying in her house, and just going off the deep end. Mickey Rourke, who's character is a hitman, ends up in her house too, and its a very dangerous situation for a young woman to be in, and different from a 50 year old woman who's like obsessed with Elvis and kind of like weird in her head, but to have a younger woman in that situation suddenly changes the dynamics. In order to make these scenes work I was like, something has to be different about her, you have to believe that she'd be okay and comfortable and kind of freaked out but kind of excited and turned on in the situation. Why wouldn't she just run? And so I put pop marks in her skin, and she probably had a really terrible high school situation, never really understood her own prettiness or her own abilities and she's got like really bad taste and wears really bad curly hair and ponytail on the side of her head, I have a really high pitched voice in it, I get super excited whenever we talk about Elvis, and I think all of it really works, and when I watched the film it seems a lot like my first sort of like, character that I ever played, I never really thought of myself as a character actor before, but I saw that and there's definitely that quality. Mickey Rourke plays this half-Indian man, he's got this long black whig with white stripes in it and he wears leather vests and turquoise, coz he's half Indian. Joe Gordon-Levitt plays this really high-strung cowboy guy, and there's so much weird dynamics and caricature scenes that are happening and I think it works really well, it is really dynamic and I am really excited. I also have before that, before that comes out in the fall, I have my film that I produced, Descent, that got into the Tribeca Film Festival, which I am really excited about and hopefully will find a home for it in theaters near you, soon, after that. So, I'm really excited about that. And I also started a comic book last year called the OCT that we're developing into a film that hopefully will be coming out next year in '08. But before that also I'm sure there'll be Sin City 2 shooting in the summer.
  • Sebastian: Speaking of Sin City, so Mickey Rourke again. He owned that movie.
  • Rosario: I know.
  • Sebastian: And he almost got to play Stuntman Mike. That would have been different.
  • Rosario: Yes. Yeah it would've been very different, I thought about that, you know watching, I remember we were watching the dailies for that scene where he is in his car sort of by himself and he's drinking, uhm, when the tables have turned on him, and it was such a genius move, he played the character so as as like a cowardly lion, like he talks lots of smack when he's in control, he's very vicious and he can be scary, but as soon as it turns on him he's weeping and screaming, and you know it was kind of fascinating seeing this character just totally fall apart in front of you and playing him as such a cowardly lion is such a brave and interesting choice and I was trying to imagine what Mickey would have done with it, and it would've been a really different movie. And he would, you know Mickey has a natural sinisterness to him, you know what I mean? I mean he really is, he can be a scary guy and he's also this naturally sensuous, he's just got such an animal kind of quality to him that it makes it a very disparate situation , and imagining a girl going “I don't know you kind of scare me but I'll get in your car anyway”. You can see that a bit easier with someone like Kurt, who's playing him like some washed up stunt man who is kinda corny, and kinda cute, and you're like “eh, he's harmless” I'd kinda have to do that situation that happens in most horror movies where it's like “get out the car!” If I had to say it if it was Mickey I'd be “you're a dumbass and you deserve to die, if you get in a car with that guy”. Because he seems really scary. There's no way you could think otherwise.
  • Sebastian: ...are we talking Marv or Mickey....
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  • Rosario: Exactly! I think Marv is I think actually one of the more genius things he's ever done. He was built to do what, and he was so fragile, and Mickey is a really sensitive, very sweet man. He hates doing rehearsals and anything like that because it freaks him out, he likes to be able to be raw and in the moment, he's got that unbridled talent that's amazing for someone who's been doing this for so many years, he really is remarkable in Killshot, it was beautiful to work with him, coz actually in Sin City, the first time I'd worked with him, I didn't actually, because we did our scenes three months apart, and we were just sorta CGIed together. I didn't meet him until the premiere, so working on Killshot with him was actually really fun.
  • Sebastian: Wow, that one scene at the end that was not...?
  • Rosario: Yep, we shot that three months apart, yeah that's pretty cool. The genius and magic of Robert Rodriguez.
  • Sebastian: So you've worked with Robert, with Quentin, with Kevin Smith. They all hang out together, work together, they're geeks. Are you going to continue that, working with geek directors?
