Clerks II - interview

  • 11 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

After appearing in the controversial film Kids aged 15, Rosario Dawson’s career has taken a rollercoaster ride. Kaleem Aftab asks the East Coast girl how she got it back on the level.

Kevin Smith is predictably upbeat about casting Rosario Dawson as the manager of fast food restaurant Mooby’s in Clerks II. ‘We were kind of nervous about bringing in a well-known actress to play Becky because we worried how someone like that would fit into this world,’ he says. ‘But Rosario was just so brilliant, it was clear that she would fit in seamlessly . . . She has a great East Coast ethos that helped inform the character and you never think about her being Rosario, you think of her as Becky all the way.’

This may be the type of hyperbole one should expect to see in the pages of press production notes (which would normally be consigned to a recycling centre for bullshit by The List). The truth is, though, that the Clerks director sums up the stand-out qualities of the Brooklyn born actress in a few sentences and it is simply more expedient to repeat them than come up with a variation on the same theme.

I’ve met Dawson a few times, in London, Berlin and her native New York and as soon as she enters a room she wins you over with her beaming smile and big, bright, rabbit-in-the-headlight eyes. It’s little wonder that when he was looking for an actress to win Dante’s heart and persuade him to ditch his fiancé (played by the director’s real-life spouse Jennifer Schwalbach), Smith opted for the 27-year-old.

All the things that make Becky so magical as a character - no-nonsense attitude, dynamite tongue and easygoing nature - apply to Dawson. Hardly a minute will go by without Dawson flashing her million-dollar smile or cracking a joke. Despite her recent successful performances in 25th Hour, Sin City and Shattered Glass she was surprised by the offer of a role in Clerks II: ‘I’ve always wanted to work with Kevin, but I haven’t done a lot of comedy so I didn’t see it happening. I was really shocked and excited when I was sent the script.’ A few bellyaching laughs later and the promise of seeing a real life ‘donkey’ show (a depraved sexual act) and the actress was dying to put pen to paper and join the boys club at Smith’s View Askew Productions.

Dawson’s upbringing meant she would always be the girl from the other side of the Hudson River. She says of where she grew up close to Coney Island beach in the South of Brooklyn, ‘My block, when I first lived there, there was one working street lamp, no cars, maybe one broken down vehicle where the homeless used to sleep and the crackheads used to get high. Now, it’s like SUVs and sunroofs and all this stuff. I remember being on my roof and watching 4 July fireworks and I looked down and I was like, “What the fuck? What the hell happened to my neighbourhood? YUPPIES!” And then I was like “Young Urban Professionals . . . Doh! It’s me; I’m ruining the neighbourhood that I grew up in. Families being pushed out and I’m young paying a higher rent then they can afford. Damn it!”’

Dawson was 15 and hanging out in her ‘hood when her path into acting was chosen for her. A photographer named Larry Clark and his young screenwriting sidekick Harmony Korine asked the young girl if she’d like to be in a movie that he was about to make called Kids. But it was Chloe Sevigny that would receive the career boost from the notorious movie. Dawson struggled for three years to win another part until one day she walked into the Fort Greene office of Spike Lee and he offered her the part of Lala in He Got Game: ‘The experience was great,’ recalls Dawson. ‘It felt like I hadn’t worked on a film before and that this was my first role for the second time. Spike encouraged me a lot and gave me a lot of confidence.’

In the late 90s, still only 18, Dawson soon became better known as a party girl on the New York scene. Often out with Chloe Sevigny, she was constantly appearing in the gossip columns, linked to a string of beaus. But her career choices were poor; so much so that when Lee employed the actress to work on 25th Hour in 2002, she says he scolded her by asking, ‘Why did you do these shit movies?’ He might have been referring to Josie and the Pussycats, Ash Wednesday, The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest or The Adventures of Pluto Nash, to name a few of the stinkers. Casting directors must have been able to smell her CV even before they took it out of the envelope.

All that changed when her performance as Naturelle opposite Edward Norton in 25th Hour showed a hitherto unseen maturity. Overnight, she became hot property. She says, ‘Spike Lee, he saved my career twice.’ So much so, that when he approached her to appear in She Hate Me in 2004, Dawson was in a position to refuse the director, having been handed a part in Oliver Stone’s historical epic Alexander. The more mature performances and roles have been matched by a change in her private life, and she left New York and the gossip columns to move in with model-turned actor Jason Lewis of Sex and the City fame.

At heart though, and as Smith so readily proclaims, Dawson still has that East Coast ethos that makes her unique amongst many of her peers. Fame and her rising cache as an actress have not gone to her head. She still spouts out every sentence in a thick Noo Yorker accent at 100 miles an hour and, wonderfully, goes off on more tangents than a maths book. No doubt, she has countless faults, but she sure does hide them well.

Clerks II, Cineworld, 623 8030, 18 Aug, 8pm & 20 Aug, 6pm, £7.95 (£5.20).

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