  • Rosario: (laughs) well Kevin gave me the wonderful compliments of being the prettiest geek he knows. And you know, we'd sit together and talk about Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comics and such together, and it's really nice because, you know I have my comic book and I have my getting into producing and I have a real passion for this and I came out as not wanting to be some big great actor, coz I never wanted to be an actor, it's just that I found myself in an industry that I've learn to really respect and admire and I've gravitated towards really great stories and people who are passionate about what they do, you know. I think there could be a really shallow experience and resumee that you could work up in this industry very easily, just working on projects that just get your name out there, and I've been really really lucky that I started off with independent film first, that my first taste of this industry were with people that were literally just super talented, you know, Larry Clark was a photographer, he'd never done it before. Harmony Korine was nineteen years old when he wrote kids. Those are the people I first started with, and Bob and Harvey were there, because they, that movie was done under Excalibur Films, which was as segment through Miramax that they created. So I've been around these guys for a really long time and I feel really great for that, because I was nurtured under that. You know, that movie got me He Got Game, coz Spike saw it, you know? It kind of started me off in a particular position, and you don't ever wanna detract from that, you know, I definitely did, I did the Adventures of Pluto Nash, and I took on a couple of those films figuring out my way, but I've been really grateful and excited that the past couple of years I've been able to really work on stuff that actually resounded with me, that when I read the script I was like “yeah this is amazing”, and it wasn't given to me. I auditioned twice for Sin City, I auditioned twice for Death Proof. Quentin, you know as much as I know him, and we've hung out in Sin City, did not just give me this part. You know, I've fought hard for it and, so it's a great thing to be able to have that, to be able to not just be a fan of their work and be willing and excited to work with them, but that they're actually excited to work with me, and it's been mutually very wonderful. At least I hope so, I know Quentin is really excited about this, it's been really fun and Robert and I get along really well, so it makes me excited and I can actually ask them for advice, and I can be around them and watch how they work, because you know, because they're been making movies for decades to come ...
  • Sebastian: ...I hope so....
  • Rosario: I hope so, too. And it's been really exciting to be part of their beginnings and their films, you know this is just the beginning of their careers you know, it's kinda nice to be able to get to know them at this point of their life.
  • Sebastian: It amazed me how, because Death Proof has two parts, there is no leading actress...
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  • Rosario (nods): No. The car is...
  • Sebastian: How does it feel to be part of many?
  • Rosario: Well I have to say, when I read the scripts, and I auditioned once for him and I only was ever after Abernathy, and having to audition a second time to make sure I got that role, because I was gonna be pretty upset about there being eight roles in this movie and me not be one of them. (laughs) You know, I mean I'm like, “you're gonna have eight actresses in this?”, I mean I'd better had made at least one of these girls, I mean come on, throw me a bum. So I was very excited to be able to be a part of it, and I think that's really wonderful, I mean that's what you had with Reservoir Dogs, I mean technically speaking Tim Roth would be the lead in that but there's equal opportunity for really all the actors in there, everybody really stands out, he's got a remarkable knack for ensemble films, and I think that's a really incredible thing, one of the things that I've always really admired in him, is the risk that he takes in creating those kind of roles for a multitude of actors, you know he has all the characters dress exactly the same, and he leaves it on their shoulders to differentiate those personalities to really make you know that Mr Pink is very different from Mr White, and I think that's always, to have so many great strong female characters in Kill Bill and have all of them be so resoundedly different, that was their contribution, that was them making those differences, and I like that he loves his actors that much and that he gives them that challenge, it's definitely a challenge working with his material, with his writing, with his dialog. He puts a lot of time, love and energy and thought into them, you know, and he's got a rhythm to it, he knows it he hears it, he's based it on certain people, he knows exactly how it should play and it's really interesting to see how people naturally fall into that... and add! To see his face light up and go “wow, I've never heard it like that and. Wow that's so much better and more exciting to see with all of you doing it, so much so that I'm gonna scrap everything that we shot yesterday and do this scene in one take, because you guys have it nailed so well”, that kind of confidence in having him be excited what we're doing with his material is the hugest compliment you could possibly have, coz it isn't about..., and I think it also helps ego-wise, because I mean I have never worked with this many women before, but I think it could probably get a little messy, ego wise, if we had so many women, and had one of us be the lead. It's been really nice to have all of us just show up there and just be part of a great film. I think we all just pushed ourselves to make sure that we aren't the part that, that we weren't the person that made it collapse, you know (laughs) it's a hard pressure, especially when you're working with Kurt Russell, who's been making movies since before any of us were alive (laughs)
  • Sebastian: Yeah and you get to play a pimp and leave Lee in a shack in the middle of nowhere! (laughs)
  • Rosario: I know I know, it's pretty terrible, I tried to convince Quentin to let me throw her a set of keys or something, you know, it's part of my character, she would do that, and he was like “stop it, this is the genre that it is” and I think deep there in our head at some point I think, to have that, uh, that Ashley Judd shot of, you know, poor little Lee Montgomery running in the woods with her torn skirt and Jasper, you know, hee-hawing behind her. We'll see what happens in the sequel.... I hope....
  • Sebastian: Alright, nice talking to you.
  • Rosario: Nice to talk to you as well.